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If you were to load up Vanja (pronounced Vonya) James’ Christmas stocking this year with any spare coin you may have, she’d like that very much. The San Diego based singer/songwriter is in the middle of a new recording project, due for release in February, and as all such projects, it is cash-hungry. To that end James is asking for donations via direct emails sent to her fan list and on YouTube with a holiday video she made for the occasion. She has a PayPal donate button on her web site (www.vanjajames.com) and she accepts all major credit cards.

So why not just do what zillions of other creatives like her have done in the past and launch a funding drive on Kickstarter?

“This is a different project,” she says, “with a name other than my own, and with a different sound. She calls it Led Zep and Wolfmother meets the White Stripes, but with female vocals. “It's coming together quietly, but with a lot of support from the people who count. I'm giving my fans an opportunity to quietly show their support via album pre-orders, private show bookings, or sponsoring just because."

James calculates a need to complete the record at somewhere in the ballpark of $3,000. “Also, donating things like restaurant gift cards, Starbucks cards, or gas cards so I can keep the band fed and caffeinated during practice days would be a huge help.” So far, she says three fans have made donations. “Three or more, depending on how you look at it.” James says she’s just now beginning to get the word out.

As with many such independent projects, James has self-financed in the past by putting recording costs on credit cards. “But this project is paid for all in cash so far,” she says. “Much less stressful.” Does James have a Plan B in case this particular scheme fails to produce?

“My plan usually consists of the majority of the alphabet.”

Reaching out for fan love in the support of art and music is certainly not a new idea, not even in the digital-indie world in which we live. It may seem that way, but the only thing new about Kickstarter is their web platform; otherwise, strip it down to the basics and you’ll find that public radio has been doing the pretty much the same thing for years via their on-air pledge drives. In recent days a number of web sites have emerged to collect and administer such fan donations. The list includes SellaBand, SlicethePie, ArtistShare, and more.

Busking is possibly the oldest form of raising money in the music business. And those of us who played in perpetually cash-strapped high school marching bands know the drill of having to sell candy bars door-to-door or helping out at fundraisers like pancake breakfasts and golf tourneys in order to gas up the bus for those all-important conference games.

A pop musician named David Bazan years ago launched his own fundraiser to get an album made. Donors got a T Shirt: "I Helped Bazan Make a Record. They also got their names listed in the liner notes as executive producers.

Once, I met a punk rocker in Hillcrest, standing on the corner of Fifth and University holding a hand lettered sign: Kick My Ass for a Dollar. He was stranded, needed gas money to continue his band's tour, and the sign was generating a lot of action. He was getting his ass kicked up and down the sidewalk. My girlfriend at the time gave the boy a dollar but did not kick him. Rather, she advised that he should be nicer to his posterior.

“Love your butt,” she said. “It’s been good to you.”

Vanja James is a San Diego native, says she grew up in La Mesa. When she's not on the road, she stays with her mother in La Mesa or her brother in South Park. Over the years, she has gigged locally at the Casbah, House of Blues, Bar Pink, Tin Can, Ruby Room, Eleven, U-31, and more.

Kickstarter, like PBS, David Bazan, and many more before them encourages participating artists to think up and provide schwag for their donors as incentive. Does James plan anything like that for her backers? “Of course. A private house show, an acoustic recording of an electric song, lunch with the band,” she says. “Ideas are welcome.”


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