How to Finance Your Career

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

To those who think talent is the hallmark of success in the music business, think again. While talent is essential, marketing wisdom and good business sense are fundamental skills needed as well. That's especially true for independent artists, who often self-finance their careers. With so many musical acts out there vying for attention, a keen and innovative approach is needed.

Every artist is different. Brandi Shearer, a northern Californian singer-songwriter took the entrepreneurial approach. She applied for and got a $25,000 loan from her local Small Business Administration. It's the first time I've ever heard of an artist getting a SBA loan. Brandi used the money to set up a record label and fund the marketing, promotion and touring for her next album. Once on the road, she sold personalized merchandising to help finance the venture.

Jill Sobule is another example of a recording artist taking matters into her own hands. In 2008, she needed $75,000 to produce and market her next album. She created a website, called and invited fans to help. Fifty-three days after she launched the website, Jill met her financial goal. Over 500 people in 44 states and 12 countries help contribute to the making and marketing of the The California Years CD. The album was released last spring and Jill is still touring around it – she'll be at McCabe's on November 20.

Financing recording costs through fan investment is becoming more prevalent in the music business. The fan-financed record capitalizes on an audience's desire to participate. A handful of companies have sprouted up on the web to give recording artists a platform to raise money. There's SellaBand, the company that allows fans to invest incrementally in a band's project. Investors get special access to the band, and can earn exclusive CD's, downloads, t-shirts and backstage passes. Public Enemy, the hip hop icons, recently launched their own SellaBand fundraising page, seeking $250,000 for the recording and marketing of their next album. They've earned $62,000 so far.

And there's Kickstarter. With a minimum $1 pledge, supporters can help finance dreams. Kickstarter is not just for musicians. The site solicits backers for filmmakers, journalists, fine artists, inventors and explorers as well. Over 700 projects are currently seeking funding or have reached full backing on Kickstarter.

The most recent addition to the fan financing world is Pledge Music, offering fan financing for bands, with excess funds for charities. New York based band, The Damnwells are seeking $20 grand to finance their next recording. Make a pledge, and part of the money will go to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and TB.

So it turns out, musicians will do just fine, thank you very much, with or without the benefit of big record company financing. With hundreds of thousands of recording artists seeking their fame and fortune, it's comforting to know that a friend is just a dot-com and click away.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.