Why We Back

The other day I came across a tweet referencing Jesse Thorn’s Put This On project that really struck me:

It’s true — the stated purposed of the project is to help men dress better. But is that really the reason why people are backing? Personally I’d be surprised if that’s been the motivation behind a single pledge. So why back him? Don’t we spend our money on things we need or want? How in the world could Jesse have raised more than $10,000? And in this economy, no less.

But we know why. Those people backed Jesse’s project because they like him, because they read his blog, because he lives down the street, because they liked the pilot episode, because they think he’s talented, because they know how hard it is to make something great, because a friend asked them to, because they forgot his birthday, because his project is good.

There are too many reasons to count, and none of them have anything to do with need or want. Instead, they’re about Jesse. That’s a very powerful thing. He’s offering rewards so value is still being exchanged, and want and status do come into play there. But the primary motivators are empathy, kinship, community — concepts that marketplaces normally bulldoze, but here powerful. Just look at what they’ve accomplished already.

It’s a different kind of consumerism. It rewards sincerity, originality, and creativity instead of profit projections and merchandising opportunities (though I would happily back any project that involved a lunchbox). It grants everyone involved the ability to determine the equation — including the unique power to define what’s a commodity and what’s not. And it’s a better feeling, too. I’ll back another 500 music projects on Kickstarter before I’ll buy another CD.

There’s something weirdly intimate about it. I like you and what you do, so I promise to give you some money and you promise to mail me something in return. It’s personal, not transactional. Here’s a great example. My desk, right now:

Sitting in front of my monitor: an origami sailboat I got in the mail this week from Emily Richmond, who I helped to sail around the world. Next to them are two tiny fabric houses mailed to me by Amy Wilson. They have real meaning to me. They’re mementos that I’ll always keep — and yet they’re from complete strangers. They weren’t even gifts — I paid for them!

It’s easy to be cynical. The projects are small, the scale is tiny, it’s just some weird Brooklyn thing. But there’s scale in authenticity and there’s scale in passion. As we say first thing on the Learn More page:

We believe that…

A good idea, communicated well, can spread fast and wide.

A large group of people can be a tremendous source of money and encouragement.

It all starts from there.

Creator Q&A: Bring Back Butter

When’s the last time you thought about butter? No, we mean really thought about butter? If you can’t think of an answer then you’d be the perfect candidate for Tim Eads ambitious project to Bring Back Butter. He aims to reinvigorate our appetite for the long-standing table staple by crafting a pedal-operated machine that churns butter while simultaneously operating a toaster — and he’s using Kickstarter to fund his purchase of the basic equipment required to do it. Tim explains that his invention won’t be a business venture, but just his way of “making life a little better for people.” Sounds pretty good to us. Now all we need is that pedal-operated coffee maker…

Read about Tim’s butter below. Support his project here

This project is so crazy (in a good way)! Where did you come up with this idea?

About a year ago I was thumbing through a 1905 Sears catalog I found in a used book store. It was humorous to see how everything was so bulky and strange looking and only performed simple tasks. It occurred to me that in 100 years our machines will look silly and inefficient. I decided to embrace the idea of “inefficient mechanisms” and created an installation that was powered by two bicycle pumps. The pumps fed into 400 feet of air hose and after about 20 pumps blew a small pinwheel that I had designed. You can see images of that piece here.

Following that success I began thinking of other possibilities for human-powered mechanisms. I found old books about using pedal-power to do all kinds of tasks around the house. I grew up eating homemade butter produced with a table top churn. It seemed like the perfect action because it’s simple to convert. Of course, then the question is what to do with all that butter. Giving it away on warm toast is the answer. The reason I chose butter was it seemed like one of the most basic ways to connect to people. Because much of our brain activity is dedicated to finding and eating food we all connect with it on some level. The butter project is a way for me to take my creations into the world and allow people to participate in my art.

Why do we need to bring back butter?

Butter seems to be on the growing list of things people shouldn’t eat. This is unfortunate because if it’s carefully made using quality ingredients the taste is heavenly. I guess, in a way, I’m interested in reminding people that it’s the small things that make life interesting and fun. It’s easy to forget about what makes us happy especially during hard times.

What is your favorite way to eat butter?

Growing up my mom made homemade rolls every Sunday for lunch. A small pat of butter inside was one of the finest things in life.

