It’s rare for someone to be an expert in both heavy metal and crowdfunding, but documentarian Sam Dunn qualifies as both.
The music expertise comes from making films and TV shows about the genre through Banger Films Inc., his Toronto-based production company. His crowdfunding knowledge is the result of several attempts at raising money for projects directly from fans – some successful, some not so much.
Banger Films’ most recent effort, a campaign on the crowdfunding site Patreon this past spring to fund the creation of album review videos, was indeed a hit. The project passed its goal of US$2,666 a month in five days and sits at close to $6,200 as of this writing.
Aside from being able to recommend the quintessential Metallica and Mastodon albums to anyone who’s interested, Mr. Dunn is also now well positioned to suggest the do’s and don’ts of raising money online.
His best piece of advice to fellow entrepreneurs and small business owners: Don’t try crowdfunding in a bubble.
“You have to build a relationship with the audience and you have to listen,” he says. “Respect your audience and set your goals at an achievable level.”
Banger Films’ first foray into crowdfunding, in 2013, didn’t go smoothly. The company was looking to fund an extra episode of Metal Evolution, a 2011 television series that documented the history of the genre. VH1 had funded the initial 11-episode series, but the U.S. channel passed on a 12th instalment, which would have focused on the darkest and heaviest elements of the music.
Believing that this “Extreme Metal” episode was integral to the overall history, Mr. Dunn and Banger Films co-founder Scot McFadyen went directly to their audience via Indiegogo. They asked for $135,000 but managed to raise just $39,000, or less than a third of the target.
Mr. Dunn says they made the same mistake that many entrepreneurs do when it comes to crowdfunding – they expected that the promise of a good final product would be enough to attract backers.
“The audience doesn’t see all the cost that goes into it,” he says. “Even with an audience that knew us and liked us, we had to win them over.”
Mr. Dunn and Mr. McFadyen pared back the budget, then went back for another round. This time, they sought $35,000 and did a better job of explaining their costs through message boards, and they successfully hit the goal.
The episode was ultimately produced at a loss and released for free on BitTorrent and then YouTube, but it provided the company with valuable experience and a base to build an online video channel.
The company’s heavy-metal album reviews have been a key part of the YouTube channel Banger TV since its launch in 2015, with funding coming mostly from the Ontario Media Development Corporation’s Interactive Digital Media Fund and the Bell Fund. With gaps in that funding, Mr. Dunn put the reviews on hiatus late last year while he explored other options.
The idea to crowdfund the reviews didn’t occur internally.
“It came from the audience,” Mr. Dunn says. “That was a great thing to hear, a boost of confidence. It wasn’t just one or two people. There were dozens saying, ‘You should do a Patreon campaign.’”
The process was easier this time around because of the relationships that producers had built with fans over time, primarily by interacting through YouTube comments. The more modest financial goal also helped.
The company relaunched album reviews in the spring and is now looking at adding new types of video content.
“We didn’t want to set [the goal] so high that we’d be inching our way there,” Mr. Dunn says. “It made us feel good about the campaign and it was good for the contributors to see it happen so quickly.”
Crowdfunding experts agree that successful campaigns depend heavily on building relationships with fans and potential contributors.
“This can’t be a throwaway activity. It has to be something that you’re devoting a lot of resources to,” says Sean Geobey, assistant professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo. Crowdfunding campaigns should have at least one employee assigned to managing them for two or three months, he adds.
“It’s important to get the word out to new customers, but also to mobilize your existing audience.”
Nick Morey, who has helped clients raise more than $45-million in crowdfunding as head of Dynamo Communications San Francisco, also believes entrepreneurs need to devote at least three months to a campaign – one month both before and after the actual effort.
“You absolutely want someone to do it full time. Otherwise it’s just too easy to get overwhelmed,” he says. “People can easily become vocal detractors of your campaign if they feel they are being ignored.”