Clicking in Portland

By Elizabeth Fasana

From the left: Sisters Aubrey and Angela Webber of the Doubleclicks
Cahoots Photography

Many contemporary independent artists are traveling on the DIY road to building careers. Internet connectivity and social media possibilities are the hub of grassroots activity. With fan-funded systems such as Patreon and crowdfunding, artists are developing careers based on relationships with fans rather than record labels. Self-professed "nerd-folk duo," sisters Aubrey and Angela Webber, a.k.a. The Doubleclicks, explain their alternative approach to booking gigs and building a fan base to successfully make a living in the era of free music.

The Doubleclicks are among Portland, Oregon's most charming off-beat musical outfits. Since debuting with a weekly YouTube songwriting project in 2011, Angela (vocals, guitar, and ukulele) and Aubrey Webber '07 (vocals and cello) have tapped into the nerd community. Tongue-in-cheek and sometimes snarky lyrics about cats, dinosaurs, and Dungeons and Dragons, have landed the duo a permanent spot in geek songwriting community. "Instead of talking about trees or nature or clubbing," Aubrey explains, "we use World of Warcraft as a metaphor for sadness."

The Doubleclicks rely heavily on their online presence. "The Internet has been huge for us!" Aubrey says. She emphasizes the importance of free and accessible music when it comes to creating a supportive audience. "The model of selling music on iTunes and in CD stores is failing," she says, "However, providing music for free that's very easily accessible on YouTube, Bandcamp, in podcasts, etc., has paid off very well."

The combination of their campy music, solid social media strategy, and engagement online has enabled the sisters to establish a personal relationship with their fans. Aubrey recommends uploading videos and music to multiple places, posting tour dates with pop-up images (not just a link), and being aware of how much time people will spend with you online.

Aubrey and Angela follow what they term a "philosophy of patronage and donation" to fund their careers. Through donation-based systems, such as Kickstarter and Patreon, audience members can become financially invested in their favorite artists' careers by funding music videos and shows. "People are willing to give money to a band like us if they already like us and they can see the direct connection between their 'investment' and us making more music," Aubrey explains. "That personal connection has been very important, and the Internet makes it easy."

After releasing free music for many years and fostering good will among their fans, the Doubleclicks asked for help in raising $18,000 to record an album. They ultimately received $80,000 from their supportive audience. They also established a Patreon account through which committed fans collectively contribute $2,000 monthly enabling the duo to routinely make new music videos. The Doubleclicks use these funds as seed money for tours, producing CDs and T-shirts, and to enable the duo to be full- time performing artists.

The Doubleclicks stress the importance of getting to know their audience by booking alternative venues ranging from boutique stores selling comic books or video games, comedy clubs, and comic-cons, to tried-and-true music spots such as cafes, theaters, and house concerts. They also regularly schedule live YouTube concerts.

"A lot of our people aren't typical concert attendees," Aubrey says. "They are more likely to spend an evening at a comic book shop or playing a board game rather than going out to a club." The Doubleclicks bring their music directly to places where their fans are likely to hang out. "We created a Google form where fans who want to see us in concert can tell us their location, as well as local venues and events that they like to go to," Aubrey says. Over the years, the crowds have grown through the word of mouth of appreciative fans.

The Internet is a powerful tool for entrepreneurial artists who are harnessing social media and successfully utilizing crowd-funding systems. The Doubleclicks are proving that musicians can make a living--even in the era of free music.