April Smith at Lollapalooza

Guess it must be Music Wednesday here at Kickstarter HQ, because we’ve got another cool bit of music news to share. April Smith, whose project has been doing very well, will be playing Lollapalooza this weekend in Chicago. That’s a serious honor on its own, but even cooler is that today Rolling Stone pegged her as one of the artists to watch. Here’s what they had to say:

We’ll be checking in with April to see how her set went, and we’ll be checking her project updates, too. If you’re new to April’s music, we shot a video of her playing earlier this summer. It was fantastic! Here it is:

Rural Alberta Advantage: "Eye of the Tiger"

Last night I caught the Rural Alberta Advantage — whose Kickstarter project finished successfully over the weekend — at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. It was packed, and as they always do, Nils, Amy, and Paul totally killed it. They finished up with an encore of Nils solo doing “Eye of the Tiger” and then they debuted a brand new song. My iPhone footage of both is above. Give it a look.

The Power of Quests, Pt. II

Yesterday we looked at three Kickstarter projects that involve quests, and today we’re going to examine three more. What these projects illustrate is the storytelling potential of the funding process, and how many projects have a built-in narrative structure that’s waiting to be discovered.

Think of every fantasy and science-fiction movie that you’ve ever seen or every RPG you’ve ever played — at certain key moments during the quest, the protagonist has to solicit assistance from people sympathetic to the cause to overcome key obstacles, to finally see things through to the end. Kickstarter projects work in the same way — it’s the backers that every project creator needs.

Building a New Ark: The Floating Doctors

A few years ago, a doctor visited a remote African village with a backpack of medical supplies. He sat all day under a tree in the center of the village, treating everyone who waited. At the end of the day, the doctor had run out of medicine, and yet many more people were awaiting care. Distraught, the doctor made his way to his jeep, where he cried for a very long time over what he had seen.

That’s the origin story for the Floating Doctors, and before doing anything else, take three minutes to watch their video, which explains the mission beautifully. The small crew will set sail for South America next month on the Southern Wind, a 76-foot boat donated by a couple who had planned to retire on it, but who decided that Dr. Benjamin LaBrot could put it to better use.

The Floating Doctors need $25,000 to launch their first mission, which will take them to remote Central and Southern America villages accessible by boat. It’s hard to imagine a more noble goal.

Sea to Shining Sea: Sarah Sharp Visits All Fifty States

A quest doesn’t need to save lives or cure society’s ills to be valid. What ultimately matters is its importance to the person seeking it, and, in Kickstarter’s case, whether other people agree. Both are obviously true in the case of 50 States, a project by Sarah Sharp with a familiar goal: to visit all fifty US states in one year. Sarah is doing more than visiting each state; she’s also making postcards for each state using her photography. Here’s one for Florida that she posted as a project update:

With nearly $3,500 raised of her $5,000 goal and more than a month left, Sarah’s quest looks to be in good shape, with an active community supporting her mission.

Honey I Shrunk Detroit: Jerry Paffendorf’s Loveland

Where to begin with Loveland? Here’s the premise: in the quasi post-Apocalyptic reality that is modern-day Detroit, a guy named Jerry Paffendorf came up with the idea to buy a piece of property on the cheap and turn it into a million square-inch grid. For $1, you can own one inch, with $12 getting you twelve inches, $100 getting one hundred inches, etc.

Loveland is part social experiment, part virtual world-style real estate, and all playful fun. Jerry will allow people to build on their inches — erecting miniature skyscrapers or pretty much anything else you can imagine — and his blog details his thought process on how Loveland will evolve.

The silliness of Loveland is a huge part of its appeal. Five years ago Loveland would be a comment on the ridiculousness of real estate; now it’s a reminder that maybe $1 for a piece of property is a fair price after all.

(A potential Loveland viewer)

Following along with Jerry’s madcap vision it’s clear that there’s no limit as to how grand he plans to make this. It’s not hard to imagine visiting Loveland in two years to find it expanding at an incredible rate (reminiscent of Synecdoche, New York), with Jerry as the Wizard behind the curtain. That’s $12 in inches well-spent.

