Jen Cloher has been a familiar name on the music scene since she, together with her band The Endless Sea, released her debut EP Permanent Marker in 2005. Eight years, two albums, and one ARIA nomination later, Cloher is set to release her third long player, In Blood Memory, with the help of her fans.
Chiefly through a campaign on crowdfunding platform Pozible, which has played an instrumental role in many creative projects coming to fruition. Starting with creating a page on their website, artists and creatives of any type can ask supporters to pledge a certain amount towards their project’s progress, receiving various rewards in return.
The crowdfunding phenomenon has been gaining momentum since its incarnation a few years ago. And it’s not just for amateurs; earlier this year, multi-ARIA award-winning Perth rockers Eskimo Joe notably smashed their Pozible target of $40K to earn over $60K in fan pledges, which went towards recording their sixth album.
So it was with little hesitation that Cloher turned to the site when she decided to release In Blood Memory independently. Within five weeks of launching her campaign, Cloher raised over $16,500 to help produce the album – exceeding her target of $15,000.
“Doing Pozible was a real choice,” she emphasises. “It’s not something I went into because I was desperate for money… I wanted to have total creative and financial control over my business.”“Doing Pozible was a real choice. It’s not something I went into because I was desperate for money … I wanted to have total creative and financial control over my business.”
Having that control is something the Melbourne singer-songwriter places a lot of importance upon. Since 2011 she has been running a series of workshops called I Manage My Music, which teach independent musicians how to create a sustainable music business. In her words, “debt is the number one killer of creativity”, so in order for an artist to thrive, it’s important that they avoid it.
“When you’re in debt,” she explains, “music stops being fun because all you can think about is the debt that you’re in. It just becomes all too hard.”
With so many bedroom musicians popping up these days, it might come as a surprise to those outside of the industry to hear just how much it can cost to produce a record.
“Even if you make an album at home, you still have to master it, press it, do some kind of promotional work… even if you made one on the cheap there’s still going to be at least about $1000 you have to pay for some kind of equipment.”
She also makes the very valid point that people’s generosity and willingness to help out only goes so far. “You run out of favours. It’s OK on your first album to call in friends [to help]… but once you have a bit of a profile you actually have to pay people what they’re worth.”
Cloher says choosing to take the process into her own hands has been by and large a worthwhile decision. “What I’ve learnt is that if you do your research and you know what you’re doing, it’s actually a better way to go because you’re not giving away so much of the pie.”
Cloher was fortunate to find 303 supporters to help ensure she keeps as much of that pie as possible, pledging amounts as low as $5 to as generous as $1,000 to make her record a reality. While she admits it’s totally humbling, a distinction must be made between fans simply shelling out cash and instead becoming a part of the production (and being rewarded for it).
“I reckon that people who support independent music and come to those shows are a special breed. They’re precious, they’re the people I care about.”
“I think that’s a big misconception… that people are just coming in and giving me money,” she says. “They’re not giving me money; they’re getting an album, a private concert, songwriting coaching with me for two hours… I’m offering people my time, I’m offering people my art, and they’re investing in it.”
That’s one of the great elements of the Pozible campaigns. The project creator (i.e. Cloher) can allocate different rewards to be given depending on how much is donated. For $50, contributors would get a limited edition, signed copy of In Blood Memory on vinyl, and these, along with the signed CD for $25, made up nearly $10,000 of the pledges.
For those willing to donate a little more, there were some unique experiences up for grabs. Earning a feature spot in her next film clip cost $160, being treated to dinner cooked by the band and a private listening of the vinyl “on some fully sick speakers” was $300, and for one very generous supporter, Cloher will be playing an acoustic set in their lounge room as a thank you for their pledge of $1000. “I reckon that people who support independent music and come to those shows are a special breed. They’re precious, they’re the people I care about.”
Despite the backing she’s received, this warm, personable muso still harboured a fear of failure in the campaign’s early days.
“To be honest with you, when I went into this I was terrified,” she reveals. “I also knew that there was a little bit of stigma around crowdfunding – people thinking you can’t come up with the money yourself.”
As it continued, though, Cloher overcame any self-doubt and says she saw the project for what it is.
“It’s the artist basically saying ‘I believe in this product, I’m offering it to you in advance and you can help me get it out there’ … Once I let go of my own stigmatised ideas of what crowdfunding was, it actually became really fun and I really enjoyed it.”
The music industry has changed significantly since she released her first album, Dead Wood Falls in 2006. “Even then, people still went into stores and bought albums. Then, with my second album, Hidden Hands (2009), it had moved 50/50 – 50% was digital, the other 50% was physical, and I reckon it’s shifted again… you’d see two thirds of people buying it digitally.”
Digital consumption isn’t always a negative thing, as one can choose to purchase an album directly from the artist’s own website – as opposed to iTunes – to ensure that they get most of the money from its sale. Still, whether it’s CDs or MP3s, selling a record just doesn’t bring the fortune it once did.
“The other big shift is that where artists used to make a lot of money from album sales, now it’s all about touring,” adds Cloher. “So it’s about people coming to have that live experience that you can’t torrent.”
Cloher is nothing but grateful to supporters of the indie music scene. “I reckon that people who support independent music and come to those shows are a special breed. They’re precious, they’re the people I care about.”
That special breed will gather once again as Cloher launches In Blood Memory at the Corner Hotel on June 28th, joined by fellow independent musos Ainslie Wills and Fraser A Gorman, who she describes as “world class” and “all the good things about people wanting to do music” respectively.
Meanwhile the Sydney audience will enjoy a support slot from Melodie Nelson and fellow singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, who is also a member of Cloher’s own backing band The Endless Sea on guitar.
Surrounded by fans who helped her arrive at this point, Cloher’s hard work will pay off when she finally gets to give the people what they paid for.
In Blood Memory is out Friday 24th May via Milk! Records/Vitamin Records. Jen Cloher plays launch shows for her new album in Melbourne and Sydney. Dates and details below.
Jen Cloher Album Launch Tour
Friday 28 June – The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
with special guests Ainslie Wills & Fraser A Gorman
Tickets $23 from The Corner Hotel
Friday 12 July – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
with special guests Melodie Nelson & Courtney Barnett
Tickets $23.50 from Moshtix