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Beginnings…

This is a place for me to park some thoughts about what I’m doing on a number of projects. What first brings me here is the work I’m doing with/for Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, building/running their Supporter project, now in its 4th phase, this time with help from Patreon.

A little history: back in 2002, I built and ran the first crowdfunding site for a band with the very first version of neubauten.org. Entirely hand-coded, and thank goodness the standards for user interface was low at the time because my HTML skills have not been updated since back then. We managed to reach a couple of thousand fans, ran 3 phases of the project over 5 years, and ended up producing 4 CDs (plus the limited edition Musterhaus series), two DVDs, and various other records of the band’s productivity at the time.

*mumble mumble* years went by, the Neubauten (what does one say? “Die Neubauten” works in German but “the Neubauten” sounds pretentious, the definite article in English clearly has a different resonance) were intermittently on tour and produced a commissioned work for Flanders in remembrance of WWI and released an ironically titled Greatest Hits album and so on. Finally end of 2018 there was a decision to record a new studio album, and then there was the question of, how to finance it?

In this age of laptop recordings and songwriting in bedrooms (and when that works for some people, great), EN is very, very old-fashioned in how they like to record. They want to work all together, in the same room, on their often eccentric equipment, to come up with musical ideas that may eventually turn into songs, with a sound engineer to help figure out how to record their equipment and have multi-track (digital) recordings of the entire process so that they can go back to older ideas and takes. The first thing that the band did, upon deciding to do this undertaking, was to block 10 week days a month for 10 months, so basically a half time job for 5 people plus studio time plus sound engineer and assistant. Plus the resulting album would be released independently, which means prepaying for all production costs (mastering, photo shoots, liner notes, physical production of products, promotion/marketing, etc.)

I went and looked at the current state of the art in crowdfunding options. I was pretty sure that we wanted to do a monthly subscription, because our prior experience with one-time pre-payment crowdfunding models had too high a cost of reward production vs. funds for the band, and the fact that the most devoted fan base automatically got a copy of the resulting album significantly cannibalized our retail sales. I then did a thorough comparison of the subscription systems out there — Patreon vs. Steady, for example, and also a number of plain old subscription payment management systems. I ended up going with Patreon because they had the easiest authentication plugins for the two main website features I wanted — a WordPress content site and a forum, which is currently powered by Discourse, and because they charged a fairly reasonable 5% of revenue. The pure subscription management platforms charged a little less, perhaps 2-3%, but I hoped Patreon would have more cross-pollination effects due to other artists/musicians on the platform.

Forward to now: Phase IV, as it’s now called, is drawing almost to a close and has done well. The band is almost finished with the recording portion of the project and will be working on finalizing the album (mastering will be mid February), all production material (liner notes, artwork, other content) need to be turned in by the end of February for production to a mid May release. There are rehearsal periods in March and April for the upcoming concerts, with a general rehearsal (with audience) on April 19th and a full tour starting late May.

Now comes the hard part: how to take this from the 600 supporters to the wider public? How to get people to pay attention to a 40 year old band which has evolved for those 40 years? How do we navigate the very fast moving and mostly digital music distribution and discovery landscape? How can we stay true to the character and history of the band without completely botching the social media game? What should we focus on, with our very limited resources?

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