“I do many things,” said Juan Andrés Ospina, over the phone from his apartment in New York. “I’m a piano player, but I’ve been producing a little bit. I do composing and arranging, and I have a comedy duo with my brother in Colombia. So, I’m not full-time at any specific thing.”
About a decade ago, when he was at Berklee College of Music, Ospina started writing for big band. By his final semester, the pianist had enough material to put on a concert of his music. And for a while, that was that. He made a solo album, BBB: Barcelona, Bogotá, Boston (Armored) in 2009, produced and arranged several albums, including singer Luísa Sobral’s platinum debut, The Cherry On My Cake (Mercury) and singer Marta Gómez’s Latin Grammy-winning Este Instante (Aluna Music), and—with his brother Nicolás—performed in the music/comedy duo Inténtalo Carito, whose YouTube channel has garnered more than 22 million views.
Still, he kept coming back to the big band material. He had the music, but he didn’t have a band. Nor did he have a label willing to bankroll a big band album. “The big band thing is kind of crazy, in economic terms,” he said. “It’s so expensive to do it, and so complicated to put everything together.”
Through his experience as a producer, Ospina knew what was involved in making a recording, so he started planning what would eventually become his new album, Tramontana. The first step, since he didn’t already have a big band at his disposal, was to recruit players.
“It wasn’t really that difficult. Here in New York, there are so many musicians, and many of them are thirsty for music that they enjoy,” he said. “I guess that’s the main reason we all ended up moving here, because we want to be part of projects that we like.”
Once Ospina had the musicians lined up for Tramontana, he was able to draw up a budget. That’s when things got serious. “I talked to a couple of friends who are not musicians but are very good at business, trying to get some kind of advice,” he said. “I asked if they thought it was a good idea to try to find a sponsor, but that was very complicated. So, I ended up doing a Kickstarter.”
Ospina wasn’t simply going to ask for money and felt it would be better to have a creative Kickstarter campaign—“or a more entertaining one,” he said, “so that I would maybe attract some people who were not so much into the jazz world.”
This is where his YouTube experience came in handy. “I have a camera that is OK—not a full professional camera, but OK,” he said. “And I know how to edit, and really like to do that. That was the most important tool that I had for the Kickstarter videos.”
That first video, which shows Ospina running around New York with a microphone, recording each player separately, offered a sense of the sound and size of the project, and also was a nice piece of comedy. But it revealed Ospina’s other secret weapon: Cuban jazz legend Paquito D’Rivera.
“He saw one of the videos that I did with my brother back in 2012, and was curious. So, he did some research, found out that we were musicians and bought my album. And then after a couple of days, he called me,” Ospina recalled. “He found my phone through Oscar Stagnaro, his bass player, who I met at Berklee, and he was very enthusiastic about the record. He said he wanted to play [“Todavía No”], which I arranged later for the big band.”
Ospina’s Kickstarter campaign wasn’t just a single video effort; there were several additional clips, and he even wrote a song, “$20,000 Samba,” to celebrate reaching $20,000 in pledges.
“Of course, it was tough,” he said. “I had to work a lot. But it was fun to do.” And it made Ospina a believer in Kickstarter. “For a lot of people, that’s the only way,” he said. “I applied for grants and I tried to find sponsors. Maybe there’s something else that I didn’t think about, but I really couldn’t figure out a way to fund an album of this size with a different tool.
“Technology has brought a lot of pain for creators,” he added, “because nowadays it’s hard to sell music. But at the same time, there are these new tools that were unimaginable a couple years ago. And now, you can fund an album, $35,000, through people directly. That’s amazing!” DB