The Power of Quests

If you want to go on a meaningful quest, you must be lacking in something. [T]he protagonist cannot focus on everything and thus must choose and discard priorities to define a preferred quest. Tyler Cowen, Create Your Own Economy

Last week we used Cowen’s quote about quests in relation to Geoff Edgers’ Kinks documentary project. This was no accident. In the film, Geoff repeatedly declares himself to be “on a quest” (he also uses the word “mission”) to reunite the Kinks, a phrasing that has a visible effect on people like Sting and Zooey Deschanel, who give his film and goal their endorsement.

“Quest” is a powerful word. Quests are Wall-E rescuing Eve, Frodo climbing Mordor, the Losties getting off the island. Quests are legends, bold steps into folklore, celluloid, and pulp. As even Don Quixote — and the mere existence of the word “quixotic” — illustrates so vividly, quests are burdens. Quests demand sacrifice and determination, a myopic focus on, well, something.

A handful of new Kickstarter projects are themselves quests. They are the works of individuals who felt a spark one day — we don’t choose our quests; they choose us — and abruptly realigned their lives in pursuit. They sail seas and climb mountains. They seek meaning in faded black-and-white. They awoke one day to find they were giants.

We’ll look at three projects today that embody this, and three more tomorrow.

The American Who Went Up a Mountain and Came Down a Hero: Chris Waddell Climbs Mt. Kilimanjaro

One man. One mountain. Chris Waddell attempts to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro without the use of his legs.

That quote from Chris Waddell’s project really says it all, doesn’t it? A five-time gold medal paralympian skier, Chris is the picture of determination and focus. Chris is raising $50,000 to fund his climb of Africa’s tallest peak using a wheeled rig that he hand-cranks up the mountain, each revolution of its gears moving him only three inches. It’s a chariot of his own design, and the brute force required to even operate it is Herculean — to make the five-day climb, he will have to turn that crank a staggering 528,000 times while traversing terrain straight out of Middle-earth. Chris describes the trek by day in his project description; here’s a sample quote:

2nd Day. Mandara Hut to Horombo Hut—Approximately 3,300 feet of elevation change and about 9.3 miles of distance. Leaving the forest and entering the heather, we will travel through the mists and the fog. Then the vegetation thins in the moorland. The trail stays rough and rocky with some big steps. The second day will be technical and difficult the whole time. It could rival the summit day for the most challenging. Horombo Hut Elevation: 12,205 feet.

Chris asks prospective copilots to consider backing his journey for a simple $1/revolution of his wheels. The ride downhill, he states, is on him.

Lascaux Meets LaPorte: Joe Beshenkovsky and Jason Bitner Decipher the Faces of LaPorte, Indiana

One afternoon not long ago, after lunch at a small Midwestern diner, I stumbled onto a forgotten archive…

That evocative sentence opens the description of LaPorte, Indiana, the documentary film created by This American Life producer Joe Beshenkovsky and FOUND magazine co-creator Jason Bitner. That archive contains more than 18,000 photographs of the citizens of LaPorte, Indiana taken from the 1950s-70s. Jason turned the photographs into a photo book released a couple of years ago, and in the time since the allure of the pictures has grown.

Using a copy of the book left in the diner, LaPorte’s citizens began identifying themselves and their peers. And it was then that Joe and Jason began interviewing these people some forty to fifty years after those initial images: the young couple in the wedding photo, the cowlicked boy with his fist raised like Huey Long, the woman who swore she would one day leave and never come back.

The interviews uncover this small town’s living histories, the happy days and tragic ends that are LaPorte’s folklore.

Around the World in Seven Hundred and Thirty Days: Emily Richmond Sets Sail

so in my head i know sailing really means storms, cold water, scary squalls, and the great unknown but today, in my heart, it feels like this:

— Emily Richmond posting on her blog, Bobbie Rounds the World

Emily Richmond is a 24-year-old woman from Los Angeles who has decided to sail around the world. Her two-year journey will swing her across the Southern Hemisphere. Here’s her planned route:

With stops in Cyprus, the Galapagos Islands, Trinidad, Morocco, and Bali (among others), Emily’s circumnavigation is straight out of a fairy tale. And the rewards she is offering accentuate the romatic appeal.

