Their forthcoming book, Crowdfunding for Musicians, shares lessons learned over the course of six successful projects.
If anyone knows how to help musicians navigate a Kickstarter campaign, it’s Laser Malena-Webber. The Portland, Oregon–based musician founded the indie folk band The Doubleclicks with their sister, Aubrey, in 2011; the duo got their start on YouTube and worked tirelessly to develop a dedicated fan base. They achieved that by making music about what they love — from cats to board games to feelings — and by running engaging crowdfunding campaigns.
The duo has run six campaigns on Kickstarter, raising more than $100,000 to fund five albums, a slew of cute enamel pins — and now, in a lovely meta twist, a how-to guide to crowdfunding for musicians. Aptly titled Crowdfunding for Musicians, the book — it’s live on Kickstarter for a few more days — will share the knowledge they’ve amassed and empower their musical community to achieve the same success.
“I’ve been consulting with artists for a few years, and I find myself giving the same advice over and over again,” they told us. “So it’s really nice for me to [gather] all this information in one place. It’s a manual about crowdfunding, but it also has a lot of information about building and connecting with an audience in a genuine way.”
We recently spoke with Malena-Webber, who is currently living their best life on tour with The Doubleclicks, about music as self-care, coming out as nonbinary, and the three things a musician needs to know before launching a Kickstarter campaign.
— Folake Aina
Kickstarter: How would you describe your music to someone who’s unfamiliar with it?
Laser Malena-Webber: We’re somewhere in the middle of folk, pop, nerd, and comedy music — not fully any of those, but a little bit of all of them. People can get a pretty good idea by tuning in to our YouTube channel.
What are some of the themes you address in your music, and why?
The Doubleclicks sing about cats, dinosaurs, board games, queer identity, and feelings. As for why: We sing about the things we care about — a lot. Over the years, the music has served as our journal, our motivational self-talk, and our fan art for all the things we love. Our new album, The Book Was Better, is mostly about reality, the internet, books, and other levels of “realness.” The album was funded on Kickstarter, and it’s [now available] on Spotify and everywhere [else].
Have there been times when you felt like your gender presentation and identity helped or hindered your creative process?
I’m nonbinary, and coming out, incorporating that identity into my public persona, has been a big part of my life over the last couple of years. We took a year off from publicly being The Doubleclicks, in part because I felt weird introducing myself and performing in a way that felt very dishonest to who I really was. After I came out, most of our fans were super-duper supportive. Being honest about who I am has not only helped my mental health, it’s also made our art more honest, and we’ve been able to connect with our community even more deeply.
In terms of the negatives — of course they exist. There are people who don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, and sometimes those are the people we have to deal with in a professional capacity, and that takes a lot of emotional labor that can be exhausting. I’m very grateful to my friends, family, and the Doubleclicks community who support me so vehemently.
What have you learned over the course of running six Kickstarter campaigns that you wish you’d known when you started out?
The biggest mistake we made on our first campaign was chasing numbers: We kept adding stretch goals and custom rewards because we wanted to see the numbers get as high as possible. However, that led us to having to do a whole lot of work [to fulfill those rewards] that really overwhelmed us. Now we try very hard to schedule out all the work and set super-realistic goals. It’s very tempting to just want the dollar amount to be as high as possible, but that’s truly not the goal. The goal is making art, or touring, or connecting with the audience. Keeping the real mission statement in mind is vital.
It’s very tempting to just want the dollar amount to be as high as possible, but that’s truly not the goal. The goal is making art, or touring, or connecting with the audience.
Another thing we didn’t know when we first joined Kickstarter was the doors it would open for us. Crowdfunding has not only allowed us to make music and videos, it’s also allowed both of us to quit our day jobs to be musicians and creators full-time. Kickstarter has elevated our music to chart on Billboard four times, and it’s brought us on tour to tons of places. All of that has come with a lot of work as well: When you crowdfund, you aren’t just the musician, you’re also the label, the manager, the booker… There’s a lot of email. It’s worth it, though!
Why did you want to write a book that empowers other artists to run crowdfunding campaigns?
The internet is surprisingly underutilized by a bunch of artists, and that’s super weird to me. We meet a ton of cool musicians who just don’t know its potential: We can connect with our audience online, we can do shows, share music, have conversations, and promote our work to all our fans around the world all at once. And then, of course, there’s Kickstarter — a place where we can raise money to make art we could never make on our own. There are so many talented artists who just need a little push and a little advice. They need permission to connect to their audience without a label or a public relations company or a marketing team. And I love to help with that.
We certainly wouldn’t want to spoil your book, but can you share three top tips every musician should know before launching a Kickstarter campaign?
- Before you launch, work on building your audience. Make content for the internet — and don’t worry about it being perfect or expensive! Music videos don’t have to cost $2,000 to $5,000; they can just be you and a cell phone. Being present with your fans means you’re a bigger part of their lives, so make lots of stuff for them to watch and listen to.
- Start a mailing list and promote it everywhere. Having a big audience before a Kickstarter doesn’t mean a lot if you can’t get in touch with them on day one of your project. Collect your fans’ email addresses (in exchange for free songs) and keep them up to date.
- Set a realistic goal and copy successful strategies from other campaigns. Do a lot of research about what you can realistically raise, and don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Resources like Kickstarter’s website, my book, and your friends can help. Crowdfunding is all about the crowd — about community working together.
Crowdfunding is all about the crowd — about community working together.
How do you stay connected to yourself while making music, touring, and running Kickstarter campaigns?
This year especially has been super busy: We’re about to head to Europe, and that’s only halfway through our tour. I’m trying to be good to myself in between trips and do things that are just for fun: take walks, pet my cat, play with my musical improv team. I also recommend therapy and anxiety meds to [people] who need them — investing in my mental health has turned my life around, and I think we should all be a little more open about it.
Who are three artists you’ve gotten into recently?
- Lizzo: I mean, of course.
- Mal Blum: Their music is like the feelings-rock I loved in high school.
- The Library Bards: I’ve known them for a while (and helped run their most recent Kickstarter campaign), but their new album is delightful, and I’m so excited for the amazing things these nerdy parody artists are doing. They’re going to rule the world!