Jonathan Carman lights up when he tells the latest chapter of his band Leslie's ongoing adventure. Normally an easygoing guy, the drummer is filled with enthusiasm when pressed to discuss the band's use of Kickstarter to fund their latest release.
"I'm definitely pro-Kickstarter," says Carman. As an online fund-raising program, Kickstarter has become increasingly popular among indie bands and artists. Without it, Leslie's fancy new record would still be in the can. "I never dreamed that it would work out the way it did. There were people who offered support — people who believed in us and showed it."
The trio spent the last two years figuring out how to release their new full-length studio album, Lord, Have Mercy, a nicely polished collection of melodic power-pop gems, pulsating hard-rock anthems, and guitar-driven rockers. The tunes were ready to press, but the band didn't have the bread to manufacture and release them.
"It reached the point where we thought, 'Hey, we really need to put this thing out,'" says singer/guitarist Sadler Vaden. "If we kept on shopping for months and months, it would just waste time. Nothing could come from that. We couldn't really move forward that way."
After weighing their options, they finally decided to put it out independently this spring, launching a Kickstarter account in order to cover the costs. It's an all-or-nothing funding deal with Kickstarter; a project must reach its funding goal before time runs out. Otherwise, no money changes hands.
In 2009, Leslie released the Rebel Souls EP, a four-song splash of anthems and rockers they recorded in Memphis with Paul Ebersold (Space Hog, 3 Doors Down, Saliva, Sister Hazel), but they knew they had to plow ahead with an new LP. "We went from doing 250 dates a year to going into a studio, recording and releasing an EP, and touring on it for two years," says Vaden. "There's only so much with an EP, you know? So we had to get things going on this full-length."
Leslie had already invested a considerable amount of money in the recording sessions. Universal, one of the labels interested in the band, sent the Leslie into a another studio for demos. Very little came from it, though. The band had several investors and local supporters who helped make the studio sessions happen, so they wanted to take care of the financial issue in a timely manner.
Once recording was completed, Carman, Vaden, and bassist Jason Fox debated whether to manufacture compact discs at all. Why not simply release the music online for fans to purchase and download? And with the resurgent popularity of vinyl, why not press limited vinyl copies of the new album and bypass pressing discs altogether? In the digital age, these were issues to consider.
"When we were initially making plans, we wanted to release the album in all forms — CDs, vinyl, and digitally," says Carman. "It was as important for us to have copies available that had the full artwork as well as making it easy for people to put in on their computers, which is where it will probably end up, anyway."
Compared to a typical major-label budget, the band's studio and manufacturing budget wasn't terribly expensive. However, for an indie band trying to make ends meet, the costs were daunting. The band felt they'd exhausted their options with potential labels, so they pressed ahead.
Leslie initially felt uncomfortable conducting a Kickstarter campaign after friends and fans held a fund-raiser to help the band pay for new gear after their equipment was stolen while they were on tour last year.
"That was tough," says Carman. "We encountered several people who grumbled that we were asking too much. We had to sit down with one friend in particular and explain that this was totally different from those benefit shows, which we didn't even put together. This [Kickstarter] campaign was asking for donations. It was offering something in return."
Fortunately, Leslie's Kickstarter project surpassed its goal of $7,500 in late February. The band set the minimum pledge at $10, which was basically a pre-order for the final product. Those who made that pledge would receive a copy of the album after it had been pressed. Leslie also offered a variety of exclusive merchandise and gifts to donors, including an iPod nano, album credits, handwritten lyric sheets, autographed posters, passes to shows, and free downloads.
"A lot of people who pledged actually turned down the rewards," says Carman. "They said they just wanted to help out, which was awesome. That surprised us."