Amanda's Million

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Last week Amanda Palmer became the first musician to raise more than a million dollars on Kickstarter. Her project's numbers: $1,192,793 pledged by 24,883 people in 30 days. A musician getting a million dollars from the internet is a very big deal. How did it happen?

Music projects

While Amanda Palmer's project is the biggest in music so far, thousands of musicians have found Kickstarter to be an effective tool. They've used it to make records, go on tour, and reissue old material, among many other things. More than 7,000 music projects have been successfully funded, the most in any category.

Music projects are also successfully funded at a high rate — 52% of music projects reach their goals versus 44% of all projects. The most successful genres: Country (62%), Indie Rock (60%), Jazz (57%), and Classical (57%).

In total, more than $42 million has been pledged to Kickstarter music projects by more than 600,000 people. Only the Film category has seen more dollars or pledges.

Reward economics

The goal of Amanda Palmer's project was to release her new album, and 94% of the project's pledges were pre-orders of the record.

For $1, fans could get a download of the album; for $5 a download and a PDF; for $25 a download and CD; for $50 a download and vinyl; and for $125 a download, vinyl or CD, and limited-edition art book. Here's a breakdown of what backers chose. Mouse over a tier for its full statistics (thanks to Amanda for allowing us to share this data):

Backers pre-ordered 23,383 copies of the album. Not only did backers pay for her music, they paid more than they had to: 80% of pre-orders were for more than the $1 minimum.

Excluding the $125 art-book level, backers paid on average $16.25 for the record. Even after Kickstarter's 5% fee and Amazon's credit card processing fees, Amanda gets to take home several times what a musician would get from a traditional physical or digital sale.

The value of experiences

While pre-ordering made up most of the project's activity, more than $300,000 was pledged for rewards offering experiences rather than things.

For $300 you could go to a backer-only show — 397 fans chose that. For $5,000 she would play a show at your house — 34 backers chose that. For $10,000 you could have dinner with her and she would paint your portrait — two backers chose that. 

Traditional marketplaces restrict fans to being consumers, but Amanda's project invited them to participate. Private shows, personal mixtapes, studio visits, and similar experiences are common among music projects on Kickstarter.

Why Amanda Palmer?

Amanda Palmer isn't the most famous person in the world, but she might have the most loyal following. Her fans love her because of who she is. She hangs out with them online and in person. She chooses not to have a record label. She's transparent with everything she does.

As she wrote in a blog post last week:

i’ve been running my life this way for years, bouncing up and down financially and just making sure i always had enough money to do WHAT I WANTED, and do it RIGHT.

it may be what makes me different, fundamentally, from a lot of pop artists. i’m almost never looking at the monetary bottom line, i’m always looking at the creative bottom line. the happiness index of my life and creative self, not the amount of dough i’ll have in the bank at the end of a project.

True to her reputation, she goes on to explain exactly where the money will go. After fulfilling rewards and paying costs, she'll take home $100,000 and not carry any debt from the project. When's the last time a musician sold 25,000 albums and knew exactly where every penny went?

What next?

Everyone at Kickstarter would like to congratulate Amanda, her band, her team, and her backers on the project. Every bit of this was their doing, and we were thrilled to be part of it. They've done an amazing job.

Whether it's Amanda Palmer, Tim Schafer, Bret Easton Ellis, Radiohead, Louis CK, or Joss Whedon, fans have repeatedly rewarded artists who step out from behind their industries' protective walls. No one is happy with the current creative economy, and fans will support people who dare to challenge it. They know it's a risk and they appreciate it.

Still, change is hard. For many artists, a project like Amanda's is both exciting and scary. It's great to see a peer have success, but it clearly took a lot of hard work to do. Is it worth it? Amanda Palmer has 25,000 fans, a million dollars, and a great new album that say yes.

    1. Stefan Lorenzutti on

      An invigorating victory for all those who believe in creative independence, windmill-tilting, and the degree to which Pippi Longstocking gumption can topsy-turvy antiquated hierarchies.

      (But do allow me to grit my teeth at the thought of Amazon earning so much as a cent from Amanda Palmer's sassy shrewdness.)

    2. Scott Curtis on

      Now to figure out how an unknown can use Kickstarter and find similarly incredible success.

    3. Eoghan Kavanagh on

      I am so happy to read about this ,I am an unknown photographer who is in the middle or a small but succesfull project ,that will be funded by kickstarter , It will give me the freedom to Do some work that I would have never got done on my own. It is a truely a wonderfull space . (The Skelligs Project)

    4. Holly de saillan on

      Isn't she the wife of Neil Gaiman. They have some rich friends. I believe in and support projects on
      Kickstarter but I think it is more empowering when small timers get big rewards like 5,000$ is a hell-of-a-lot

    5. Candice Westberg on

      Scott, she may have written it on her post linked above about where the money is going, but Amanda says somewhere along the way that you must have a fan-base to have this kind of success. That if you are an unknown, without a following, you will likely fail. She has a massive following that has been building for years. It is with the power of that crowd that she has been able to pull this off. Crowd-funding, go gather your crowd! Make connections, play free gigs, do whatever you absolutely can, and never stop for anyone. Check out her blog, there are wonderful tidbits about how she got to where she is. She crashed at people's houses, played free gigs, money went up and down, you just have to keep at it! Good luck!
      I <3 you Amanda!

