Exclusive Interview: Protest the Hero’s Tim Millar on His Band’s $341,000 Indiegogo Campaign
To say that Protest the Hero’s $341,000 crowd-funded Indiegogo campaign exceeded all expectations would be a gross understatement. Not only did it shockingly please us and fellow PtH fans the world over, but the brass at Indiegogo took notice — it’s the second biggest campaign ever on their platform — and Protest guitar Tim Millar told me in the below interview that the band’s manager’s phone was suddenly ringing off the hook with calls froms interested record labels. When I caught up with Tim by phone last week he told me all about the campaign; how the idea came about, how they feel about the overwhelming support, how the finances will work, what the band plans to do with their excess cash, when to expect the finished album and more.
What are you up to right now, are you writing? Already started recording?
Pretty much just finishing up writing, rehearsing and getting ready to go into the studio. We have a studio start date of March 17, which is about a month away. We’re just trying to get our asses into gear and make sure we’re ready to track.
Are you going to give me some awesome quote about how it’s the most brutal Protest The Hero record to date like every other band does?
This is going to be the most heaviest and also the most lightest PTH record. The fastest and slowest. [laughs]
I always have a hard time giving away what we’ve been doing. We’ve been focusing on the same stuff. Every time we go into writing we’re more mature people and songwriters. That being said, it still sounds like a maturation of PTH. I think this time we were more focused on writing songs, that’s always the goal. To walk away and always remember that we’re writing songs. Maybe this time we kept things in the same vein but really thought about “can we got back to this, can we go back and do it differently?” We want to write better songs but at the same time not conventional songs, I guess.
Do you feel you got away from writing songs in the past? Or is that something abstract that you’re trying to do this time around?
In the past, from the start we’d always write part, part, part, part and fit them all together. It helped us find who we are and our sound. But at the same time, sometimes we’d spend a lot of time writing ten seconds of a song and then it comes and goes and you never go back to it. We were trying to find a way to re-invent the same part and keep a theme within a song. Where sometimes you get all over the place and can’t even get back to where you started because you’re so far from where that is only halfway through the song.
So when you started this Indiegogo project, what were your expectations?
We just wanted to meet our goal, to be able to go into the studio and not compromise what we had done in the past. To make another album that we’re proud of. We set our goal, and it took us a while to come up with that number. We were pretty confident that people would just look at that number and not even support us and think it was ridiculous. But that’s what we’ve spent in the past and that’s what it has taken to do another record. So we said we might as well give this a shot. We posted it, “Here goes nothing.” It was pretty astonishing how quick the response was. We just wanted to have funds to make another record.
When you say that’s what you got in the past, I’m assuming you meant what you got as an advance from a label to go make the record?
Whether or not this was bad on our behalf, this is how much money we would get from collective advances [in the past]. We pretty much would try and spend all of it. At the same time, that would afford us the luxury of going into a really nice studio, having time. But we’d base our recording budget on advances. Maybe some bands would skimp out and put some money in their pockets, but we always used all of it as the recording fund.
What other advances were you getting besides whatever Vagrant was giving you?
I’ll give you an example with Scurrilous. We had a licensing agreement with all of our labels for that album so we got something from Vagrant, something from Spinefarm, something from Universal Music Canada. Then we have “Factor,” which is a Canadian government program that gives you a sort of loan. You pay it back with record sales. We had those sources. When we did the Scurrilous budget, it was around $100,000 total.
That’s awesome. I didn’t realize you had advances coming in from all those places. I, like a lot of people, looked at that budget and said, “holy shit, they’re spending $90k just on recording, that’s insane.” Literally nine times what most metal bands spend. How do you justify spending that kind of money? Do you really believe in this studio or what is it?
There’s a lot of ways to record a lot cheaper these days with technology but we’ve always been a band that did things the old school way. Power up some real amps and go to a nice studio, mic everything up. I don’t know if that’s changed what our recording sound is but that’s always the natural way things had worked. Go into a real studio, sitting down, having great gear there but also bringing in a lot of gear of our own. <ixing it up and staying away from the digital world that we live in. Whether or not that’s the proper way to do it, for us we get the best results like that. We feel like you’re actually going in to do a record instead of plugging your DI into a computer and re-amping it in whatever program for a sound that’s the same if not better.
I guess we’ve found a way to get different tones, just from a guitar perspective, when you’re running two amps with four mics and all the outboard gear that’s going into the board. You get sounds that you can’t emulate or you might not spend the time emulating if you do it in a digital fashion.
Of course. There are tons of kids who record for free in their bedroom. Periphery’s first album was done that way basically for the cost of whatever the software was. But there’s an in-between and that’s what I was talking about. Bands who do go into real studios but obviously not of the caliber of the one you guys are recording at.
You have to look at it this way; we’ve kind of been fortunate being able to have the experience of going into the top-of-the-line studios. Maybe it wasn’t always worth the sacrifice of being a broke musician for the entire record cycle, but the experience alone you cannot put a value on. What you learn, and spending that amount of time with great people that help you capture whatever you’re doing. You walk out of there a changed musician.
When you guys put up the Indegogo campaign you reached the goal in 20 hours. How did you guys feel at that point?
We were pretty shocked. When we were setting this up, we took a lot of time in planning everything, looking at other examples and seeing what other people had done. We put a lot of time into getting it ready. So when we launched it, it was “here goes nothing.” With a site like Indegogo, you can set it up so you get the funds no matter what comes in. Even if it had failed, we would have still received a percentage and we’d go from there. It wasn’t a question of whether we were going to make the record, just how we’re going to do it.
