Brian Meece is the CEO and co-founder of RocketHub, a platform that has helped thousands of artists and entrepreneurs further connect with their fans and brands, providing them with tools to help them raise funds and awareness for their creative projects. Brian is also a lifelong musician who continues to perform and record. A graduate of film school, he officially made his way to the music industry through creative media and creative arts. Brian started RocketHub when he began to see how powerful the community funding/crowdfunding model could be for artists across media and decided he wanted to create a company specifically geared towards artists that would educate, empower and support them as they worked get their creative projects off the ground.
Brian talked to me about how the crowdfunding model works and about the mission of RocketHub. He also shared some tips for artists that want to successfully harness the power of this fan funding model in order to build mutually-beneficial relationships with their fans and get their dream projects off the ground.
How did you get into the music industry and come up with the idea to start the RocketHub platform?
My background mostly before starting RocketHub was in creative media and creative arts. I went to undergrad for film and made some films. And I have been playing in bands since I was in high school. I recognized that in the world of indie filmmaking and the world of indie music, a lot of early adopters were gravitating towards a community funding model that we now know as the crowdfunding model. We were seeing it when Darren Aronofsky raised money for his first breakout movie Pi in the late ‘90s. He reached out to his community to raise about $60,000 and make that movie happen. It was the first time I had seen this phenomenon.
Then, years later, I saw Jill Sobule do a fan-funding campaign on her own and raise over $100,000. I recognized that this community funding model that we know as crowdfunding was something that was going to become part of the new media landscape. And I wanted to build a company that was artist friendly and would educate, empower and support artists and creative people looking to get funding and build awareness for their projects. So, that’s how RocketHub came to be.
And your official title is co-founder and CEO?
In the tech startup world there are a lot of CEOs out there. It’s important to note that it’s not just me, but the whole team behind RocketHub that are all also cut from a creative cloth. We all came together to build a company and organization that’s really supportive of the Arts and of the folks pursuing their dreams.
What is crowdfunding, and how does the RocketHub platform work?
Crowdfunding is an online event that harnesses a community for funding, awareness and feedback. This event has a beginning, a middle and end to it. It’s very different from the standard ecommerce play where you open up a store and sell stuff online. And it’s different from a donation play where there’s an online tip jar. Crowdfunding is very much an event that galvanizes communities to participate within a very specific amount of time.
The way our platform works is that an artist comes to RocketHub, uploads the title of their project and what they’re looking to do – whether it’s recording an album, a music video, doing a tour or something along those lines. And they’ll typically have a pitch video talking about themselves, their passion for the project, and a detailed project description. Then, they’ll set a goal amount – what they’re looking to raise. Most music projects we’ve seen are between $2,000 and $10,000. We’ve had other projects raise tens of thousands of dollars and some raise over $100,000. But, most music projects raise in that $2,000 – $10,000 range. And they usually accomplish this goal in between 60 and 90 days. On the project page, there’s also a rewards menu that outlines what funders get in exchange for their financial contributions. For example, they might get a digital download of the album for $10 or a physical CD that’s signed with a memento for $20. They may get a bundle or another cool experience for $50. And it scales up. We’ve seen donations of $100 and even $1,000 or $5,000 come in for certain projects. If the reward is really exciting, and the fan base is there to support the project, it can be a cool and interesting way to monetize communities based on these different levels of support.
You said something interesting to me the other day. You mentioned you really weren’t selling music and the final product as much as you were selling an experience.
Yes. We really are selling the experience. This funding model is about the relationship that these funders – and we call them “fuelers” on RocketHub – have with the artist/person spearheading the project. It’s about the relationship that those fuelers have with this creative person and that they have with each other – their ability to connect and communicate. It’s really about how fans participate with the funding, how they connect with the artist and the other funders and what they get back in exchange for the financial contribution. It’s a very different phenomenon from just going to the store or downloading something. It’s very impactful when done correctly.
The music projects on RocketHub make up about 25 percent of all the projects that come through the site. And we have a really high hit rate for music projects. Many musicians already have loyal fan bases and are already communicating with fans in ways that they weren’t doing ten years ago. A lot of projects can get made with 50-100 people, because the average contribution to music projects on the site is a little over $60. So, you can go back into the project budget and say, “Okay, if I need $6,000, that’s a little over 100 people I need to say ‘yes’ to this project.” And that’s very doable for a lot of emerging artists that are looking to take the next step with their careers by getting a tour or an album or music video out.
It’s really exciting to see music and crowdfunding fitting together so well.
I’m the kind of guy who struggled to even ask people to sponsor me when I ran a marathon. Do you find that there is some sort of acclimation process involved in the process of getting people comfortable with the idea of asking their peers for donations? How would you advise people to get past that mental hurdle?
First of all, I don’t really like to look at this as a “donation” model. You want to push the “trade,” not the “aid” angle. And the “trade” angle is where the rewards come in. Also, we’re artists, not charities. We’re asking for support and contributions. But we’re also offering something to our network. We’re offering cool rewards and scarce experiences. That’s really what the campaign should be about: “Here’s what I’m up to. Here’s why I’m doing it. And here’s what you can get if you come along for the ride.” When you frame your campaign around that type of communication, you get a lot better response than you do if you say, “Hey, I need money for this.”
For example, I ran my own campaign. And I can tell you, it takes a little bit of commitment and a little bit of gusto to get it together and put a project out to the world. It’s a little scary. But what I really enjoyed about it was that it gave me an excuse to reach out to people that I hadn’t talked to or seen in a while. I said, “Here’s what I’m up to, just FYI. Here’s what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. If you’re interested in this – and I hope you are – here’s how you can become a part of it. If you’re intrigued, come join the tribe.” And that communication really worked well with my audience. I have a hunch it would also work well with a lot of other artists’ audiences.