How have people responded to your use of Kickstarter so far?

A lot of people are asking “why butter?” so I am getting the chance to “spread” the idea. It’s also been fun explaining the idea behind Kickstarter to people and giving them a simple way to get involved in supporting art.

Where will you go after you’ve brought back butter?

I have plans to modify the machine to make homemade ice cream and blended smoothies. After that my next Kickstarter project will explore connections between where people live and what condiments they consume. I seem to be quite fascinated with food. So many of my happy memories were formed while eating. 

Closing thoughts?

Bring back butter! When this project is funded my goal is to set it up outside of art openings and other public places to introduce a little happiness. I’m not trying to make any money from this project, I simply need to build the project and get it out there. 

Creator Q&A: Fusion in a Bubblegum Machine

Making science “cool” is something high-school teachers have been trying to do for centuries. If only more of them knew about Jacob, Elaine and Leticia, the college students behind sci-fi-novel worthy project Fusion in a Bubblegum Machine. The group’s goal is to build a fusor reactor inside of a (you guessed it) common, store-bought bubblegum machine. Although most of the machine is being constructed from scavenged parts, the trio need to fund those bits that can’t be built from scratch — like Deuterium Gas. How ‘bout that? Pretty cool, eh? 

Read what they had to say about their project below. Support them here

This concept behind your idea is really interesting. Where did you come up with it? 

 We were initially planning on building just a normal farnsworth fusor reactor, one with a metal vacuum container, to help us get some practical engineering experience. But during our first meeting I was drawing designs on the whiteboard and they kinda looked like a gumball machine. And I just figured, why not build something non-engineers would find interesting as well.  

Has something like this been done before? Any examples you look to for inspiration?

I’ve never heard of a fusor being built to fit in a bubblegum machine but there are a few amateur fusioneers. We got a lot of inspiration from Brian McDermott

How have people been responding to your use of Kickstarter so far?

People like the idea. About half of the backers are friends who we told about the project and signed up to kickstarter to pledge. Also we had a good experience with our first major backer, Jason Wells. He actually emailed and gave us some advice on editing our page to make it more non-engineer friendly as wellas offered to ship us some pretty useful electronics parts.  

Your rewards include really cool stuff (Felted Sub-Atomic Particles, “Irradiated” Candy, a Sculpted Flying Spaghetti Monster) — where did you come up with these ideas? How have people’s responses been to them?

I have zero artistic tallent so at first the prizes were kinda boring, like a shirt, a month of tutoring, a small bottle of deuterium.   Thankfully, I realized offering actual chemicals, as safe as they are, may not be the best idea. So I asked Elaine if  she could felt some chemicals. She thought the project was cool and offered the Flying Spaghetti Monster as well as her skills to sculpt/felt anything people wanted. As for the irradiated candy prizes, we figured our project is a BUBBLGUM fusion reactor we should at least have one candy related prize. The prize that’s gotten the most positive response has not too surprisingly been the Watercolors by Leticia. This prize came about when Leticia got a cool idea for a watercolor when she saw our “prototype” and offered to donate it as well as paint the thank you notes. So really most of the prizes are just what everyone who wanted to help out could make with a fusion spin.

Closing thoughts?

The response on Kickstarter has been far more than I expected. Though I would say we could have reached a lot more people if we started using things like Twitter and Facebook earlier on and to a greater extent.   

Open Thread: What Projects Are You Backing?

We’ve talked about cool rewards before — now it’s your turn! Below are the last two projects that I backed and the reasons why. We’d really love to hear from you: what are the most recent projects that have earned your support?

Fusion in a Bubblegum Machine’s “irradiated” candy and felt sub-atomic particles, available at pledge levels of $5 and $20 respectively, are so unusual and clever that I found myself backing the project out of pure curiousity. And I only got more excited after checking out Elaine’s totally awesome felt mushrooms.

Bring Back Butter is offering origami butter wrappers to backers who pledge $50 or more. To me, something like this hits just the right note between smart and funny. It’s not something I necessarily would have thought of before, and that’s why I like it.

What about you? What projects are you backing and why?

