American Idol… just the thought of this popular reality music show conjures up either an eye roll, or a sense of excitement. During the first 2 seasons of the hit show American idol, I watched a few of the episodes. I got caught up in the excitement and anticipation of who would make the show, who would win it, and who would embarrass themselves on the show (anyone remember William Hung????). But over the last few years, I have started to feel the show lost some of it’s luster and popularity. I also believe that American Idol has done a great disservice for MANY aspiring musicians and singers. The show misleads millions of singers and musicians to have a misconception to what a takes to make it in the music business. On a daily basis I come across aspiring artists who still think that all they need to do is sing in front of someone with power in the music industry, and their talent will be so moving and amazing, that this magical person will make them a star…I call that “The American Idol Syndrome.” The reality is that you can be one of the most amazing singers in the world, and “audition” for each and every record executive or A&R Exec in the music business, and if you do not have somewhat of a career in the music industry yet (large active fan base, series of successful shows, social media buzz, online presence, etc.), you are JUST an amateur singer. The reality is you can be ON American Idol and be a finalist or even a winner, and this DOES NOT guarantee that you will be a star or even make a living in the music industry. Many former American Idol finalists and runner-ups still need to build a fan base, and make a career on their own. Don’t believe me? Well read on…
The music business is flooded with artists hoping to land a record deal. Everyday someone picks up an instrument or records a song and has the hopes of “getting signed.” Many aspiring artists still equate getting signed with success…or that “getting signed” is the first step toward success. Some emerging artists assume that getting signed by a record label gaurantee’s success. I guess for many emerging artists out there, getting signed is a certain form of validation that they are talented. I don’t see how that is, but many artists feel this way. Many aspiring artists think getting on shows like “American Idol,” “X-Factor,” “The Voice,” or any other competition singing shows, that there is a chance at stardom or success. But ask yourself, can you name all the American Idol winners? Can you name the last 5? The first 6? Thought so. Yes, there has been a couple of contestants on American Idol who have become successful, but it is not many. Especially compared to how many people have tried out and entered the competition, launching a career from being on American Idol is such a lottery. And winning the show doesn’t even guarantee someone success! But what about all the other contestants, finalists and winners we never hear from? What do they do after the show? Are they just waiting around trying to get discovered? Are they expecting some manager to discover them, build their career, or like many aspiring artists say to “get them out there?” With record labels signing only a few artists nowadays, and the ones who get signed have a huge buzz and following already, many American Idol alums are going the indie route and financing and building a career on their own. Many former finalists from American Idol are turning to popular crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter to raise money for their music careers and upcoming projects, while also using other social media platforms in combination to connect with their fan base.
American Idol Season 9 finalist Siobhan Magnus successfully raised well over $23,000 earlier this year to use to support her 90’s tribute band “Doubtful Guest.” But, she is not the only American Idol only to do this approach. Season 4 runner-up Bo Bice, Season 8 finalist Scott MacIntyre, and Season 10 finalist Erika Van Pelt have all launched similar campaigns using crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter to raise funds for the production, marketing, and releases of their albums.
Everyone is wondering, why would one of these former TV stars need to go out and raise money on their own? Why would they need to do that when they were watched on TV by millions of viewers? You would think that the public is already aware of them and they probably already have thousands, if not millions of fans who watched them sing their hearts out on one of America’s biggest TV shows! Well according to Season 10 finalist Erika Van Pelt , who recently said in this article from Billboard.com that the public has a misconception that just because someone
competed on American Idol or any other show for that matter, that the success to their career is a shoe it. She said the public assumes the it “automatically means we are successful.” But she admits this is far from the case! Van Pelt said, “A lot of us are still on the grind.” Van Pelt recently launched a Kickstarter Campaign for her album “My Independence” (take a look at the title, ironic huh) that was just released this week on October 8th. She needed to raise $20,000, and was able to pull in slightly over at $20,471.
Plus, I am almost positive she is in control of all aspects of her career, which is the opposite if you have a major corporate label backing you. Erika also just begun a gig this week as a commentator on a Rhode Island NBC affiliate channel, where she offers weekly insights and commentary on various competition singing shows like “The Voice,” and “X-Factor.”
Scottsdale, Arizona native Scott MacIntyre just moved to Nashville, and has also been working on for his upcoming album. He successfully used crowd-funding to raise money for the recording sessions for his upcoming release. Through Kickstarter, MacIntyre was able to reach his goal of $25,000. According to MacIntyre in this recent article from The Hollywood Reporter, “The number of songs that end up on the album depend on how much funding we raise through Kickstarter, so every dollar truly makes a difference. When the Kickstarter campaign finishes on Oct. 14, I will know a lot more about what studios, producers, engineers and musicians I can work with based on the funding that has been pledged.”
Kickstarter is a wonderful platform for anyone to raise funds for numerous types of creative projects from films, clothing, and music, to art and comics, journalism, and even video games. But just like American Idol, not everyone is the winner in crowd-funding. Not everyone meets their goals. Season 4 runner-up Bo Bice, who had a major label deal with RCA for a short time, did not meet his lofty goal of raising $35,000 through his Kickstarter campaign. His bid was for his upcoming album titled “The Colors of Sound,” which included an art and photography book called “The Colors of Sound” (did he take a page from Frank Sinatra’s 1956 instrumental album ‘Tone Poems of Color’). Bice was hoping to release his album in April of 2014, but needs to reevaluate his plan, due to only being able to raise $9,327 and securing only 92 backers.
