Thinking of Using Kickstarter? See This First!
Gapersblock.com did a nice story about Kickstarter (and interviewed us about our Jamboree 2012 project for this article, which we thank them for!) Below that are a few items from our own experience you can use to further investigate whether Kickstarter is right for you, including our cautionary tale, and a video to help you see more of the behind the scenes of this powerful tool. First, Katie Karpowicz from Chicago’s own Gapersblock.com:
Funding creativity isn’t always easy. It’s usually not cheap either. As money and the economy are a near daily worry for many Chicagoans, it’s no surprise that music labels of all shapes and sizes are also pinching pennies. More musicians and music industry professionals are turning to the kindness of friends and fans to advance their artistic endeavors. These appeals are seeing a much better response thanks to the online crowd-sourced funding site, Kickstarter.
Kickstarter, if you’re not familiar, allows musicians and artists (and indeed, any creative thinkers) of all types to create online campaigns asking fans to help fund creative projects, such as a book, an art installation, or even a new album. Each campaign has a set number of days to reach a predetermined monetary goal through donation pledges. Chicago alternative rockers State and Madison turned to Kickstarter last fall when they found themselves with an album’s worth of recorded songs and not enough money to produce that albuma physical product (an expensive endeavor that includes mixing, mastering and pressing CDs).
The band’s experience was one of the many Kickstarter success stories. On April 3, 2012 State and Madison released their new full length record Tar & Feather. The album is a product of both the band and its dedicated fans thanks to the band’s Kickstarter campaign. After first pooling all the money that the band members could contribute, State and Madison estimated they still needed more. They set a campaign goal of $5,500, and by January 2012 had accrued donations from 106 people amounting to $6,200.
“A friend of mine in Nashville’s band did [a Kickstarter campaign],” said State and Madison’s lead singer Nickolas Blazina. “We thought, ‘Well, we’re doing something we believe in and that other people might believe in too.'”
But State and Madison isn’t the only Chicago band that’s found success through Kickstarter. Chicago rock ‘n roll act Jumpsuit breezed past their $5,000 goal in a campaign to master and press their album Too Funky for the Rock and the Roll in December, 2010.
Proving that it’s not just a band’s albums that need funding, last summer, Michael-Phillip Scales, who performs under the moniker Briar Rabbit combined his passion for touring and the environment and raised $6,220 towards converting a school bus into a tour bus that runs on vegetable oil.
Even Chicago-based musicians with a national fanbase, like hip-hop artist Psalm One, have turned to Kickstarter in times of financial needs. Psalm One tours the country promoting her music and mentoring children through her music and education initiative Charm Lab. Last winter she found herself overdue on the release of her next album and in need of some new equipment. “Working with kids takes its toll on our gear,” she explained.
Part of what makes Kickstarter so appealing to donators is a tiered reward system that each campaign is required to offer. For instance, Psalm promised an unreleased mixtape to anyone that pledged more than $20 to her campaign.
Psalm planned her campaign around her touring schedule, hoping that being able to promote it in each city she stopped in would help increase the chances of reaching her $8,000 goal. But, like many other Kickstarter campaigns, the funding came down to the wire.
She reached $8,000 at 11:30pm on December 31, 2011. Her deadline was 12:01am on January 1. She even implemented a pledge-through-text system in the final days of her campaign. She attributed much of the success of her campaign to the fact that donators’ pledges would help the young aspiring musicians that Psalm mentors as well as her career. She also believed her goal was reasonably attainable.
“When I told people I was doing Kickstarter, I heard a lot of horror stories about people that had asked for too much,” she said. “If you don’t reach your goal that may not be an indication that your message isn’t right, it’s just that you might need to rethink your incentives or what you’re asking for.”
The “message” behind a Kickstarter campaign can take many forms. Whether you’re looking to advance your career by pumping out a new album or hoping to help someone else, it’s up to the artist.