Creator Q&A: Rules to Rock By

The protagonist of Josh Farrar’s novel, Rules to Rock By, is a twelve-year-old rock star named Anabelle Cabrera. Sounds cool already, but Josh is also planning to produce and record a full-length soundtrack to the book. (That’s him pictured above, hard at work with friends in the studio.) The album will feature tunes by the story’s fictional band The Bungles, allowing fans of the novel to hear what the group would actually sound like.  Josh hopes that his project will create a whole new category of kid’s music, one “made for young people, and contextualized and strengthened by the power of storytelling.” Pretty neat in our book.

Check out what else Josh had to say below. Support his project here

What inspired this idea? Do you know a musically ambitious tween? 

I had two main inspirations for Rules to Rock By:

The first one was the large number of tween bands and rock ‘n’ roll-themed summer camps that seem to be popping up all over the country. Five years ago, there was a small handful of these School of Rock-style rock camps, and now there are dozens — one for literally ever major U.S metropolitan area. Also, we’ve got fully evolved rock bands like Care Bears on Fire and Smoosh, whose members were very young when they started. I was in bands by age sixteen, but I was nowhere near as professional or gig-ready as these bands are, and their overall awesomeness prompted me to think about what it would be like to live your rock ‘n’ roll dreams at such a young age. Would a twelve-year-old kid playing to a thousand people totally lose it before getting onstage, or would he or she be too young to experience the abject horror that an older person would? Trying to imagine the experience through a tween’s eyes was intriguing, and fueled the writing of the novel from beginning to end.

My second inspiration was the “virtual band,” Gorrilaz. Damon Albarn, the singer of Blur and an awesomely talented musician, apparently needed a break from mega-huge rock-star celebrity (at least in his native UK), so he worked with the illustrator Jamie Hewlett to develop a fictional conceit for a band. Real musicians were producing and performing songs while adolescent avatars literally fronted for them in videos and live shows. 

I wanted to try something fun in that vein by writing a novel that brings a fictional band to life. Readers would really get to know the band members as characters in the novel, then would (hopefully!) be curious about what The Bungles, the band from the book, sounded like. So, listeners to the soundtrack will hear real-life singers and instrumentalists (some of the musicians are kids, some are adults) playing the role of the four kids in The Bungles.

Were you a fan of tween-lit growing up? If so — faves? 

I liked a lot of tween books that were already classics at the time: Judy Blume’s novels, the Black Stallion books, Where The Red Fern Grows. But the book that resonates most closely with Rules to Rock By is Harriet The Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. I re-read it in the middle of writing RTRB, and it really hit home. Harriet isn’t really a spy; she’s an observer. She doesn’t really spy on anything extraordinary, but she teaches herself to notice the passing details in life that most people overlook. I read the novel as a story about a girl who is unconsciously teaching herself how to become a writer.

My heroine, Annabelle Cabrera, begins the story as someone who is very consciously trying to follow the “rules” to becoming a rock star. But she quickly learns that rules won’t do her much good in that regard, so she refocuses her goal: she wants to study the craft of songwriting. And to become a good songwriter, she needs to be observant and truthful about her own inner life. So I guess I can say that RTRB is my attempt to write an indie-rock version of Harriet The Spy.

How have people responded to your use of Kickstarter so far? 

I, for one, am pretty much in love with Kickstarter right now. Hayley Downs, a filmmaker friend of mine, turned me on to the site a few weeks ago, and I spent a long time sifting through the various projects, pledging humble sums here and there as I went. To me, it’s one of those ideas that is so good that in retrospect it seems incredibly obvious. Online micro-financing for creative innovation — how did this not exist before?!?

I’m still at the point in my project where I personally know 95% of the people who have pledged, so I hear their responses very directly, and they’re completely psyched about it. The rewards are fun, the presentation within the KS interface is clean and elegant, and my friends and family now feel like they’re a part of my project; there’s an emotional investment in Rules to Rock By now that just wasn’t there eight days ago.

Any rewards that have emerged as favorites? 

None of the rewards have really emerged as favorites; I think people are simply giving what they can, and if they need to throw in an extra ten dollars to get, in my case, the CD and the book, they’ll do it. But I think the rewards in general are a huge boost to those who have pledged. They add fun and motivation to the whole process, so that people can feel as close to the creative process as possible.

Closing thoughts?

This project has been underway for about two and a half years at this point, and the twists and turns it takes are often surprising. We’re about midway into the recording process — seven songs down, five or so to go — and sometimes I feel like I’m living out scenes from the book. In the studio, my co-producers and I are interacting with some super-talented musicians who are only a couple years older than the kids in my novel. They’re learning a lot from us, and we’re learning a lot from them, too, often in unexpected ways.

