Although Kickstarter is still an invitation-only website (IE: you won’t be seeing any crazy bag-ladies asking for “project funding” any time soon), the word is beginning to spread among musicians. Among the more oddball projects, like the “Run, Blago, Run!” exhibition, musical projects are popping up every week on Kickstarter: Polyvinyl indie band Volcano, I’m Still Excited!! are looking to vinyl-ize their 2004 debut, a recording engineer is trying to make a New Orleans blues-electronica mash-up, and Allison Weiss needs help making her new E.P. Of course, there’s also Attractive Eighties Women, the project of Paste’s very own Associate Editor Steve LaBate, who successfully raised more than twice their goal amount to fund their next album.
Pledge money on Kickstarter is only collected once the project goal has been reached, so you don’t have to worry about throwing money away for a project that will never be fully funded. The only hard part now is deciding which good cause to help out. We suggest you start by browsing the recommended projects page.
Very generous of them. And Paste, next time you are raising money, come to Kickstarter. You won’t have to build your own infrastructure, you can easily gauge interest, and you can offer excellent incentives. We’d be more than happy to help.
Nearly $60,000 in pledges was collected and distributed to nine successful projects yesterday, making it Kickstarter’s most successful single day to date. The successful projects included four that raised over $10,000: the incredibly popular (1500% funded!) Polyvinyl warehouse project; a project from a band called Language Room that featured a ton of updates and interaction; and two projects that sent theatre troupes to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, one from Accidental Nostalgia (one of their rewards was having John Hodgman call and sing you a song) and another for The Dawn of Quixote, which managed to pull in over 60% of its funds in the past 48 hours. Impressive stuff.
So what, if any, are the commonalities? There’s really only one: they told people about what they were doing. It sounds silly and it’s something we harp on quite a bit, but it’s so crucial to a project’s success that it towers over the other contributing factors. Some of these projects had great stories, some were pretty straight-forward e-commerce, some were hyper-localized interactions within a micro-network of friends, some were crowed about by Pitchfork and newspapers across the country. But all of them started within an existing network.
The best example is Help Polyvinyl Save 10,000 Records from Destruction, a clever way for the Illinois-based label (home to Of Montreal and Asobi Seksu, most famously, and also home to early Braid records (when we first fell in love with them)) to clear out remnant inventory and maximize their space. The project sought $1,000, and began with a Facebook notice. That was it. Within a day or two, they hit their goal, and things slowly and steadily grew from there, raising a little over $4,000 over the span of three weeks.
Then Pitchfork happened. On June 17, Pitchfork ran a small news item announcing the Polyvinyl sale, and from there things sky-rocketed. (We should mention that Pitchfork’s publisher is one of our investors, and that he had absolutely nothing to do with any of this.) In one day, Polyvinyl raised $8,000, and the project kept growing from there.
You could choose to take the lesson that the key to having a very successful project is to get good press. And you wouldn’t be wrong there. But without that $4,000 foundation that Polyvinyl had hustled to get by sending emails (still the most effective call to action), Twittering, Facebooking, etc., who knows if the Pitchfork story — and its subsequent pick-up by everyone — would have happened.
Same goes for the rest of these projects. It’s not anyone’s idea of fun to go out and ask for money, make yourself vulnerable to your audience and face potential failure, but without those risks, there’s no reward. We’d like to congratulate all of these creators for doing such a fantastic job, and we hope they list more projects soon. Oh, and if you are interested in creating a project, you can always reach us here.
Ray Potes’ Hamburger Eyes project is the first magazine project to come through Kickstarter, and it has been hugely successful. Potes sought $3,000 to pay for printing and other costs for his photography zine, and he pulled in more than $4,300, allowing the magazine to continue and stretching this issue, its 13th, to a whopping 150 pages.
Before getting into the full Q&A, we wanted to pull out one quote in particular that really illustrates what Kickstarter is all about:
Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?
Yes definitely. Mostly that I must be doing something right. When you publish something or make anything and put it out there yourself, it’s always hard to say if people get it or not. Does the world appreciate this stuff? Am I blowing it? Wasting my time? And with a site like Kickstarter, you have all the answers right away.
We could not have put it better. It’s often so hard to understand the true value of your own work, and KSR can serve as gut-check of sorts, all while avoiding the politics of “market research” and with no worry of creative compromise or the myriad over pitfalls that come with trying to breathe life into a vision, sending it out into the world.
You can scroll down for an excellent mini-doc on the work that Potes and his Hamburger Eyes photographers have undertaken, but first let’s hear some more from Ray about his project experience.
Tell us about your project. Hamburger Eyes is a magazine we’ve been doing for about eight years now. Due to economics, it’s getting harder and harder to sell ads. We thought we would try out Kickstarter to help pay for our 13th issue. How did you decide on your rewards?
The rewards system worked out great because the people who made pledges actually get sent the magazine when it’s done. So they get to see and feel their dollars at work. How many of your backers do you know personally?
