SOLANA BEACH — With people more reluctant to part ways with their money these days, it might seem a little daunting to reach out and ask to help fund the recording of a new album — even when you have the name recognition of a Vonda Shepard and some 25 years in the music industry to back you up.
But that’s what Shepard did when she decided the time and the material was right to record her 14th album, “Rookie.”
Turning to the crowd-sourced fundraising website Kickstarter, the singer/songwriter, without any record label behind her, received enough backers in the 30-day time limit to see the album come to life and be released in July.
“I was feeling excited and confident about it,” said Shepard, who might best be known as the piano playing lounge singer in the TV show “Ally McBeal.” “But there were times when my husband would say, ‘don’t be disappointed if you only raise $2,000. You never know what’s going to happen.’”
But she did have the benefit of some “big, big donors,” she said, which was lucky for her — not to mention the almost 300 backers that ended up donating more than $36,000 to record the album she’s now touring in support of, including a stop at the Belly Up in Solana Beach.
“It was intense…kind of exciting, but a little nerve wracking at times, but we made it,” she said.
Initially, Shepard was thinking of paying for the album out of her own pocket.
“You don’t want to go spend your savings and have your career be a hobby, so it really felt like I needed to get some backing for it. And as it went on…I thought we really have something here. We can go for it.”
Before going the independent way, Shepard, who’s been playing clubs since she was 14 years old, did fulfill her dream of being signed by a major record label.
“I remember being 23 and getting signed to Warner Bros.,” she said. “I got onto a payphone…calling whoever…just saying ‘I’m signed to Warner Bros.’”
Even with her name recognition, Shepard, who described herself as “just below a mid-level performer” said a major label won’t sign her right now. “And that’s fine,” she said. “I don’t care anymore.”
With her own label now, Shepard’s in control of every aspect of the process — something she and her tour manager are learning about as they go.
Recording “Rookie,” though was “freeing,” she said.
“We got to do whatever we wanted,” she said, crediting her producer and husband Mitchell Froom with helping steer what songs were working and what songs weren’t.
“It took so long to write this album,” she said. The writing started five years ago, but the first two or three years, she explained, were just coming up with terrible material.
“It was torturous and unbearable ideas and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve really lost it,’” she said, having opted to spend the last few years focusing more on her family life than writing music.
And so hearing the finished product unfold — all the ideas, and all the years of trudging through the songs — it was very freeing.
The album, she said, has some up-tempo tunes, including the opener
“Need Your Love,” which she called a throwback to a big Aretha (Franklin)-style of piano playing, something she could really belt out and play live.
The song “Rookie” was like an explosion. “It just came out — this burst of energy. That one came out pretty intense. That one surprised me for sure,” she said.
When the next project comes along, Shepard said she would return to crowd-sourced funding means again.
“I just hope I have the discipline to do it again someday because it took so much discipline,” Shepard said.
She’ll be performing at the Belly Up in Solana Beach Aug. 13 and signing copies of her album after the show.