It’s not easy building a brand or starting something new. Getting people to invest in you can be hard. But in this new age of the internet comes the rise of crowdfunding. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe are some platforms that artists can use for crowdsourcing. To talk about crowdfunding and private patronage is musician, Mary Alouette, better known as Alarke. Join Bree Noble and Alarke as she goes through her musical journey – from gypsy jazz artist to composing original music. Learn how crowdfunding and finding private patrons helped her get gigs, merchandise, and more.
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Finding Success Through Crowdfunding Strategies And Private Patronage With Alarke
I’m excited to be with you and Mary Alouette, who also has the artist’s name of Alarke, which are both so pretty. I am excited to get to know some about her artist journey. We’re going to touch on her experience with crowdfunding because I love to make this super actionable for you guys about a particular strategy. Before we can do that, I want to understand her artist journey. I know she’s lived on the East Coast, in New York, LA and all the different places that artists tend to try and see what works for them as far as personality and the gigs that they want and stuff. We’ll get into all of that. Mary, let us know how you got started in music. What made you end up in New York City? How come now you’re in LA? I’m interested in your artist journey.
Thank you so much for having me and hello to your audience. This is such a great community. I’m thrilled to be here. I started doing music 28 years ago, professionally in musical theater through various daycare centers. My parents got me into it. I did musical theater professionally. I grew up in Maryland outside of Washington, DC. I did that, staying with the Washington Opera and then got into opera singing. I then became an opera singer and studied at the Schulich School of Music at McGill University in Montreal in Canada. My opera took me to sing in Italy, Austria and Canada. I’d be doing performances at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, but it wasn’t for me. I had some successes but also a lot of resistance.
After that, I decided I need to fulfill my childhood dream of being a singer. Opera is not quite the right fit for me even though I love the music. I grew to love music. While I was at opera school at McGill, I was in opera school by day and at night, I was going out to electronic parties, Braves, jazz clubs, afrobeat, concerts, indie shows, metal. I love music. I also studied digital composition there at McGill. It wasn’t for me. I decided I’m just going to go and pursue my childhood dream of being a singer in New York City. I used to want to be on Broadway, not so much right now.
I fell into singing gypsy jazz through a Craigslist ad. Speaking of earning money, getting into a highly specialized niche is profitable. I fell into profitable situations by virtue of the genre. If you’re not familiar, gypsy jazz is hot French jazz from ’30s created by the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt. It’s featured in Woody Allen films. A lot of people have it at their weddings, a lot of hot French jazz in jazz clubs, restaurants, bar scenes, and concerts. That became my career in New York City. I was doing gypsy jazz full time. I would do five shows a week, three-hour gigs. From my opera training, I never got tired or hoarse because of vocal tight. If you have a good technique, you have the technique. I’m grateful for that.
While I was doing that, a couple of things are happening. One is that I was having financial success there. I attracted private patrons and crowdfunding for my music that would support my art without asking for anything in return. I’m talking about tens of thousands of dollars. I’m so grateful. They’re angels that have come into my life. I’m very lucky, right time, right place. People would stumble into a gig and then it would develop into a beautiful situation. That was going on.
At the same time, I wanted to do electronic music. It was tugging at my heart from being in Montreal. I didn’t know how to do it. I persevered through many interviews to get a position at an audio apprenticeship at a boutique music studio in New York, where I would apprentice under producers who would produce ASAP Rocky. They went double platinum. I was in their sessions. Not just apprenticing, doing coffee runs and taking out the trash, I would be left alone in the studio for eight hours. They would pass me a project, not these producers but the head of the studio, and say, “Mix this album. Get it back to me.” I was learning as I go. I was in the studio, at night learning on YouTube and then coming back. I learned a lot and made a lot of great connections.
I also started producing my original music that combines electronics and jazz. I got artists residencies that were transformative, better institutional support than the conservatory for me at Strathmore outside of DC. I started releasing my original albums. I won awards. I would go to France and stay with Romani musicians in their caravans for this gypsy jazz music. I was doing all of this, but I still felt pulled, one foot in the gypsy jazz, one foot in the original music. It was stifling my growth because there are two different directions. Ultimately, I decided, what do I want? That’s to do me. I love the gypsy jazz music in that community, but it wasn’t like my original music. I was singing cover songs, which isn’t bad at all. I would have gigs at the rainbow room at 30 Rocket, scouted to boot for there, gigs at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, great things but come up with a lot of blocks and frustrations. I would keep myself small because I wasn’t sure which path to go. It was more a question of self-worth than anything and self-esteem. Eventually, I was, “I got to make a change.”
