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Brilliant fundraising effort by Alaska musician Marian Call tops $60,000

Ben Anderson
Adam Levermore illustration

Might as well refer to Alaskan singer-songwriter Marian Call as “the queen of crowdfunding” from here on out. Call funded her last album through a circle of donors and grinding away in concerts around the U.S. This time, she took a different tack, and went looking for funding through popular fundraising site Kickstarter, with the intention of touring Europe and simultaneously recording a live album. She began on June 30 with a relatively modest fundraising goal of $11,111.

By Tuesday afternoon, with just a few hours remaining in the drive, she was approaching $60,000. By Wednesday morning, that mark had been passed and the final tally weighed in at more than $63,000.

How did it get so big? Though Call said she’d expected to meet her initial goal within the 25-day period, even she was surprised by the response from established and new fans that launched her fundraising effort to such an unlikely level.

“That was one of those things where you might hope in the bottom of your heart that it will happen, but you won’t let yourself expect it,” she said. All told, she said, she was able to raise in less than a month about the same amount of money that it took her two years to raise for her last album.

But Call, who has always been pretty good at marketing herself (just check out the 5,000 fans at her Facebook page, or her 13,000 Twitter followers), wasn’t content to issue the usual Kickstarter request, typically a video explaining why an artist or project needs funding, and why people should donate. Instead, Call made it a game for her fans.

She and Patrick Race (of Alaska Robotics fame) set up a separate website, dubbed “Marian Call European Adventure Quest,” in the style of an 8-bit video game (with help from Los Angeles-based graphic designer Adam Levermore). Donors in European countries could donate and buy fictional coins -- each one equivalent to five American dollars -- and once a country had enough coins, it would “unlock” shows from Call. Donors could get albums, jewelry, bootlegs, personalized postcards, even special concerts with Call, depending on the level of donation.

Call’s campaign was unique enough to get it featured on Wired and Techdirt.

Throw in the added benefit of quite possibly the most adorable Kickstarter video of all time, and Call had a winning formula for funding her tour.

She won’t be taking the extra money and running, though. To keep people interested in the fundraising effort, Call began setting levels that would buy the licenses for her to perform cover songs, which would make up a separate album of their own. This includes performing “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants at CERN, the nuclear research organization responsible for the Large Hadron Collider.

Asked if she might enjoy a little more luxury than her usual method of touring, Call said she would stick to sleeping on floors and couches as much as possible and taking public transportation.

“I still budgeted for the normal way that I do a tour, so as far as luxury, maybe an extra night or two in a hotel instead of sleeping on the floor?” she said.

Instead, she’s sinking the extra funds into more shows in more countries and upping the production values on her live album. “In the end,” she said, “the nicest thing is that I’ll come out with an album that I can continue to sell.”

Call joins a pretty lengthy list of other Alaska projects that have been successfully funded by Kickstarter campaigns. Anchorage musician Seth Boyer met a more modest goal of $2,000; a locally-produced short film dubbed “Pretty Little Victim” raked in more than $7,500; and “On the Ice,” a feature film by Barrow filmmaker Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, secured advertising dollars and a U.S. distribution deal with the help of $80,000 raised on Kickstarter.

MacLean and producer Cara Marcous said the “On the Ice” Kickstarter campaign wasn’t easy, and involved sending out email after email asking for donations and help getting the word out about the campaign.

Call agreed that the Kickstarter allowed her to raise funds faster, but the amount of work was still huge. After the campaign met its goal in the space of a few hours, Call realized that the meticulously-designed website accompanying it would have to be updated almost immediately.

“Since it funded so quickly, the way I set up the game, I had to do a massive makeover of my website, update the (frequently asked questions section), and a bunch of other things,” Call said. “I didn’t even have time to think about how exciting it all was.”

Call said she was looking forward to the opportunity to spending some more time in Alaska this winter. But right now, she also has to solidify all of her plans for the 4-5 week European tour before embarking in October. To top it off, Call -- a former Anchorage resident now living in Juneau -- will be touring around Alaska in July and August.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com