Indie Band Turns to Crowd, Not Label, for First Album Funds


The Tally

On February 1st , 2013 Bigtree Bonsai launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $3,800 for their first full-length album.  By March 6th, they had almost doubled their goal with $6,956 raised.

The Takeaways

  • Research everything. Being the subject-matter expert legitimizes your project to your supporters and prepares you for all possible outcomes.
  • Know the production costs of your rewards. Shipping, margins, taxes, timeline…
  • Tailor the campaign to your brand. (Independent Musician uses Independent Platform)
  • Have a plan, and be prepared to change it.
  • Get to the relevant points of your campaign quickly in your video.
  • Keep rewards simple, and ensure the principle reward is at the center of the campaign.

The Origin and Planning of the Project

Bigtree Bonsai started brainstorming, researching and planning their crowdfunding campaign in September of 2012, before they launched in February, 2013.  “We wanted to make sure we covered all corners…” says Brandon Hagstrom, the band member behind the site design and setup of IgnitionDeck. “…by being visually prepared, it legitimizes the project to our potential supporters and allows them to be more apt to donate their hard-earned money to our crowdfunding project.”

Bigtree Bonsai spent a great deal of time researching and developing the mission of their crowdfund. “Musicians can sometimes receive a bad wrap for being lackadaisical or procrastinatory when it comes to the business side of their career path. We wanted to make sure our supporters clearly knew they were investing into a project that had direction, attention to detail and clarity.”

Video Production, project margins, shipping costs, taxes, timelines, mixing, mastering and CD duplication were all accounted for in the planning phases, so that once they were ready to execute, they could hit the ground running.  “…after conversing with a few friends that have had successful crowdfunding campaigns, we realized these are extremely important things we couldn’t gloss over.”

Choosing IgnitionDeck and Crowdfunding Without a Middleman


The decision to crowdfund on their own website, as opposed to Kickstarter or one of its competitors came down to a variety of factors, the primary one being a distaste for paying middleman fees on top of gateway fees.

Hagstrom says that since they’re a small indie band setting out to record their debut album, they wanted to make sure they received all the funds that their fans and supporters would give to them. “IgnitionDeck allowed us to keep all of the funds no matter how much our goal was.”  Of course, Hagstrom says “…we would have felt pretty silly having not reached our goal.”

Hagstrom enjoys web design, and was excited by the prospect of using the Bigtree Bonsai WordPress website as the platform for their campaign. “We took a small risk, but wanted to come across a little more grassroots and independent from the mainstream crowdfunding platforms.”

Hagstrom says that when new Kickstarter projects pop up, he realized he glosses over them “because of how saturated it has become.” Building their campaign on their own website helped them stand out to their potential fans. “There are pros and cons to both, but we would have most likely been buried in a sea of other similar projects having gone the Kickstarter way.”


Bigtree Bonsai did something we at IgnitionDeck had not yet witnessed in a crowdfunding campaign – they gave it a name.  And the name was more than just the band name or the product name, but in a move to show how socially savvy they are, they hashtagged it: #LETSMAKEARECORD

The Hashtag part of it was an experiment to see how it would play out.  While their idea was to see it go big on Twitter, it didn’t quite pan out like that.  Instead, Hagstrom says, “other than a few supporters, most of our supporters came from Facebook or word of mouth elsewhere.”

Overall, it did what they hoped it would do.  Hagstrom acknowledges that with a little more effort they could have seen it be more successful “…but it seemed to work out anyway.”

Shooting their Video on the Second Coldest Day in 5 Years

Bigtree Bonsai had prepared a script for their video, and planned when it would work best for everyone to get together to shoot.  Since none of them are actors, and their personalities tend to fall towards the weird and humourous, that’s the direction they went with their campaign launch video.

On the second coldest day in 5 years, Bigtree Bonsai headed out into the Minnesota January winter and began to shoot their video.   “We were all terribly cold and the filming day was awful, but we knew what we had to do.” says Hagstrom “The script almost immediately went out the window and we filmed in 5-10 minute increments to avoid frostbite outside and to warm up in our running cars with the heat blasting!”

They spent a long time on the editing of their video, skimming the fat and ensuring they were hitting a tone that would achieve what they were going for, keeping their audience interested at the same time. Because of the cold windy day, they needed to dub the voices to ensure everything said was audible.  This achieved an “old-time ninja film feel to it” which Hagstrom said ended up fitting very well with their overall tone of the video.

When we asked Hagstrom about any pointers he had for others setting out to make their campaign launch video, he said “there are several ways to approach the launch video, but it has to be interesting, enticing and it has to be YOU.” He also pointed out to make sure to get the project objectives out of the way quickly. “…it helped that we sprinkled the more serious project objectives in a little less humorous way right off the bat in the first few scenes before it got weird…ha.”

Creating The Reward Levels

Bigtree Bonsai followed what is fairly standard practice in a crowdfunding campaign. They had each consecutive level receive the rewards of the previous levels, plus something new and extra special for that level.

They realized however, their most popular rewards were the most simple.  The album, the screen-print poster and having your name in the supportive credits of the hard copy and on the website.

Their unique reward ideas were perfect for those who wanted them, but the majority of people went for the straightforward.  Hagstrom says he would have liked to think of more unique rewards, however “…this often comes with higher expenses as well. All things to consider.”

The Future of Crowdfunding for Bigtree Bonsai

When we asked Bigtree Bonsai if there was anything we could do to make IgnitionDeck better for them the next time they decided to use it, they said “we all agreed that this would be the first and last time we would use a crowdfunding platform. This is our own “Ignition Deck” that would lead to bigger steps in the band’s future.”

Bigtree Bonsai took their steps very seriously in crafting their crowdfunding campaign. The goal was to use it to raise funds to cover costs, get new fans, and make music. “Hopefully, this opportunity will help launch us into a brighter light, bigger stage, attract more fans that attend more shows, listen to our music and spread the word about Bigtree Bonsai.”

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