Cloud Control's Heidi Lenffer on investing with FEAT. and touring for a clean energy future

Thursday, 13 Jun 2019

Heidi Lenffer at Brigalow Solar Farms 
(wearing locally-made ethical threads by designer and APRA AMCOS member Annie Hamilton)

When it comes to being a touring artist, the notion of 'sustainability' has two, somewhat divergent meanings. Touring might make up a sizable portion of your income, it's a meaningful way to build a fanbase and to make new professional connections. Touring can make your musical endeavours sustainable.   

But on the other hand, is touring a sustainable activity for a planet in climate crisis? Being on the road or in the air requires petrol (so much petrol!), a live show requires a ton of power, the fans travel, consume and off they go into the night.

Heidi Lenffer of Sydney band Cloud Control noticed it all, and increasingly became concerned by the volume of resources required for even a mid-size national tour. With the help of scientists, she found that her band's 15-date tour of theatres and clubs generated 28 tonnes of carbon emissions, which is the equivalent of what a household creates annually. 

"Touring is easily the biggest source of income for artists, so when I understood how something as important as live music could be creating so much damage at this critical time in human history, I knew we could do so much better," said Heidi, who set out to not just bring attention to the issue but to provide an outlet for positive change. A sustainable outlet, at that.

Last week, Heidi launched FEAT. (Future Energy Artists), a solar investment fund for artists in association with Future Super, Australia's most renewables-focused superannuation fund. With support from a number of fellow artists and APRA AMCOS members including Cloud Control, Vance Joy, Jack River, Peking Duk, and Midnight Oil, the FEAT. initiative will help finance new and existing solar farms around Australia.

And the fund has a target return on investment of over 5% per annum. Artists can choose to reinvest their dividend payments back into the fund, or have them paid to their artist accounts.

So, how does someone invest? Do you need to make money from a tour to do so? Is there a minimum investment? Heidi answers those questions and a heap more. 

Q: Can you elaborate a bit on how to get involved – is it via a nominated fund, or from post-tour profits, can it be a one-time deposit? 

HEIDI: We think all artists - whether you’re just starting out, or very established - should be able to invest in the clean energy future and build an ethical nest-egg for themselves. We deliberately set the minimum as low as possible so that artists can open an account and invest as little as $5 or as much as $500,000+ if they want. 

There’s so many ways you could make this work, e.g.: 

  • If you’re playing your first shows and are super cash-strapped, perhaps this looks like transferring $10 bucks across from the payment of each show. 
  • Maybe you've got gigs lined up for the next few months and you want to set up weekly/fortnightly payments into your FEAT account.
  • Maybe you’re planning the budget for a national tour, and you sit down with your manager and booker and plan for 5% of touring profits to go to your FEAT account. This is the same principle that lets your booking agent take 10%, your manager take 20% etc. It would be an additional percentage payment you get your team to factor in to the budget - but this time it’s being put aside for YOU and your future. 
  • Perhaps you add an extra $1 to the ticket price and this is set aside as a rebate.
  • Perhaps, you want to invest 5% of your APRA live performance royalties every time a report comes through!
  • Maybe you’re an artist with a super comfortable income, and want to shift $50K or more that’s sitting in your bank account into something super worthwhile. We’re so grateful for our more financially-secure artist allies and industry partners who have shifted the needle substantially on the fund - we all benefit because collectively we have more funds to finance more solar projects. 

Like most things, the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of this, but the bottom line is it’s your own future we want to help you secure, and this is totally up to you. 

Q: Even the best planned tours can sometimes lose money or are a breakeven undertaking. How can FEAT. be budgeted in to a tour plan, even with unforeseen circumstances?  

HEIDI: We know that touring can be unpredictable, and that the best laid plans can come undone and you can end up losing money. But here’s the thing; in this industry nothing is guaranteed, but if a tour doesn’t go well the only one that who ends up working for free more often than not, is the artist.

Everyone else involved - venue, management, booker, crew - gets their cuts, and it’s the band, or the promoter/label, that absorbs the costs. The issue here is that the promoter and label have a business model that allows them to spread the risk across multiple acts - and a poor performing tour over here can be off-set by a wind-fall tour over there.

When you’re an artist, you can’t spread that risk, it’s just you that gets paid or not from a gig. And too many fantastic bands I know spent the better part of 5 - 10 years grinding the gig circuit but didn’t get that one song or album which took them to the next level, and eventually called it quits with little or no bank to show for all that work.  

One of the things FEAT. is trying to do is break this chain.

If people around an artist are getting paid, the artist should be getting paid, no exceptions.

We’re offering the industry a model - but even more of a principle - where artists and their management/label teams, make a habit of putting aside a percentage of any income, for the future of that artist right from the start. In many ways this is the same principle as superannuation, but the difference with FEAT. is that artists have an option to withdraw their money, and the money is being invested specifically to accelerate the solution to climate change. 

Q: What kind of feedback have you had so far? And do you see FEAT. being something that might expand to related industries where travel is a necessary part?

Heidi: The response has been overwhelming and I am now wonderfully snowed under with work! One thing I didn’t anticipate was receiving personal messages of gratitude from strangers who’d felt frozen to know what to do in the current climate challenge, and were inspired by our story. That’s just the best, and validates something I’ve felt for a long time - that so many of us are aching for ways to turn this ship around and we need more and more strategies to mobilise climate action in every industry. 

We did anticipate interest from other travel-related industries, and were stoked to receive so many enquiries about rolling this out more widely - so I’m pleased to say we have concrete plans in the works to do just that, and it should be only a month or two away!

Q: It all started with an idea and you took it from that to make it reality. What was a pivotal point in the process when you realised you could really make FEAT. happen?  

It’s interesting, but I don’t think I really doubted whether FEAT. would become a reality… I think partly because I was my own target market and I badly needed a solution for my own peace of mind.

I also think this was because I knew the idea was deeply rooted in the shared experience of everyone in my industry. I had a good read on what many artists cared about and what our daily challenges were, and could intuit which ideas would fly and which would be ignored, precisely because I’d seen so many initiatives roll out (environmental or otherwise) and I could see why things got traction within my own team and others didn’t. 

I’d spent over a year seriously evaluating different potential investment partners to get FEAT. off the ground - mostly legit, some cowboys - so the most pivotal moment in the process was really locking down Future Super as my investment partner. The key question was who to trust, and this came down to an alignment of ethics and environmental values, combined with the financial management track record to back it up, which Future Super had in spades. 

APRA AMCOS members and music industry: head to the FEAT. website to find out more about becoming an investor partner in Brigalow Solar Farm in Southwest Queensland. 

FEAT. also has something exciting in the works to let everyday Australians join the movement — to find out more, both artists and music fans can leave their details on ARRAY waitlist to be the first to know.   

Site Menu

Search the Website