I only knew a handful of them. It’s amazing and I had no idea really that this many strangers would be into our stuff.
How are you going to be updating people as you go along?
I sent out messages of the progress, but I feel I could’ve taken more advantage of video updates.
Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?
Yes definitely. Mostly that I must be doing something right. When you publish something or make anything and put it out there yourself, it’s always hard to say if people get it or not. Does the world appreciate this stuff? Am I blowing it? Wasting my time? And with a site like Kickstarter, you have all the answers right away. What was unanticipated about the experience?
The whole thing was unanticipated. I really didn’t think we could make our goal because we had a short deadline! But we made way over our goal. Ridiculous. Mind-blowing. What, if anything, would you change about your project?
I planned my dates poorly, so there was a stress factor of making deadlines. But it all worked out perfectly!!
Because we view every project as its own story — sometimes self-contained, sometimes a single moment in a larger, passionate pursuit — we encourage creators to give their audience access to the creative process via project updates. You can see these via the “updates” tab on any project page:
We think of these as the behind the scenes DVD features, only supplied real-time and with audience feedback. How can you beat that?
There have been some fantastic project updates so far, and in what we’re sure will become a regular feature, we’d like to share our favorites to date.
#5 Behind the “We Scream” scenes. Maybe it’s how much we love ice cream or how jealous we are of project creator Chris Schlarb’s Asthmatic Kitty background, but we’ve enjoyed following along, learning more about regional ice cream trucks, their filmmaking process and even getting an early peak at some high-quality footage. We can’t wait to see what else they have in store.
#4 April Smith debuts a new song. Project creators have the option to make their updates available to just their backers, or to everyone. April Smith, a NYC-based musician who has already raised over half of her $10,000 goal in just a handful of weeks, offered her backers a friendly mini-goal: if the project crossed the 50% threshold by this past Saturday, she would post a new song exclusively for them. They hit the goal with ease, and so April posted a video of her sitting on her kitchen floor, dog at her side, playing the new tune. An awesome example of someone taking full advantage of their audience and goal.
#3 Emily’s postcard updates. We love everything about Emily’s project. She’s doing a cross-country trip and wanted to send some homemade postcards along the way as a whimsical art project. Each week she posts images of the seven postcards she has sent out (photos taken as they are dropped into a mailbox for added fun), and as a backer of the project, we’ve been following along, hoping a certain postcard might be ours and just enjoying the sheer amount of work she is doing. Here are a couple of the images:
#2 Shannon Powell joins Electronola for a session. Earl Scioneaux has been the most consistently in-depth project updater so far, which isn’t all that surprising considering the quality of his homemade pitch video and his creative rewards, which include inviting people to his house for some homemade gumbo. In this project update, Earl has the legendary New Orleans drummer Shannon Powell (Preservation Hall Band) into his studio to lay down some tracks that Earl will then sample and mutate into new compositions. It’s an incredibly nuanced and informative look at the recording process.
A close second-place from Earl: when he plays Joe Lastie, another legendary NOLA drummer, dubstep, eliciting a very pleased reaction and a nice moment of old meets new. Highly recommended. Watch it.
#1 Allison Weiss Skypes with the backer who helped her reach her goal. If you’ve been following Kickstarter at all, you’ve most likely heard of Allison Weiss, the young Georgia-based singer who has shown us all how it’s done. With prodigious gifts at promotion and creative engagement, Allison has become the benchmark for the Kickstarter community, from her pitch video to the language of her project to the rewards.
The community would also be wise to follow along with Allison’s project updates. So far she has: taken requests for a show, solicited album title ideas and votes for favorites, posted consistent updates — both video and text — from the studio and on and on. She’s a powerhouse.
Our favorite, though, was when Allison made a Skype call to the person who pushed her over the $2,000 goal: an Australian woman named Jacquie Tran. The conversation is ridiculously endearing, as we watch Allison wrap her brain around the time zone difference and the Aussie accent and Jacquie confess that she’s a recent fan who isn’t sure she deserves the honor. Everything about it is sweetly authentic, and everything that makes Kickstarter special.
July 1st was Kickstarter’s 65th day since launching, and it was a special one. Yesterday, thirteen projects were funded. (We don’t count a project as funded until it has reached its end date at or above 100% of its goal.) In one day. This is a tremendous accomplishment on the part of all of these creators. We watched them hustle for backers, post project updates and do everything in their power to see their projects through to the end. If you want to know what makes a good Kickstarter project, these would be good places to start.
We pay a lot of lip service to the idea of “creative projects” being a big umbrella encompassing so many different things, and these thirteen projects illustrate that wonderfully. They encompass music, film, art, publishing, podcasting, photography, magazines, crossword puzzles, cookbooks, education, travel, philanthropy and DJing. Add a partridge in a pear tree and we’d have everything covered.