I started teaching more. I’ve been teaching music for fifteen years now. I started taking the gypsy jazz off from the main income. I need to free up my time in the evenings for gigs to do my original music, not to do the jazz gigs in the evenings. I can’t do both. I’ll teach during the day, free up my time and teach online so I can tour with my original music. I got mentorship, never invested in myself like that before. With life and business coach, it changed my life. Gina DeVee’s her name.
Long story short, I applied to artists’ residences for validation, didn’t get into some of them. I got one a Brooklyn Arts Council, but it wasn’t the big international one I wanted. I’m very grateful for the Brooklyn Arts Council one. I said, “I’m tired of playing small, holding myself back. I’m going to go create my own artist’s residency in Cuba.” I created a solo month-long retreat in Cuba. I wrote an album there, hired a six-piece band to record it. I also collaborated with some American filmmakers and music producers that went down to Cuba. We worked with Cuban hip-hop artists. I performed with them, collaborate on their albums and a documentary film. That was incredible.
The next year, I was like, “How can I top that experience and create something magnificent?” I had Greece on the back of my mind, stand on a Greek island for a month. I couldn’t think of how to make it happen financially, so I just let it go. Talk about manifesting. I got a phone call out of the blue to volunteer at a refugee camp in Greece with this Broadway film and TV, talent and crew to be the music director. The music director at the time was the director for Mean Girls on Broadway. She had a family emergency, couldn’t go. Through word of mouth, I got a call. Knowing this idea of that self-worth and giving something to yourself, I thought it would mean so much for me and be there in space.
If I could help one person out of all of the crises they’ve been through, I feel like a human again, even if it’s just for three seconds. Let the world melt away. That would be worth it. I said yes in a heartbeat, went there. We put on this Arabic production of Shakespeare. They had this Syrian film star that they all knew and loved. It was extraordinary. I ended up traveling the Greek islands for two weeks. That was another big turning point. The universe provides, go after what you want still.
I decided to commit to my original music. I had been producing and collaborating with other producers, writing my own song sketches, but not doing all of the nitty gritty nuances. I released four albums at that time and collaborated on others. I started this collaborative relationship with someone. It didn’t work out. I said, “I have to produce my music,” because I didn’t feel like I could rely on other people. I could rely on myself, which I’m working through, relying on people, trust, and calming down to self-trust.
It’s been my dream to produce my music, so that’s what I did. I hired music mentors for accountability to help me see what I couldn’t see with certain production aspects. Now I’ve been releasing those singles. I released the Cuban jazz album because I was sitting on it. I was, “No more sitting on things. Get it out there.” I have released three singles so far, working on a few of them more. I ran another crowdfunding campaign to help with this. That’s what’s going on. I moved to the country to LA, no more sitting. Do what you want to do.
That is so much to take in. I have so many questions. This is good. I love that you mentioned to our audience, “If you’re looking to make money, find a genre that’s less common.” You became the person for gypsy jazz. You were one of the people that people call on if they wanted it. You immersed yourself in that genre. I don’t even know anything about that genre, which is interesting. I’m sure I’ve heard it. I just didn’t realize it was called that. You happened upon it by mistake. When you were getting involved with that, were you realizing, “This is something that I could utilize for my advantage to make income steadily by becoming the known person for this.”Doing too many things at once can feel like getting pulled. It can stifle your growth because there are two different directions. Click To Tweet
I talked with the booking agents for my friend, Stephane Wrembel, who does the Woody Allen soundtracks and performs live at the Grammys. I was talking with his agent. His agent was like, “I can help you if you want to tour doing gypsy jazz. We could work together, but you’re torn. You got to make a choice.”
You followed that for a while. It sounded like you met a lot of great people. During that time, you had the people wanting to be patrons for you and not asking anything in return. How did that come about? It sounded like you didn’t even ask from them. Did they offer?
Yes, they did. I am so grateful. There are a number of them. They’ve also run crowdfunding campaigns with public patronage through those crowdfunding campaigns but with private patronage. They happen through gigging. They would tell me they would stumble into a gig and they loved the music. We would talk and stay in contact. Oftentimes, at the end of gigs, if I would do a recurring gig at a certain place, they would come up and let me do $100 at the end of every gig. If I needed money for a project, I would be nervous to email them, but I would. They would say yes and there was a semi a project budget. Let me get it together. I wasn’t that organized at that time.