Despite at one point being a high-profile artist with a major label deal, Bo Bice was inspired to do a Kickstarter campaign when he saw many fellow artists securing funding through the extremely popular platform. Artists like Bryan White, Momma’s Blue Dress and Mother’s Finest had successful Kickstarter bids. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Bice said, “I figured it was a creative new way for the fans to support the artist directly. That’s the ultimate goal, to give the fans what they want from the artist’s project. No middleman!”
With Erika Van Pelt, her goal was different. It was not strictly to raise funds for the recording or manufacturing of her music, but rather to cover the high costs of marketing, branding, distribution, radio and promotion that are usually covered by a record label. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Van Pelt said, “The funny thing is the album is finished and I already have $50,000 into the project. I actually got my first small shipment of hard copy CDs. The problem now is that I am not attached to a label, and being independent means that getting radio play is very difficult and any sort of distribution and marketing is going to cost a significant amount of money that I just don’t have.”
Fans love to pledge money through corwd-funding platforms like Kickstarter. Why? Because they receive stuff in return! Who doesn’t want to get something personal, unique, and special from an artist you adore? Fans get special perks from contributing to an artist’s career that range from receiving a special acknowledgement in the albums liner notes, to interacting with the artists on a very personal level. Like having dinner, a coffee…use your imagination. I remember in 2009 when a very well-known studio drummer named Josh Freese was releasing a solo album, and used crowd-funding to raise money to record and release his album. He had different levels of appreciation for a fan. From a personalized phone call, to having him write and produce an album personally for you! I even remember him offering something like washing your car or doing your laundry for a $1,000 pledge, and being your personal assistant for 1 month if you pledged $75,000. Don’t need an assistant? How about a trip to Tijuana with a rock star to show you how to party? Check it out for yourself here!
Scott MacIntyre’s Kickstarter campaign is similar to Josh Freese’s. For fans who contribute $100 or more to his campaign, they will receive a phone call from him. For $400 (only person can achieve this reward) MacIntyre will throw in the pink pants he wore during Motown week on “American Idol” (hope he washes them first!). At $2,000, (this time there is 6 potential people who can get this) fans will have an original song written and recorded for them. Lastly, $10,000, which he already has one person who has contributed this amount, the fan will be given a private concert. MacIntyre stated, “Kickstarter and other similar crowd-funding platforms could be the way of the future when it comes to music. Artists are able to connect more intimately than ever before with their fans through social media, and I see Kickstarter as a logical extension of that concept. It allows fans to be a part of the album creation process from the ground up. My fans, friends and family were the reasons I made it so far on ‘American Idol,’ and I’m hoping they will be the reasons that this new album is my best album yet.”
As one would assume, each artist has their own unique rewards that they will give to their fans. That is the charm of crowd-fudning, and is part of the reason some of these campagins become successful. Erika Van Pelt’s incetives range from a private lunch hosted by her for a $500 contribution, to for $1000 a fan will end up getting a karaoke party featuring a professional DJ. She also has rewards that include concerts in a living room, to a house party featuring her band live. According to Van Pelt, “I’m one of those types of people who hate asking for anything. It’s an Irish pride kind of thing and when my producer approached me about doing Kickstarter I said no. But he started to explain it to me that people get rewards so it’s not a charity. … I can’t just stand there and ask people for money without giving something significant back.”
Obviously Kickstater is not a guaranteed way to raise money. It has it’s set of obstacles and challenges. One of the main hurdles an artist face is a problem with visibility. According to Van Pelt, “The thing with Kickstarter is, if you don’t plaster it absolutely everywhere, unless you are going on the Kickstarter website and looking for it, it doesn’t necessarily show up as a Google search. You sort of have to go out of your way to look for it.” Another challenge faced particularly by former Idol contestants and other pseudo-celebrities is the stigma they face by being “former idol” contestants. When you go from having tens of millions of people watch you on TV, to pleading online for money to invest into your music career, a certain stigma attaches itself to you. It is no secret, fame is fleeting. Especially with contestants from the American Idol series (where are many of the winners as well?). The hurdle they face is that they people will assume they are cashing in on their former TV show status, but doing so at a later time when the iron has more than cooled on the heat of their buzz.
Knowing these obstacles helps put things in perspective when you set your goal with crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter. You need to be realistic and not ask for too much money. Be reasonable with your requests. Tom Hanks’s son Colin Hanks turned to Kickstarter to raise funding for a documentary he was working on. Hanks needed to raise $50,000 for “All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records.” In Hanks’s pitch to his potential investors, he promised to make the film in the most cost-effective manner possible. In a statement issued during his campaign, Hanks promised their contributions would go toward the nuts and bolts of filmmaking.
The average American Idol contestant tries to raise around $20,000 for the production of their record, which I think is more than enough to put together a solid album (maybe do an E.P. if you are short on money). Labels used to shell out over $200,000+ just to sign the runner ups form the first few seasons of American Idol. But remember, ALL of that money the label shells out has to be recouped (meaning paid back to the label from YOUR royalty rate which in many cases is in the pennies).
With Kickstarter, be transparent. obstacles and delays are to be expected, but investors will understand and be supportive if you are clear and up front about any and all issues you might be facing.
Here is a list of recent Idol contestants and their results from Kickstarter:
Season 9 Top 10
Erika Van Pelt
Season 10 Top 10
Season 8 Top 10
Season 4 Runner-up
Status: Not Funded
Season 8 Top 10
Season 11 Hollywood Week
Season 8 Hollywood Week
Season 3, 5, 9, 11, 12 Auditioner
Season 2 Wildcard
Status: Not Funded
Season 9 Hollywood Week
Status: Not Funded
Season 11 Hollywood Week
Status: Not Funded