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Bandleader Blog: Razzle Dazzle 2.0

Hello, this is John, bass player and bandleader for MarchFourth. I am on every tour, so I feel intimately connected to our bus. Every time we go on the road I pray that we make it home safely and don’t miss any shows. It’s a small miracle that even though the bus broke down a few times last year, we managed to make every date (we were a couple hours late for the Strawberry Music Festival, but they found room for us to play anyway and we arrived to streets lined with cheering festival-goers). Our 9th Anniversary shows this past weekend marked the end of our busiest year to date, and the band is finally taking a much-deserved break to develop new material before we hit the road again in late April. We will also use this break to buy a new bus and start the process of customizing it to our needs. Thus, the Kickstarter campaign.

Last night I wrote a little piece that we were going to send out this morning as a last-minute promotional push. I awoke this morning to discover that we’d already reached our goal. And, as icing on the cake, a big fan has stepped up to match the next $1000 in donations before it all wraps up at 6:57 PM PST today. Such good news! Here is what I wrote last night, which still holds true the morning after.

1. Thank you to everyone who has donated so far. I am grateful and amazed that so many people want to help. The reason we started this Kickstarter campaign is because we obviously don’t have the kind of extra money we’d need to buy a bus. I have to credit Nayana Jennings (along with Andy Shapiro and video wiz Kevin Balmer) for spearheading this Kickstarter thing, which came on the heels of a year of being mostly on the road—over 200 days—and recording, releasing, promoting, and touring a new album (Magnificent Beast). All the money we make on tour pays for the tours themselves, and the biggest expense of touring is payroll for 23 people. Some bands have used Kickstarter to raise money to produce their albums. I am proud of the fact that our latest record, which cost approx $17,000 to produce, was paid for entirely by our merchandise savings. But, a new bus is a much bigger project, and we need the bus sooner than we can save enough to pay for it. So, in some ways, this truly is a “kickstarter” campaign because the money is literally going to kick-start the project.

2. Why did we ask for $46,064 exactly? The truth is that $46,064 is about half of the amount it will actually take us to purchase and renovate the kind of bus we want. After Kickstarter fees and the cost of sending out all those incentives, we’ll probably end up with about $40,000, which is close to what a 1995 MCI coach goes for (we’ve been looking at busses online for almost a year now). That’s the cheapest bus we can buy that would still qualify as an upgrade. When all is said and done we will spend closer to $100,000, but we felt that requesting that much was too steep a number for us to raise on Kickstarter, so we lowered the amount to $46,000. Then, just for fun, we decided to make that number a palindrome (46064 backwards is 46064, heh). But really, the amount is kind of arbitrary. Our goal is to purchase a bus within the next month, and the Kickstarter money will at least make a solid down-payment.

3. What’s up with Razzle Dazzle? Our current bus is not broken, but it is at that critical point where we don’t know when the last trip will be. It is a great bus, and with $15,000 we could install a new engine and drivetrain. But, it’s a size thing: we’ve outgrown the 40-foot bus. A 45-foot bus with a more powerful engine will be able to pull a gear trailer, which will not only free up more space on the bus, but will allow us to bring more equipment and put on an even better production than the one we have been touring with. Also, 45-foot bus (also 6″ wider and 12″ taller) will be easier to build-out 24 bunks so we can all sleep comfortably (our current bus has 10 bunks). As anyone who has toured knows: sleep (and personal space) are in limited supply, and Razzle Dazzle (although a worthy steed) is just too small for all of us to live in.

4. The big picture. I have to say that when we put the band together nine years ago, there is no way I could have predicted our journey and the way it has unfolded. When we started this thing, there was no business plan. There was no “ultimate goal.” The idea was “do what you love” and share that with other people in the form of an event. Then we played the streets of Portland prior to the invasion of Iraq two weeks later (March 20, 2003), and there was this sense of purpose that emerged among us. It seemed that there might be an actual need for the project, that people in a post-9-11 world could be uplifted by our collective energy somehow. I feel grateful that the band is still together and moving on an upward path, and that we’ve had so many opportunities to share this artistic experiment with the world. There have never been investors or sponsors or record labels backing our tours or projects (there still aren’t). The people who’ve invested in M4 are the musicians, dancers, drivers, crew and hosts who were willing to donate their time and energy so that we can show up and put on a show. What happens if you create something with a group of people, and try to make that ambition and momentum sustainable? In other words, sacrificing almost everything else for the remote chance of succeeding as an artist? That is our experiment.

This project is far from being sustainable, but we’re just keeping the faith and continuing to work as long as people continue to want to hire us. When I think about this project as a business, I fantasize about all the things we could do and develop if we had some kind of financial backing. Believe me, there are a lot of other things we could spend $46K on (new gear, marketing, videos, staging, a sound and light tech, maybe some kind of health plan, etc etc), but right now it’s all about the bus! The bus is one step towards ensuring that we will be able to fulfill our touring obligations. Beginning in late April, we will be on tour throughout the summer (and most likely through November), hopefully trekking to a city near you.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and for supporting this crazy thing.
John