Bluegrass fantasy camp for fans

Chris JonesWe’re all adjusting to a world in which recordings and other music projects are being funded in new ways. Even established artists recording for established record labels are now using fan-driven funding campaigns to finance their work. This can either be looked at as a productive new way to engage fans (and what’s more engaging than getting money from them ahead of time?), or it can be seen as a troubling sign that no one in our business, from the top on down, has any money in the bank.

Now when George Clooney has to launch a crowdfunding campaign before Universal Studios can pay him for his next movie role, I’ll be seriously concerned about this trend. For now, though, let’s make the assumption that this is just as much about fan involvement as it is about capitalization.

The process often goes something like this: you obtain pledges of money online for your next release or project, then it’s standard procedure to offer some kind of premium, especially if they cough up more than the future purchase price of your CD, DVD, LP, or cassette (yes, I did say cassette). This can be a simple token of appreciation, like a coffee mug or T-shirt, the kind of thing your local NPR station sends out for pledges above a certain amount.

For larger contributions, however, you need to up the ante a little, and this can be the perfect opportunity to bring your fans into the process and make them feel a part of it. This can require some innovative thinking, especially in the bluegrass music world where sharing a meal with the artist, for example, isn’t that unusual or exciting. This often happens anyway at the fried chicken trailer at a bluegrass festival. Bluegrass artists are already known for being accessible, some even to a fault. In fact, some artists are so accessible they end up moving in with you and having their mail forwarded to your house.

I liked Del McCoury’s idea a few years back in which fans had an opportunity to be present in the studio for the recording of his newest project. Though not related to a funding campaign, Blue Highway planned a fan appreciation concert in which certain lucky fans would get to write the band’s set list and interact with the band in other ways.

Below, I’d like to share some ideas for premium “experiences” that I don’t think have been tried yet, but that I think would take fan involvement to a whole new level:

  • For contributions of $100 or more, fans would receive a signed copy of the new CD, plus a signed poster. They would also get to crowd into a restaurant booth for breakfast with the band and listen to their road stories and in-jokes, which won’t seem that funny by the time they refill the first round of coffee (fan would be responsible for his/her own meal charges).
  • For $200 or more, fans would receive two signed CDs, plus the lead singer’s used toothbrush (while supplies last), as well as one used D-string from the banjo player. They would also be invited to mill around the stage during sound check, offering occasional advice, and if called for, entering into delicate negotiations with the sound engineer.
  • For contributions of $500 or more, fans would be invited to join the band for an all-night drive between gigs (fan would be expected to drive the 1:00 to 5:00 a.m. shift). For an additional $100 pledge, they can stay on for a week and help rebuild the diesel engine in the band’s bus (diesel engine knowledge helpful but not required).
  • For contributions of $750 or more, The Gold Package: fans get to accompany the band on an international tour, acting as tour manager, driver, and interpreter, and selling the band’s merchandise (airfare and lodging costs not included), and washing their clothes by hand in a hotel sink. Fans will also receive several pairs of relatively clean band member’s socks to take home as a souvenir of the trip.
  • For contributions of $1,000 or more, The Platinum Package: fans will not only join the band in the studio for the recording of the album, they will also engineer at least one (but no more than 14) tracks on the project. While the recording is taking place, they will live with one of the band members, doing cooking and cleaning, and possibly developing a romantic attachment to the band member’s spouse (psychotherapy and legal costs not included, no engineering experience necessary). For an additional $500 pledge, they can change the name of the band.
  • For any contribution over $10,000, The Ultimate Package (limit one): Fan becomes the executive producer of the project, has naming rights to the title, authority over selection of guest musicians, and veto power over any song selection or artwork. Fan will also receive the majority of the proceeds of all future sales, and be responsible for all marketing costs and decisions (mechanicals and digital royalty payments extra). As a bonus for unwittingly becoming a record label, fan will also have the opportunity to name any of the band members’ future children and, if desired, rename existing children or the band members themselves.

Feeling engaged yet? You may already be discovering the appeal of “limited engagement” so popular with military strategists around the world.