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‘Crowd-funding’ changing the start-up game

Thirty-four-year-old Matt Hoggatt has been a Jimmy Buffett fan since childhood.

Thanks to his use of social media, Hoggatt is awfully close to becoming a regular touring partner with the music legend.

Hoggatt, a detective with the Gautier Police Department, won a contest held by “American Songwriter” magazine for his song, “Dear Jimmy Buffett.”

Thrilled, Hoggatt posted a link to the song on his Facebook page and uploaded the accompanying video to YouTube. Buffett’s Internet manager saw the song, sent it to his boss, and the rest is life-changing history for Hoggatt.

“It happened real fast,” said Hoggatt, whose song can be purchased on iTunes. “I got an email on a Sunday morning telling me JB wanted to talk with me. So I called, and sent them some songs. About a month went by, I got another email inviting me to a show.”

Hoggatt has already played a few gigs with Buffett, in places like Birmingham and Tallahassee, Fla. More are scheduled for later this week in Key West, Fla., where Hoggatt will stay in Buffett’s home. The next few shows will serve as an audition for Hoggatt, to help Buffett determine if he wants the temporary addition to his act to become a full-blown touring partnership. There’s also a chance Hoggatt could sign a deal with Mailboat Records, Buffett’s label.

“He’s kind of seeing what we’re made of,” Hoggatt said. “We should know something in the next few weeks, I would imagine. He’s going to be evaluating these performances to see how they go. I’m hoping he likes what he sees and hears.”

Hoggatt provides a perfect example of the power of social media to communicate with large swaths of people, and how that communication can raise money to benefit a cause. Instead of traveling for years to venues trying to get noticed, it was a link on his Facebook page that put Hoggatt in front of one of his musical idols.

“I can safely say that if I hadn’t put the song on Facebook or YouTube I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Hoggatt said last week. “I don’t think they would have picked up on it. They certainly wouldn’t have picked up on it when they did, that’s for sure. It’s crazy. Not only did it work, but it didn’t cost me a penny.”

In Jackson, musician Jason Turner is farther along in his career than Hoggatt is, having already released three albums, but he’s hoping social media and its crowd-funding features can play a big role in producing his fourth.

Turner is using PledgeMusic, an online fundraising tool, to rake in enough capital to pay for studio time and a producer. Turner has 60 days to raise $5,000; in the first 30, he raised $3,900.

PledgeMusic works like this: Turner’s fans can log on to jasonturnerband.com and pledge a certain amount – however much they want – toward the $5,000 goal. Their credit or debit cards are only charged if the goal is met. If Turner raises more than $5,000, the surplus will be donated to the Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson. “That was part of the appeal,” Turner said last week as he was traveling to Austin, Texas, to play at South by Southwest.

Getting this album ready for release is a far different process than the first three, Turner said. For one, he has the chance to come out of it debt-free, something he couldn’t say before. That’s one reason Turner has saturated Twitter and Facebook, asking fans of his music to donate whatever they can.

“It definitely feels weird to be all over the Internet saying ‘hey I need some money,’ you know?” Turner said. “But it evens the playing field. In the old days, you searched around for the chance that you might run into a guy that would believe in you and put out the music. Nowadays you write a few songs, you can raise the money yourself and put out the album. It’s pretty exciting. And it gets your fans more involved. There’s so much music out there. This gives them a feeling of ownership, like they had a part in making it happen.”

Chip Jones and his partners at Lucky Town Brewing employed the same method Turner did to raise just over $22,000 to get their brewery off the ground. Using Kickstarter, Lucky Town had 60 days to raise $20,000; again, donors were not charged unless the goal was met.

“It was a long 60 days, and we’re glad it’s over,” said Jones, who handles sales and distribution for Lucky Town, whose name is the English translation of Gluckstadt. And promoting the venture via social media was a big part of the campaign’s success, Jones said. With two weeks left before the March 12 deadline, though, only $12,000 had rolled in, so Jones and his partners had to expand the campaign’s exposure.

“That’s kind of when we started holding events to get the word out,” Jones said. “At some point, you’re going to max out your reach with social media. The events really helped us bring the people who don’t necessarily use social media into the fold.”

Capital in hand, Lucky Town is currently in discussion with a handful of regional breweries to do some contract brewing, with plans to do that for a couple years.

“That’s when we hope we can take our actual sales and distribution numbers to banks and investors” to help Lucky Town start a full-fledged brewery, Jones said. “It’s much more convincing when you have actual numbers, instead of projections.

“When you start a business without a lot of capital you’re very vulnerable,” Jones continued. “You have very little control, because you’re beholden to your investors. Having a little money in-hand gives you the freedom to operate totally independent of everybody but your supporters, who you’re always accountable to. That’s a big deal for us.”

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About Clay Chandler

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