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Financing a Musical Passion

Composer Aaron Grad of Seattle, Washington, used the crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter.com to raise money for his latest project: building a unique instrument and producing an album.

Why did you become a composer? I grew up in an incredibly musical household. I was surrounded by instruments and always listening to great music. I was drawn to music and started playing guitar, writing songs and forming bands.

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Tell us about your current project. I’m building a one-of-a-kind instrument called an electric theorbo for my new album and for perform­ances. The instrument is an electric version of a 14-string baroque lute. Building the theorbo involved significant upfront costs, so I decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise $5,000.

What did your fund-raising pitch involve? It required making a short video. After I posted it on Kickstarter, I e-mailed my friends, put the video on my Web site and Facebook, and spread the word by phone to let people know what was happening. I was shocked by how quickly it came together. I hit my goal after about two weeks and made more than $400 beyond that. It was touching to see how generous people were.

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How did you make your first album, The Father Book? The inspiration for the songs comes from a clavichord my father built when he was a young man. He was a keyboard player and loved baroque music. I had the instrument with me in Brooklyn while I was studying jazz at NYU. By that point my father had died, so this was a very tangible connection I had to him. I recorded everything at home in my little studio with one microphone. The only professional help I had was in getting it mastered.

What did you learn from that experience? I lost some money in the process of making the album. It showed me that I couldn’t keep losing money on these big dream projects of mine.

What else do you do? I make most of my income as an artistic consultant, writing program notes for orchestras and classical music organizations. It’s an excellent day job.

How would you advise someone pursuing a passion? Do what it takes to earn money when it’s time to earn money, and be brave enough to take risks when it’s time to take risks.

This article first appeared in Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. For more help with your personal finances and investments, please subscribe to the magazine. It might be the best investment you ever make.