    6. Dan Vedda on

      Congrats to Amanda--Like so many successes it happened "instantly" after years of hard work, and minimal returns. Props to her for making something worth her fans attention, money, and involvement.. It corroborates what I've always felt--whether or not I could replicate it myself!

    7. Ri Caragol on

      Awesome, but I wish they would have written on the back of those card boards too, they would have used half of them! : ]

    8. Geoff Leach on

      Very well done!
      Nice when an individal's smart and hard work pays....mega !

    9. Geoff Leach on

      Very well done!
      Nice when an individal's smart and hard work pays....mega !

    10. rosemarywhite on

      Yeah, onya AmandaP! This is payoff for years of hard work, great music, amazing blogs, doing what it takes. And she's been generous, too, giving links to others who are less well-known who are trying to crowdfund their own projects. Live long and prosper!

    11. Missing avatar

      Hugo Burnham on

      What a mealy-mouthed comment, Holly de Saillan. Jealousy is not pretty. Pay attention to how exactly this happened....over years of hard work, sacrifice, building an audience, and dedication to her craft. It has nothing to do with "rich friends". Oy.

    12. Yancey Strickler

      Came across an old blog post. Looks like we initially invited Amanda Palmer to use Kickstarter on June 23, 2009!

    13. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This user's account has been deleted.

    14. Missing avatar

      roar on

      you go girl. i am not mad at you..benitawheeler

    15. Sharon Love on

      So inspiring! I'd love to help you get Kickstarter into Canada.

    16. ofromdablockgsny on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    17. Minoti Vaishnav on

      As an unknown musician on Kickstarter, I'm finding it really hard to generate interest and funding for my new album. Don't get me wrong, my project is doing reasonably well so far, but 90% of my backers are people I know.

      I guess you do have to either have a lot of rich friends or be someone semi-famous to make a lot of money on here. Or get featured on the Kickstarter homepage. I bet that helps too. :)

    18. Keith on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    19. Lake Street Films on

      Wow. Very inspirational article! Gives me hope that it really is possible!

    20. Missing avatar

      Tom Schneiter on

      Thanks to Kickstarter, I've been able to help other musician friends record a DVD, record a CD, and mount a West Coast tour. Congratulations to Amanda from one who remembers her doing the white-bride mime thing in Harvard Square! (AND had I known you were doing this magnificent effort on Kickstarter, I would have helped you, too!)

    21. Missing avatar

      deepstructure on

      This is an incredible success for Amanda and that's fantastic. But this post doesn't seem to be telling the whole story. The graph only represents 47% ($560,765), of the total money raised. Even that's an impressive amount, but it does beg the question - where did the other 53% of the money come from?

      According to the article, there were 24,883 backers, but the graph represents 23383, which leaves 1500 unaccounted for - who all must have contributed more than the $125 top level, or else didn't take any reward and so weren't recorded. Those 1500 account for a whopping $686,028, or about $457.35 each.

      Makes the comment about rich friends seem a bit more plausible.

      Also this claim: "...Amanda gets to take home several times what a musician would get from a traditional physical or digital sale," seems a bit inflated. Excluding high-rollers, if the only money Amanda had taken was from below the $125 contribution level (certainly a more realistic sample for most independent artists), that would have beein about $276,000 after Kickstarter and Amazon fees. Which comes out to about $12.67 per person.

      Amanda isn't a company that can spread overhead costs around - in addition to her time and labor writing and recording, she has to cover all the production and distribution costs as well. So with that sample I wouldn't be surprised if she made about the same or even less than a label artist.

    22. Missing avatar

      scot matheson on

      Have loved her work and admired her work ethic for a long time. Am proud to include myself as a fan.

    23. Missing avatar

      deepstructure on

      The article slants it a bit (it's not her main backup band but additional horns + strings), but her claim that she can't afford to pay these people anything is a bit surprising:

    24. Josie Wall on

      Very well!! Her work is appreciable. May GOD bless her & and she will cross more steps of success.

    25. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    26. Shiv Shambhu on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    27. Shiv Shambhu on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    28. Missing avatar

      deleted on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    29. Harish Kumar on

      Thank you for another fantastic posting. Where else could anyone get that kind of information in such a perfect way of writing? I have a speech next week, and I was looking for more info ;)

    30. Missing avatar

      Namaku Keren on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

    31. Missing avatar

      Doa Ibu Tersayang on

      This comment has been removed by Kickstarter.

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