Most artists don’t. They don’t think about that in advance until they realize they need it. That’s one big thing I talked about around crowdfunding. Make sure you have the budget. I would love to know about when you do the public crowdfunding. Did you already have an email list? Did you go out to them for first or were you talking about this at gigs? What was the easiest way to get people on as patrons?
It’s through the email list and personal outreach. I’ve done four crowdfunding campaigns, one on Kickstarter, GoFundMe, two on Indiegogo. I hired someone to help me strategize it more. We worked with spreadsheets. Can I talk about this strategy for a time? We would go through strategy months out in advance. This is after you do the budget, after the creative vision. We talked about a couple of things. Create a vision. Start with why. People are connecting to the story. Why you’re doing something?
There’s a Simon Sinek, TED Talk, Start With Why, also a book. Why are you doing something? What’s a benefit to the person? Although in crowdfunding, it’s not so much like you’re selling them product as much as you’re selling them you and your relationship. They want you to succeed. They want to support you. There’s that. I hired a VA to help me get organized, especially with things like shipping costs, so complicated because you have to calculate, “What are the perks that I’m offering? How am I bundling them together? What are the costs for shipping this domestically, local internationally for the US, Canada and North America, then internationally?” You have to look at different companies like USPS, FedEx, and UPS. What is the best company to work with, depending on the size of the package?
I hired someone to research that for me because you also have to value your time. How much time is it going to take you to do that? In terms of outreach, we created spreadsheets with three circles of influence. One is your family, friends, rider, best friend. The second circle would be your gig buddies, music friends, people that would buy you a beer or a coffee. The writer guys also include super fans. The third circle with the greatest number of people are acquaintances and some friends. They might not be in a position to support you financially. We’ll try and organize them.
The strategy that she was teaching was to have multiple days of authentic conversations where you have a spreadsheet. You mark the day you first reach out, months in advance. You can go down a list and keep a contact of who you reach out to versus going by intuition. There’s a section for notes if there’s anything in particular. You have that. You could circle back in the future. You have another column for that, the date that you talked and the emails for crowdfunding. Ariel Hyatt has a great book called Crowd Start. Now it’s up to fulfillment.
That’s great that you did all of that, strategizing and figuring out who the people are. That’s a lot of the work of it. It’s very smart to hire a VA to do all of that stuff. As you said, we only have so much time in the day. You have to value your time. I know you’re releasing singles. Are you doing a crowdfunding campaign for the full album?
I did. Now, I’m selling it.
What are some cool perks that you’ve offered that people love, even some of those high-level ones that only a few people get?
Certain ones that are successful around the $100 mark includes a meditation station, an ambient track that I would make. Journal, I call it the songwriting station because I love journaling. Write a little personalized note in there and physical copies of a CD. I guess some people want CDs, but I don’t personally use them. Some people want them, so we give it to them. I’ve done crystal necklaces. In my experience, what sold well, for me, for merchandise is jewelry, better than music. Even if I’d be in New York City, playing an electronic gig at the Warper party, I would have my email list set out, CDs, and merchandise. I would have a few little rings. They’re double finger rings because they allude to Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz. He had nerve damage in his fingers from a caravan fire. Through that, he revolutionized guitar playing to the point that Jimi Hendrix called him his idol. It’s this little play-on that with the Django practice rings, the double finger ring. They would go crazy. Jewelry works well.
Other things that I’ve offered that have done well, tees and hoodies, like cool art. I have been going through this company called Custom Ink. They’ve great customer service. I love that about them. As of right now, I don’t think that their print is on demand. In working with them, I was able to work with a designer to get a mock-up of the shirt and a hoodie, the same art. Do different color designs because the more colors you use, the higher the price of the item beam. That was very valuable. I stumbled into that and grateful that I did. I can now use that either through large purchases through Custom Ink or print on demand, having this mock up already created and use that on my site, in my online shop without having the physical product for that yet.
Have you offered any perks that aren’t physical products? Maybe you write a song for someone, or you produce a song for someone, or you do a private concert.As a musician, you want to create your own niche. Find something that will make you stand out. Click To Tweet
I have, but people haven’t bought those. I’ve had executive producer credits for 1,000 and above. I say “and above” because there are different campaigns. One of the private patrons bought those. It comes down to me communicating the value of it. I offered my artists coaching, but no one bought it through that. That’s okay for me because I earn more money through direct sales than through Indiegogo taking a fee.