So we saw that as an option. We thought we’d give it a shot, and if it’s successful, great, but if it’s a failure at least we’ll get a percentage of the money and we’ll be able to go to plan B, whatever that is, and make a record. It was pretty surprising. It seemed like people wanted to get behind a cause like this and we tried to make it as transparent as possible. In the past with other crowd funding platforms, people wonder where all that money goes. So I think transparency is something that people can get behind. At the end of the day, they’re seeing where their dollars are being spent.
We still have relationships but we approached them and said we had wanted to fund the album ourselves. For the most part the labels said “Great, that’s a huge burden off our shoulders.” I think the biggest problem we had with getting an advance and giving a lot away was you never make any money on the backend of record sales. Whereas now, we might be in a place where we can cut distribution deals with labels. They’re not forking over a lot of dough, putting a lot of faith into a project that sometimes might not make the money back. But at the same time they don’t have to give us a lot or anything and they will still release our record.
This way we get a higher percentage on the back end. That was kind of the idea. Most of the labels were very into the idea, not having to fund the album and getting a top-notch product at the end of it anyway.
Do you have some of those distro deals already in place?
No, it’s all been just talks. It was funny. Once record labels see the success of the campaign, our manager’s phone is ringing off the hook. It’s interesting, or at least it’s a statistic that the industry can look at. It creates interest in that side of the industry as well.
Have you given any thought as to what comes after the album is recorded? In other words, the marketing, PR. We talked about distribution, but getting the record in stores or on iTunes or on Amazon is only one step.
That’s the thing too; we don’t want to become a label. We just want to keep the business in our court. [Typically] a label is paying for all your marketing and then you’re trying to pay it back. [Now] if it means us going to some third party marketing company and setting up some cool campaigns, pitching some ideas… and they actually happen? That’s a great step for us. I feel like in the past we’d have great ideas but they wouldn’t be executed properly. It’s frustrating and it kills your motivation to want to get involved with the marketing and PR. Maybe if we can be hiring it out, we can send people ideas and actually get a lot of them happening in reality. Whereas sometimes in the past we’ve been told “it’s impossible, you can’t do this,” and it’s not worth the fight.
The campaign was obviously extremely successful. You raised something like $340,000 which if I’m not mistaken is the second largest campaign ever in the history of Indegogo. When you reached your goal and the money kept flowing in, how did you feel at that point?
We were like, “sweet we can make a record and we don’t have to compromise the standard we’ve set.” It shows there’s a lot of faith in the people we play for and have met. When touring, we always try to find a way to meet the fans at shows and keep a good relationship with them. It’s amazing to see that people wanted to support us directly in whatever we do. The best way to look at it is this: it doesn’t change my financial status overnight but all of a sudden our business is in a very good place.
Before the Indegogo campaign we were in debt. It’s a great thing for our band and business but now we don’t have to make decisions based on how much money it’s going to make us. It gives us a little more freedom but at the same time it doesn’t change anyone’s personal wealth. One thing I can add, I was just going through the backend on the Indegogo page and it’s so astonishing. I broke it down by country. It’s so amazing to see where everything is going, and that was information we never had access to in the past. You can look at it and go, “wow we sold that many records in Sweden and someone in Bermuda bought an album” and it just gives you a good perspective globally of where you’re at.
Where there any surprises about where people were giving from?
The most surprising are the places you’ve never been. When you’re selling albums in Singapore, and you have one sale in Guam. It’s fun to see. One record going to Gibraltar. Just seeing where everything is going to end up. Why haven’t we ever gone there if there’s this many people interested, right?
Am I interpreting what you said a minute ago correctly? From some of these funds you’ve made, you guys are actually able to take a little bit for yourselves and not have to worry about expenses for a little while?
Hopefully. Some of the money we generate just goes to our payroll. It’s nice to be able to say, “OK, we make our monthly salary for the next 6 months or a year or whatever.” But I guess, yeah, that’s how it would help with the stability of the business. But it wouldn’t be like, “OK, we made 200k more than we wanted to, everyone here’s getting 75k!” or whatever. We’ve learned we have to invest in this business to help it grow.
Of course. I don’t think anyone expected you to just pocket the profit. But, can you talk a little bit about what you do plan to do with that excess money? You posted a video a few weeks ago saying that you were going to sit down and outline the things you plan on spending that stuff on.
We have to sit down with the band and our business manager and figure out what’s going on. We do want to put some into the record if necessary, but at the same time we also want to invest in bonus material, stuff like that. Now we can make the album. But since it’s not on such a tight budget, we can be a little more lenient. We can try to put that back into making studio videos. Keeping everyone in the loop on what’s going on. Sometimes in the past we would neglect that or we wouldn’t have resources to do that. We haven’t made up our minds or even talked about it since the campaign ended. As far as we’re concerned we’re going to try and give back to the people that helped make it a success. In what way, I’m not entirely sure. It just means we can generate more content and more things that people would be interested in seeing and hearing.
You go into the studio March 17. How long are you going to be in there? What does the timeline look like after that?
If everything goes as planned, the album should be out the first or second week of September. Touring would start a couple of weeks before that. That’s the plan. We’ll spend about two months in the studio, and whatever else it takes to get everything done. The release date is tentative — we’ve been bad in the past with meeting deadlines — but we think we’re giving ourselves enough time to get it done. Come fall we’ll have a new album, and we’ll be touring to support everything and do another album cycle.
That’s cool. Congrats, it’s awesome you guys were able to do this. It’s impressive and you guys deserve it. Congrats again and thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Appreciate it.
No problem. I appreciate you giving me a call. I’ve always loved the coverage you’ve given the band. Hopefully some musicians are willing to take matters into their own hands and give it a shot and find different ways to get out of the formula of being a slave to the record industry or whatever. See where it can take you.