Non-profit organizations are no strangers to fundraising, so it’s not a surprise that local organizations like Chicago’s Intonation Music Workshop have had successful campaigns. The after-school music education program funded a recent compilation CD from its students after raising $1,643 through the website.
Here’s what Q101 thinks based on our experiences with Kickstarter:
Think Kickstarter is a scam? That no one legitimate uses it? That it isn’t used by regular people and even companies to do cool things? That only bands and authors do Kickstarters? You’re wrong.
But that still doesn’t mean you should use it.
If you’re considering a Kickstarter, you should think it through. We certainly have some thoughts on that topic. First thing you should know and consider: Kickstarter’s Terms of Service states that you can NOT delete your project, whether it’s successfully funded or not. We knew this going into ours. No big deal we say, except…
Another Terms of Service caveat is that people can comment on your project so long as they back it. Which means…that someone who backs you for a $1 now has carte blanche to be a douche and say whatever they want, about you, your project, your company, your life…whatever they want. So long as they don’t break the law, you’re a sitting duck. You’re faced with defending yourself, and thereby egging them on, or being a schnook and letting people dead-horse you on a page, concept, and project that you spent countless hours of time and energy and thought on. In our case, we also spent thousands of dollars on ours, so to have it used as a way to treat us like dirt is beyond absurd.
Really, think Kickstarter through. We know of a half-dozen companies considering it for their business. Guys, please tread lightly.
Here’s the scene: So this $1 backer (or whatever your lowest number is…most projects have a $5 or $10 minimum pledge. You might want to consider going higher to fend off the riff-raff) can put up links to their site, facebook page, whatever; they can say negative things about you, and Kickstarter just shrugs. They even like it, by their own off-the-record admission, because they think it gets people talking about them and their platform. Yeah, it sure does, Kickstarter. Problem is you make money on successfully funded projects. If people’s projects are squashed, or, worse, people stop using your platform for fund-raising, you have now effectively cost yourselves money. We’re sure you’ve thought this through, right?) So, Kickstarter uses the First Amendment, as cover for their oddball belief that if people are trolling on their site, that’s somehow good for them.
We are big fans of that First Amendment. Freedom of speech is rockin’. Except when people use it as a weapon: On pages, platforms, and soapboxes you created. Imagine the farce that Kickstarter creates: You try to do something cool, and not only are you told you’re an idiot for trying something cool, whether its by some lunatic with a medical condition, or as part of some old, long-standing axe-grinding, or-and this is a stretch, we realize it (kidding!)-as part of outright corporate sabotage, but then you have to just let it live forever in the public, searchable space. Wait a minute…someone wouldn’t do that? Companies wouldn’t sabotage other companies? Think again.
See, the First Amendment is so sacred, and we believe rightly so, it literally provides cover for nasty people to do nasty things if that’s the way they choose to, uh, “Express themselves.” Remember that the next time you read an online review from Yelp, on Google, Angieslist, wherever: You have no idea who is writing it, whether what they say is true, or why they’re writing what they’re writing. Everything, including this article here, should be taken with a gran of salt. Because the reality is that if you have a product or service that is worth funding, you should know that there is possibility that a sub-set of humanoids with an internet connection exist that can try stopping you just because that’s their pathetic lot in life, or a rival company can try to stifle you before you come to market.
And that’s a fact. So before you head out there and try to build your better mousetrap, you might want to ask yourself: Is there another, better way to get this $10,000? Or $50,000? Or $299,000?
If you say, “no, this is the only way,” you’ve been forewarned. Good luck! We wish you safer landings than we experienced!
Having said that, (and obviously experienced the downsides of Kickstarter, including dealing with them ay Kickstarter HQ, and, sadly, dealing with the strange element it attracts and apparently is all too happy to give a louder voice to)…
When we looked into it months and months ago we saw some very cool things happen there. We’ve even backed some projects (yeah baby! That $25 hotdog we bought at Krash Maxwell’s hotdog cart in Woodstock is going to do down like a a $100 ‘dog, believe you me!). Nothing like rolling up one’s sleeves and trying something out. You learn a ton!