A great microcosm of this scenario happened at a recording session last weekend. We were working with a great guitar player named Hunter Lombard. (Hunter is fifteen, goes to high school and lives in the East Village, and plays in Blame the Patient, a great NYC band that also includes Sofie Kapur, one of our singers.) We were doing a cover song called “You’ll Find A Way,” by Santogold, and Hunter and I were both playing guitar, tracking live-in-the-studio with drums and bass. The song isn’t particularly hard to play (on guitar, that is; it’s pretty virtuosic in the rhythm section), but the arrangement is really tricky. I was confused as hell, and after two or three failed takes, I vented, “That’s it! Let’s do the rhythm section by itself and overdub the guitars later,” showing my frustration pretty openly in front of Hunter and the other players. 

We decided to give it one more try, and during the following take, Hunter was making eye contact with me and whispering “Okay, now the chorus,” and stuff like that, figuratively holding my hand through the arrangement. She helped me get the arrangement under my belt, and we nailed the take. I was thinking to myself, “I’ve been doing this twenty-something years longer than this girl, and she’s teaching me this arrangement!” It was humbling, but also so awesome to appreciate what an excellent young musician she is, regardless of her age.

Cool Rewards from Remedy Quarterly

The girls behind Remedy Quarterly have really been blowing us away over the last week. Not only have they rocketed past their funding goal in a matter of days, they’ve been keeping us on our toes with regular blog updates about some superbly curated, hand-crafted Remedy goodies that are newly available to backers. It’s a stellar example of how to keep a project consistently dynamic throughout its funding time. And I don’t know about anybody else, but I can’t wait to get my tote!

Check out the rewards below. Support Remedy Quarterly’s first issue here

Tote bags, each hand screen-printed with 16 unique “M’s” designed by Friends of Type, are available to backers pledging $25. 

Hand-printed Gocco recipe cards (each set is unique!) are available for backers pledging $80 or more. 

Little Brass Bird

Up until last night, the most I had ever been genuinely tempted to pledge to a project was $50. Sure, many of the higher-priced, personalized rewards are cool, but I have never seriously considered buying one. Until I came across Little Brass Bird, that is.

Little Brass Bird creators Robin and Rhoderick live in Chicago and handmake plush toys like these:

Cool, but no biggie, right? Thing is, these aren’t just little toys. They are also — and this is the gist of their project — stars of a stop-motion series that Robin and Rhoderick make called Little Brass Bird.

There are a couple of teaser episodes up on their official site, and they are mind-blowingly awesome. Really. These could easily be on Adult Swim — it’s that style of humor. And the level of work and care that has gone into these is startling. It’s incredible. Here’s the first episode (don’t worry it’s short):

Here’s the second episode, which kills me:

I love the art direction, the surreal humor, and that very friendly British narrator voice that’s so perfect for storytelling. I watch these and I’m just blown away that people — actual people, not some production company or something — make this. It couldn’t make me prouder that Kickstarter is a resource for someone like this.

Getting back to that expensive reward thing, I still haven’t backed the Little Brass Bird project because I can’t decide which reward to choose. Because I back so many projects, I try not to go over $20, and yet I really really want one of the characters. And they have these rewards, which a richer me would’ve already backed:

All of those are amazing. I especially like the character-based-on rewards — they make me imagine Space Ghost basing a character on someone (who wouldn’t want to meet the original Brak?). A fascinating opportunity.

Economics will force me to opt for one of the more affordable rewards, I’m sure. But if someone does end up picking one of those, can I jealously peek over their shoulder for the whole experience please? Thank you!

Creator Q&A: Live Wrong and Prosper

Kali wants to know just how far you’ll go for a million bucks. Seriously. Her blog, Live Wrong and Prosper, catalogs people’s creative responses to the amoral, outlandish and -– most importantly –- hilarious scenarios she’s conceived around this very premise. (Our personal favorites: ”Would you agree to have your corpse left in the woods to be devoured by wild animals?” and ”Would you have a three way with Carol Channing and Bob Barker?”) It’s a no-brainer that something like this would make a good book, and Kali has turned to Kickstarter to make it happen.

