The dark-lit basement venue of the Studio at Webster Hall is teeming with fans waiting patiently for tonight’s headliner. “Alexz, Alexz, Alexz,” they chant as the five-piece tour band completes their sound check, and not long after they are rewarded when a petite young blonde steps up to the microphone and greets them with a bright smile - Alexz Johnson is back.
This concert marks the launch of her Skipping Stone summer tour. Johnson, who is a veteran of the industry given her role on Canada’s hit series Instant Star, has had a rocky start to her independent career. After being dropped from not one, but two labels due to management reshuffling, it was her love for music that kept her going. “Long story short, I needed to do probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” said Johnson, perched on a bench in the green room backstage, “I let go of any ties and moved to New York with nothing, not even a visa.” She relied on talented friends and very little money in order to cut her EP - shooting a music video out of her Brooklyn apartment. But in order to take her tunes on tour, this January Johnson launched a Kickstarter campaign, and within a day had reached her goal of $30,000.
Kickstarter is becoming an increasingly popular venue for independent artists to raise funds. Yesterday morning, Hypebot crunched the numbers and found that while they don’t all make it out the starting gate, music campaigns were in fact the most successful category across the platform. Few have failed to notice the extraordinary campaign of Amanda Palmer, who raised in excess of $1 million from her fans. And the hype around her revolutionary approach hasn’t hurt her numbers either. In the past 90 days, Palmer has added more than 50,000 new fans to her base, a jump of more than 200 percent from the three months before.
Speaking to Johnson, it is almost hard to believe that she has been doing this for years. The 25-year-old’s humble and unassuming attitude to her fans shines through as she speaks in a soft voice, with just a hint of home in her accent. “It felt so weird to ask my fans for money,” she explained. Before launching, Johnson calculated what she would need to gas up a 15-seater van and drive across the country, feed her band and promote her tour - no frills allowed. Offering one-on-one video chats, twitter mentions and even the clothes off her back in return for contributions, she ended up raising $67,000 by the end of the campaign. “I’ll do the best I can to make sure the fans have a good experience when they’re putting their money into my shows.”
In this vein, Johnson takes advantage of social media to interact closely with her fans and is being rewarded for her dedication with a steadily growing base. She is adding followers to her Twitter account at a rate of about 700 each month, bringing her total to more than 33,000. Close to 40,000 people are talking about her on Facebook each month, and around 5000 people check out her Wikipedia page each week. In the build-up to her tour, her video views on YouTube have also seen a boost, with more than 37,000 views last month alone, a 65 percent increase from the month before, bringing her total to more than 550,000.
"Even on the days where I feel illegitimate because it has taken me so long to get to where I want to go," said Johnson, "Something keeps on having me do it. I’m just trying to trust it." As she belts out Skipping Stone, the gathered crowd of her loyal fans sing along in perfect pitch. It is a sight to be seen.
Photo credit: Jessica Earnshaw
Liv Buli is the resident data journalist for music analytics company Next Big Sound. Buli is a graduate of New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and her work has appeared in Newsweek Daily Beast, The New York Times Local East Village, Westchester Magazine and more.