You’ve done three different crowdfunding platforms. Is there anyone that you’d like the best? Do you feel like they all have different reasons that you like and dislike them?
Kickstarter scares me. I like GoFundMe because you’re not held to necessarily fulfill any perk. It depends on what your people want. The problem with a crowdfunding campaign is that it’s a lot of work. I look back and I think with all of this time that I’ve invested, I could have just earned money in some other ways. It was good because I was able to get good target market research for what people buy, and what they want to build merchandise for online sales and for touring. It’s up and down at the same time. I would run ads for them. I also saw a friend of mine who did a crowdfunding campaign through GoFundMe for $6,000 for a project. That was complete. He doesn’t have perks to fulfill because perks to fulfill are also expensive. It can be.
If you’re doing this for an album, you got to focus on, “I’m releasing the album. I’m promoting it.” You also have to fulfill your perks. That can get overwhelming. The question is, how important are perks to your audience or did they just want to support you?
What perks could I create that would have a return in the future? The mock-ups for the shirts, buy these shirts, now I can sell them at gigs. The jewelry, now I can sell those at gigs.
You’re in LA. What is your plan moving forward? You are going all in on your own music. You’re performing under the artist’s name Alarke. Is it electronica? What’s the style?
It’s electronic dance-pop. It’s like James Blake meets Charli XCX, meets Grimes but with a little bit more jazzy flavor to it.
I saw that you have a workshop that you’re doing. I’d love to hear about that as well.
One of my greatest passions is helping other emerging and professional female artists in pop and electronic music find their signature sound and their true voice because I get it. I’ve wanted help for this for so long. I could have help in singing or songwriting or music business but never put them together. I created what I was looking for. I coach other artists. Again, I’ve been teaching for several years. In the past few years, I’ve packaged this up.
The workshop that I’m holding right now, it’s a free workshop. You can go to FindYourSignatureSound.com. We go through ten steps to writing songs that you love, authentic to you, and that you can use for building your music career. I also have a lot of new exciting things with the artist coaching platform. I launched a group program. It’s going to be in May and June. Depending on the timing of this podcast, I’m not sure if it will be relevant. I’m going to be running this program continuously in the future. I’m thrilled about it.
It’s an accelerator combining the singing songwriting, music business for branding and finding what makes you, create your own niche. Even if you want to do something in pop music, which is such a broad field, it’s finding what makes you stand out and how to communicate your message in that as well. Also, the personal growth and spiritual elements that are crucial for getting out of your way. That is at SetYourLifeToMusic.com/signaturesound. I also have a new branding unveiling happening right now, but I can’t say more about that. It’s SupremeSound.life. It’s not up, but there’s a designer. The branding was registered.
Lots of exciting things are happening for you. I love hearing your metamorphosis as an artist, going from opera to gypsy jazz to electronic pop. It just shows what a versatile artist you are and multi-passionate. For anyone that wants to connect with you on social media, how can they do that?
Come, join me on Instagram @Alarke_. You can also go to SupremeSound.life on Instagram. I have a mailing list. It’s awesome. We have a Facebook community at Set Your Life to Music. That’s going to be rebranded to SupremeSound.life. We have hundreds of high vibe female artists, lots of free trainings and support. I would love to be in touch.
Thank you so much for sharing all of this. It’s such an interesting and cool journey. Appreciate all of your tips on crowdfunding, getting into the nitty-gritty of all of the strategies and stuff. Thanks so much.
You’re welcome. Thank you.
- Mary Alouette
- TED Talk – Simon Sinek TED Talk Start with Why on YouTube
- Start With Why
- @Alarke_ – Instagram
- SupremeSound.life – Instagram
- Set Your Life to Music – Facebook
Mary Alouette, also known as Alarke (uh-LARK), is an award-winning singer, songwriter, music producer and artist coach for emerging and professional female artists in pop and electronic music.
Her musical journey has taken her from musical theater to opera to Gypsy jazz to audio engineering to indie pop to electronic dance-pop music, as well as volunteering as a music director for a Shakespeare project with refugees in Greece, creating a solo monthlong artist retreat in Cuba and recording a Cuban jazz album there, singing opera in castles in Italy, and singing with Romani musicians in their caravans in France.
With her artist coaching at Set Your Life to Music, she specializes in helping artists find their true voice and signature sound, sing confidently, write and record songs they love, and transform their artistry on both personal and professional levels.