These projects also finished, on average, having raised 188% of their goal. This wildly exceeds not only the creators’ expectations, but ours as well. The level of engagement and generosity being shown by everyone, backers and creators alike, is staggering. Everyone involved should feel proud about their participation. It’s been incredible.
Earlier this year, former Nine Inch Nails drummer Josh Freese announced that he would be funding his new album directly from his fans, with some genuinely creative rewards that got him a lot of press. In addition to the standard download and CD offers, these included:
Josh washes your car OR does your laundry
Get drunk and cut each other’s hair in the parking lot of the Long Beach courthouse (filmed and posted on YouTube, of course)
Pick any 1 member of the Vandals or Devo (subject to availability) to accompany you and Josh to either the Hollywood Wax Museum or the lunch buffet at the Spearmint Rhino
Twiggy from Marilyn Manson’s band and Josh take you and a guest to Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n’ Waffles in Long Beach for dinner
Josh takes you and a guest to Club 33 (the super-duper exclusive and private restaurant at Disneyland located above Pirates of the Caribbean) and then hit a couple rides afterward (preferably the Tiki Room, the Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror)
At the end of the day at Disneyland, drive away in Josh’s Volvo station wagon. It’s all yours … take it. Just drop him off on your way home, though, please.
Josh will join your band for a month … play shows, record, party with groupies, etc.
If you don’t have a band he’ll be your personal assistant for a month (4-day work weeks, 10 am to 4 pm)
Take a limo down to Tijuana and he’ll show you how it’s done (what that means exactly we can’t legally get into here)
[T]he bottom line for me is, “How am I going to market this myself — literally, just myself, no marketing team, no company — on the internet to have people know that I’ve got a record coming out and talk about it. So exactly what I wanted to happen has happened, which is a bunch of people have taken notice of the fact that Josh Freese has a record coming out.
I’ve had folks ranging from people hitting me up on MySpace going, “I want the $50 phone call” or “I want to go have lunch at P.F. Chang’s” to a few people who have discussed the more serious packages, but no one’s officially taken me up on it. A friend of mine knows a big advertising agency out of Portland, and they said they want to buy, like, a $5,000 one where I write songs about their agency and put ‘em up on iTunes.
When I came up with these, like, someone goes, “Man, do you really need money or something?” It’s like, if I really needed money — well of course, we all need money, right? — but if I really was wanting to make money, I would make them a lot less [expensive] than I did, because I really — put it this way, I’ll be floored if someone buys the top package. I’ll be completely shocked.
Setting those prices so ridiculously high worked to get attention in a humorous way…. People that know me, and people that don’t know me, go: “This guy’s got a record coming out. Here’s his website.” If it means they get directed to my website and they spend seven bucks to buy the album? Great.
Some nice lessons to be learned from there. Well done, Mr. Freese! To buy the album, entitled Since 1972, do so here.
Amanda Palmer, the infamously fan-friendly artist who recently took a very public stand against her record label, has written an article detailing her experience leveraging Twitter and her fanbase into cash. You can read it here, and you should.
The gist is that Palmer decided on a lark to do a big T-shirt push via Twitter (earning her $11,000), followed quickly by a Twitter auction and selling tickets to a private concert. As the $19,000 tally makes clear, this was an enormous success, to say the least!
Palmer’s gambit worked for two reasons: 1) she interacts with her fans regularly and openly, generating a huge amount of loyalty and, most importantly, 2) she is not afraid to ask for their help. That might seem a trivial or stupidly obvious point, but it shouldn’t be.
As creative people, we have always been trained (and with good reason) to view money like an illegitimate child — don’t ever ever talk about it; if you have it, don’t admit it; and if you find yourself without, definitely don’t ever openly desire to have some. And from this we got a world of sharks and minnows, the major label system and all of the other injustices that have made pursuing creative interests while trying to remain clothed and housed a monumental undertaking.
We like to think Kickstarter answers that call and offers people an alternative. But it takes effort. And it takes being willing to fail and be vulnerable. We know these are not easy things by any means. But the payoff, as we see here with Amanda Palmer and have seen before with Radiohead, Jill Sobule and Allison Weiss, is so worth the risk and effort it’s not even funny. To be a creative force in this world now requires this mindset, this level of dedication. There really isn’t a choice anymore.
One last point: the next time you are looking to raise money, Amanda, use Kickstarter. You won’t have to spend the time and resources building a quickie site and Paypal store (which you had to do for your Twitter success), you can easily leverage your incredible online networks into action and you can offer different levels of reward based on the level of involvement. No need for one size fits all. How many of those folks who bought a T-shirt for $20 would have been willing to pay $50 for one autographed by you? Or $5 for a refrigerator magnet? Or $3,000 for a private performance, like the Rural Alberta Advantage managed to pull off earlier today? With Kickstarter, you can find out. Amanda — or anyone else reading this — get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.