Funding an album with prank calls and Kickstarter

 

When

you support the essentially non-profit outfit known as singer-songwriter Justin

Branam

, you get rewarded for your largesse. For a $50 donation, Branam will

send you a hand-written lyrics sheet of your favorite song. For $100, you'll be

thanked in the liner notes of his upcoming record. Two hundred and fifty

dollars gets you a personalized prank phone call ("I'll prank call anyone you

want...you create the scenario and the character," Branam explains). $1,000 buys

a private living room concert, and for $2,500, he'll send you his banjo.

Branam

set up this tiered pyramid of prizes on the website Kickstarter.com, which

helps fund new creative projects through online pledges. Though the above are

some of the more extravagant rewards, Branam's basic idea was to use the site

to generate funds for his next full-length album.

The

basic reward is an EP created entirely on his iPhone. Titled the iPhone

Sessions,

the 5-song record was not only recorded on the device, but features album art created

on it as well.

"I

was really shocked by the quality of the recordings," Branam, who, after a few

experiments, realized that an iPhone-created EP could be a cost-free and

interesting way to fundraise, said. "It's a good grassroots step towards making

a record — it gives people a chance to hear these songs in a raw,

intimate setting."

Unlike

the banjo or a promised YouTube recreation of the "rollerblade/bike scene from

Napoleon Dynamite" ($750), a digital download of the iPhone Sessions is only $5. This bottom

rung of the ladder demonstrates the egalitarianism of Kickstarter.com: Anyone

not completely destitute can contribute to projects they care about.

"We're

looking for something that's a richer experience, that lets us feel closer,

that gives us an affinity with the artist," said Yancey Strickler, co-founder

of Kickstarter.com. "You get to feel magnanimous, like some mogul, but you're

just giving some guy on the internet five bucks. You don't have to have special

access, you don't have to be rich — anybody can take part in anything

they want."

The

new material marks a creative departure for Branam, an Indianapolis transplant

to Nashville, Tenn. Since moving to the city three years ago, Branam feels that

he has grown as a songwriter and is looking for a new start as an artist. He's

gone as far as to discontinue the iTunes sales of his debut album, 2006's Words

Worth Mentioning.

"I

was still trying to find my identity as a songwriter and musician," Branam said

of his work on Words, adding that he feels he's found that identity now. "The

songs I'm writing are leaps and bounds beyond that record. I wanted this to

become my second chance."

The

city itself has contributed to his growth, offering a more densely-populated

musical community than Indianapolis. Though he says it can be difficult for a

musician in Nashville to differentiate himself from the crowd, he has found

many opportunities to co-write and collaborate, and the competition can be as

inspiring as it is difficult to overcome.

"It

kinda forced me to get better or give up," Branam said. "It's a lot more of a

challenge that I see here — it makes everyone better at the craft."

The

maturing of his sound can easily be heard — 2009's Introducing Justin

Branam

features lush string arrangements, with a melancholic folk-pop sensibility and

smoky, emotive voice that recalls the music of Damien Rice or Ryan Adams. A far

cry from the breezy, John Mayer-esque tracks of his debut, this trend continues

on the iPhone Sessions, but with an air of intimacy that can only be achieved with

self-made home recordings of nothing but a voice and acoustic guitar.

Branam

will venture home to Indy Aug. 20 for a show at White Rabbit Cabaret with

fellow Nashvillian Ferraby Lionheart. Though Branam's deadline for his $3,000

Kickstarter.com goal is quickly approaching (10:59 PM on August 23), he isn't

worried about failure. Kickstarter.com works on an all-or-nothing system

— if the goal isn't reached, no money changes hands — but the songs

Branam has written aren't going anywhere.

"I

would chalk it up as a great experience and something that helped get a little

bit of buzz for the new record," Branam said. "If you never try you never fail.

If nothing else, I'll have the knowledge that I tried something new."

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