For her project video, above, Kali took to the streets and posed her questions to a series of unsuspecting strangers.  Pledge $40 toward the publication of Live Wrong and Prosper: Your Morals for a Million, and she’ll film herself similarly pitching whatever question you can come up with, no matter how outrageous.  Now — do you really need another reason to do this?

Read what Kali has to say (and politely withhold) below. Support her project here.

How did you come up with this idea?

I don’t remember the first time I played Live Wrong and Prosper, but I remember that I unknowingly played variants on the game even as a kid. I’ve always asked a lot of questions (“inquisitive” is just a nice word for “nosey”) and been fascinated by people’s (including my own) get-rich-quick fantasies, so you can see how this game and I were meant to be together. I got very into playing it in college, although I can’t say which aspect I enjoyed more: coming up with these weird, out-there questions or the kind of information their answers gave me about friends and even complete strangers -– insight into their morals, how much they cared what other people thought, the amount of value they placed on money, and so on and so on. Plus, really, who doesn’t like thinking about pretend ways to make pretend piles of money? That’s just universal, right?

Anyway, I started the Live Wrong and Prosper blog because I ultimately realized that others seemed to tire of playing the game before I did. Aside from being a way to ask everyone on the Internets what they’d do for one million dollars, it’s also given me a chance to answer the questions honestly, and often with included bits of related, obscure information and factoids. Anyone who knows me can tell that you that I love pretty much anything that involves 1) useless trivia, 2) implausible scenarios or 3) potentially embarrassing admissions, so the chance to combine all three is SWEET.

Was alcohol involved?

Why do you ask? And what are you implying?

What’s the best response you’ve ever gotten from somebody?

There are two stories that stick with me. One is that a boyfriend in college answered that he *would* run someone over in a car moving at 30 mph, but that he *would not* eat a bowl of his own shit. So, basically, he would rather potentially murder a human being using two tons of slow moving metal than have a really, really unpleasant meal. I think that tells you a lot about that guy.

Also, once I was at a party where I’d essentially gotten the entire room of mostly casual acquaintances and strangers to play the game, and I asked if anyone would be willing to contract herpes (which has no cure, mind you) for a million dollars. And this guy – I’ll never forget this -– this guy immediately yells, “I already have herpes and I got it for free, so I would absolutely get it again for one million dollars.”

Oh, the humanity!

Where does the inspiration for your questions come from? Got any ones that you are particularly proud of?

I’m not sure that there is anything that doesn’t inspire me. I’d say that mostly I’m curious about things that present moral conundrums, or changes that are definitely not for the better. As often as I’m amazed by what some people would do for money, I’m constantly amazed by what some people wouldn’t do. It’s genuinely pretty fascinating.

And of course, there are stand-outs that, like any parent, I’m quite proud of. Too many to list here, but I think one of my all-time goofy favorites is:

“Would you French kiss Shane Macgowan, deeply and passionately, for a minimum of a minute per kiss, twice a day –- once immediately after he woke up and once just before he fell asleep passed out -– every day, for a year?”

If you know who Shane MacGowan is, you can see why this is a pretty challenging dare (although, to be fair, he recently had an entire new set of teeth implanted). I actually answered the question myself, btw, here.

I guess to sum up I’d say there are an infinite number of ridiculous questions to be asked and I’ve only discovered a few hundred of them. So I’m always trying to figure out what I’ve forgotten.

How have people been responding to your use of Kickstarter so far?

I think people have been really responsive so far. The beauty of using a platform like Kickstarter is that it helps you call on your own support network to aid in completing creative projects, but it also lets you share your ideas and work with people you might not otherwise have connected with. It’s an intimate way to share your work and your passions with people who are genuinely interested in finding new and interesting projects. And I think I speak for everyone using the site when I say that it’s an amazing feeling when a stranger supports something you’ve undertaken as a labor of love. I’m not sure that backers realize just how immensely appreciated their support is. Not just because they’re helping you produce the final, tangible product, but because it’s so incredibly encouraging to have someone inform you that they believe what you’re doing is worthwhile. It really means a lot.

For a $1,000,000 would you apply an irritating substance to your mouth that would make your tongue swell uncontrollably so that you spoke with a lisp and kind of drooled every single day for a year?

Basically, you’re asking if I would take a job drooling and lisping for a year for a million dollars and I say absolutely.

Closing thoughts?

Only that I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported this thing very, very much, and that if someone offers you money to swim with piranhas, you should totally say YES.