That “trade, not aid” mantra gets us, as artists, out of the mindset of fundraising or asking for tips or donations; because that’s really not what crowdfunding is about. It’s patronage meets commerce – a new spin on an old idea. I like to say, “Beethoven, plus social media equals crowdfunding.” What I mean by that is, it’s the old idea of patronage meets this new concept of being connected to a massive amount of people; crowdfunding is really just mass patronage. It’s pretty cool to see this idea of patronage reemerge on top of social media.
Yeah. It’s wonderful.
I often find that musicians, myself included, get ahead of ourselves pretty often and place the cart before the horse in a lot of situations. My inclination with setting up a crowdfunding campaign would be to say, “I put a band together, and we had one rehearsal. Now, let’s raise some money!” Because I don’t have any patience. When is the right time in a musician’s career for this type of crowdfunding campaign? Is there a baseline amount of fans or activity a band should realize before embarking on this type of project?
I would say that crowdfunding works for artists at a lot of different levels. So, it depends on what you’re trying to raise. The band you just described that has been jamming in a garage for a month or two may not be ready to raise $10,000 – $12,000 to do a big double LP. But they will very likely be able to raise $1,000 – $1,500 to go do a little demo EP or to do a higher-end show to premiere the band.
If you’re an emerging artist, I’d say, be realistic with your goals. And know that the average contribution to music projects is about $60. So, to raise $1,000 you need 20-30 people to say “yes” to a project, which is not really a lot. Just be reasonable in what you want to raise based on where you are in your creative journey. We’ve found that emerging artists that are just looking to start something raised $500 – $1,500. We’ve seen mid-level artists raise $5,000, plus. And we’ve seen larger, working artists that everyone may have heard of raise significantly more. It really just depends on where you are in your career. But you need to be aware that there is a strategy involved. If an emerging artist tries to raise $10,000, it’s going to be a lot tougher.
I know not every campaign is successful. From the vantage point of someone who sees thousands of these campaigns start up on RocketHub, which specific qualities do the artists that are successful at crowdfunding tend to have?
A successful RocketHub campaign typically has three core components. The first is an awesome project spearheaded by awesome people with passion. Believe it or not, just the fact that you’re making a record, a music video or planning a tour is not enough. It really needs to be as awesome as you can make it. The project doesn’t have to be really big either; it can be something really cool on a small scale. But as an artist, you just have to make it as awesome as you can and be front and center and have your band’s personality, or the creative team’s personality be front and center.
The second component you need in order to be successful is some sort of audience or network to start the campaign to. Obviously, the bigger the network, the more successful a campaign will be. But a lot of projects are funded through small communities. 20, 30, 50 or 100 people can add up significantly with a crowdfunding campaign. You want to have some kind of fan base to start. It doesn’t have to be massive.
The third thing you need in order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign is cool rewards. The $20 level is most popular one for music. It’s the single-most popular price point. But the average – the mien – is a little over $60. So, you want to make sure you also have a cool $50 reward and cool $100, $250, $500 and even $1,000 and $5,000 rewards, just in case you get a big-ticket player that wants to jump in.
Those are really the three core components we find successful projects have: 1) an awesome mission spearheaded by awesome people; 2) that fan base/audience that’s connected to them; 3) cool rewards to offer in exchange for the financial contribution. Those three things together are the Holy Grail.
The tiered model is always an interesting one. I was fortunate enough to work with Jill Sobule – who you mentioned earlier – when I was at Lava Records. For a $10,000 contribution, she actually offered the reward of being allowed to sing on her record. And somebody did it. And I don’t know if he ever sold any of these, but the drummer Josh Freese came up with a list of tiered rewards. And one of the upper echelons was, “Do mushrooms with me and the guys from Tool.” I don’t know if that’s something you’d want to advise, but it’s an interesting take on the model.
Well, and also, the RocketHub team loves helping artists. We love educating them on how to run campaigns and giving them a little feedback when they need it. As a team, we’re very accessible to artists. If you’re an artist, you shouldn’t look at the platform as just a website. The people behind it – myself included – are really passionate about helping artists raise funds and awareness.
There are a few crowdfunding sites out there, including Kickstarter and PledgeMusic. Why do you think artists should choose RocketHub?
We share this space with a variety of different companies. And overall, that’s a really good thing. Having some choice in the overall market stimulates demand for the entire industry. I think the biggest way we’re different because we’re always looking to add value for our creative users.
I think RocketHub has some technical differences as well as some softer-touch differences. In terms of technical differences, on RocketHub you don’t have to reach the full funding amount in order to unlock your funds like you do on some of our competitors’ platforms. So, if a musician sets a goal of $15,000 and raises $9,000 or $10,000, they’ll be able to walk away with funds – minus their credit card fees and RocketHub fees.
We’ve found that RocketHub is a great platform for creatives looking to make their projects happen and that are committed to making their projects happen, because they can aim high and still have a safety net if they don’t raise all their funds. On some of the other platforms, you can run a campaign, raise $8,000 or $9,000 of a $15,000 goal, and walk away with nothing because you didn’t hit the full funding amount. We want to really be artist friendly in that regard.
Another way we’re different is that we allow artists to launch projects from around the world. Some of our competitors don’t do that.
We also are looking to add value beyond the funding campaign. So, if you look at the front page of the RocketHub site now, you’ll see one of our Launchpad products. It’s basically a publicity firm in New York that’s going to give a month-long publicity campaign to an artist on RocketHub. These opportunities we open up are free to our creative users that have successfully funded on RocketHub. And we’re going to be doing more and more of that – trying really get exposure and extra awareness for artists that are doing special things on our site.
To learn more about Brian Meece and how his crowdfunding platform helps artists, check out the RocketHub website.