In fact, we love the motto “you learn something new everyday” because recently, as a matter of fact, we stumbled upon this regarding Chicago’s own Billy Corgan and his vision to do, basically, a Kickstarter:
The premise is that if you want box sets and other unique compilations of his music, you will have to “Kickstart” it; in other words, buy it before it’s manufactured, and then, once they have the dough in hand, they’ll go and make the box set you asked them to make.
Billy, it’s frigging brilliant. Anyone who thinks it is not has never spent a year and all of their money and developed a product and then gone out to market to find out no one wants it. That sucks. It sucks the life, and the money, right out of you.
Kickstarter, for it’s faults, allows one to make sure there is a demand for something and then they go out and build what was demanded of them.
That’s what we tried doing with Jamboree. Frankly, despite Kickstarter’s obvious flaws in terms of protecting businesses which use it, the concept of “looking before leaping” is a good one. Just beware that that applies to not only testing the market on your “new, hot idea”, but also on whether you should use Kickstarter, or any of the myriad other crowd-funding sites and services, to find out.
So, in the interests of telling it like it is, check out this vid if you please about how Kickstarter works, who uses it, and why. Thanks!
If this stuff piques your interest (the intersection of technology and fan activism and the changing business and music industry environments, etc.) Billy Corgan talks more about technology and how he would like to see an environment of fans getting more closely and actively involved in influencing the making of the music they like here: http://memeburn.com/2012/03/smashing-pumpkins-frontman-talks-social-media-at-sxsw/
This is obviously a stance we at Q101 obviously applaud.
“Liking” something on Facebook does not get things done. It’s nice and all and we enjoy being able to reach out to a lot of people (well, the positive-minded ones anyway), but we don’t live in the world of “Radio” anymore. Even if we or when we get Q101 back on the radio, we’re not so sure we want to go back to the “Radio” way of business: It’s the one where radio reps go out and sell to advertisers “numbers,” “eardrums” and “eyeballs.” These numbers are provided by companies they pay which take a laughingly small sample size of the population (how small? Try 2500 people in a market the size of Chicago), and through supposedly scientific methods extrapolate the listening habits of 9 million people. Notice I didn’t say “buying habits” or “action habits”. No, they measure “listening habits.” And for that matter, they can’t even measure how closely the message is “listened to” or if there is any understanding on the part of the listener. They merely monitor whether the listener was in the presence of the message.
So, eardrums and eyeballs…that’s all that matter in that world. No matter if the eardrums and the eyeballs are attached to people who don’t give a crap about what we’re telling them or what our sponsors are selling them. Radio companies don’t care. They don’t tell Ford, “You WILL sell more cars by putting your ads in front of our fans.” If they do say it, take it from some radio lifers who have been on that side of the world: They don’t mean it. How could they? They have no way of really knowing. They have, well, “numbers” which indicate that there “may” be “eardrums” and “eyeballs” on their client’s messaging. That’s where the “knowing” stops. But as for actual, well, action? Radio never is interested enough to find out. And, frankly, Ford never makes it find out or prove it.
And so it goes.
Well, we just don’t believe in that model. At all. We want to be able to look Ford in the eye and say, we deliver large “numbers” of “eardrums” and “eyeballs”, and when those large “numbers” of body parts hear and see your messages on Q101, there will be action, and that action will be more Ford cars sold because of what we do for you. Or Chevys. Or Hondas. The choice, as always, is up to you.
For our part, we’re merely the conduit between you and the people who have what you want. And to us, the only thing that matters, is action. Results. Proof.
If “liking” was all it took, Joseph Kony would be imprisoned or dead. Clicking the “like” button doesn’t equate to action. It might feel good for a moment, but in the end, the only thing that moves the needle, whether its Billy Corgan, or the makers of some Ipod Nano Watch on Kickstarter, or Ford, or the new Q101…is actual action.
If you feel the same way, please “like” this post.