For $15, she will mail you a Polaroid picture taken over the course of the trip. In our minds, this instantly sparked images of a worn, mysteriously stamped envelope arriving one day, a strong scent of seawater accompanying its opening, the enclosed Polaroid capturing beauty as far as the lens can see.

Our other favorite is perfectly self-explanatory:

Whereas Magellan needed King Manuel to fund his journey and outfit his ship, Emily will share her bounty with us. A mere $8,000 and she’s on her way.

Coming tomorrow… Part Two.

Wedding Chapel Open House

Attention NYC Kickstarters. Tonight in the Lower East Side at 139 Norfolk St there will be a Wedding Chapel open house ceremony with a fake wedding as entertainment. And this man will be officiating:

The Kickstarter crew will be in attendance, so come on out if you’re in the mood. More details are here. Drinks and friends are welcome.

Do It Again: One Man's Quest to Reunite the Kinks

Last night I had the honor to join Geoff Edgers and a group of his friends for one of the first screenings of Do It Again, a film Geoff has made about his quest to reunite the Kinks. Do It Again was one of the very first projects on Kickstarter — our very first film project, I believe — and it has raised more than $6,000 so far (the project still has eleven days left: support it).

Do It Again is not only an excellent film (more on that in a moment), it also makes crystal clear why Geoff needed to raise the money in the first place. You see, this quest to reunite the Kinks moves a bit into the quixotic territory, with money problems, a pay cut at work (he’s a Boston Globe reporter), and a host of other sacrifices standing as substantial impediments to his dream. I’m reminded of something economics professor  Tyler Cowen notes in his book Create Your Own Economy:

If you want to go on a meaningful quest, you must be lacking in something. [T]he protagonist cannot focus on everything and thus must choose and discard priorities to define a preferred quest.

As Do It Again makes clear over its 90 minutes, Geoff does far more than that. Possessing few resources beyond the worn soles of a newspaperman and an incredible tolerance for rejection, Geoff tries again and again and again to make something — anything — happen, whether it be by validating the worthiness of his mission through conversations with people like Sting, Peter Buck, Zooey Deschanel, etc (all of whom appear in the film) or even just getting his seven-year-old daughter to understand how it is that adult brothers like Kinks Ray and Dave Davies can still hate each other well into their sixties. (Musician Warren Zanes goes to Freud to explain it; Geoff did not try that tactic with his daughter.)

I’m a Kinks fan. A huge one. And a site that I cofounded helped get this made. So obviously I have dogs in this hunt. But still: this is a very, very good film. And I detest both music documentaries and personality-driven docs. Honestly. But Geoff’s film is about something deeper, about a need for accomplishment, about a life that feels unfulfilled. So he has done what we all want to do: he dropped everything and did something about it — and it’s great.

So what’s next for Geoff? Incredibly, just making the film is the first step of many. He is now working on finding a distributor, which he will need to pay the music licensing fees (there’s a lot of great music in the film, as you might have guessed) and find an audience and on and on. It’s an enormous task, and one that I hope Kickstarter can aid yet again. Because if there’s one thing Do It Again makes very, very clear, it’s that Geoff Edgers does not give up.

The Gumbo Party

Back when we counted down the five best project updates so far, we discussed Earl Scioneaux’s Electronola project and its awesome studio updates. Earl has posted 22 updates so far from his New Orleans studio, detailing his backers about each step of the recording process as he records some of New Orleans’ most legendary musicians. (Just take a look at this post, with detailed recording notes, pictures from the session, and some raw audio with bassist George Porter Jr. So cool.)

Earl’s project also featured what is probably our single best reward so far:

Earl originally made just one of these available and, not surprisingly, it was one of the first rewards to go. So he upped it to ten, and after those sold out he realized he was either going to be making a whole lotta gumbo, or he should organize a get-together of some kind.

Last week Earl invited those ten backers to his New Orleans studio for some gumbo and some music, and this morning he posted a recap. Here are some pics:

And the legendary gumbo, of course:

People came from as far away as Houston and Atlanta for the get-together. Absolutely incredible. Check out the whole post here, and we highly recommend adding Earl’s project updates to your RSS reader as well (just add that link and you’re set). His project is a great one.