Creator Q&A: Mr. Dream

Mr. Dream are a band from Brooklyn who are raising money for a new EP. The band’s good rewards and strong effort have not only made their $3,000 goal reachable (they’ve raised $2,600 with a week to go), but it’s made their project more interesting as well. Take a look at these:

Not the normal rewards you see for a music project: an essay by a New Yorker cartoonist, a reward from the Colbert Report writer, and a lifetime show pass that’s way cheaper than a Rocket From the Crypt tattoo. These media rewards are helped by Nick Sylvester, a well-known Colbert Report writer and music journalist who is also the band’s drummer. (The project’s excellent pitch video hints at Colbert’s “The Word” segment.)

Of course not every project has the connections for rewards like these. But what these offers illustrate — and I should include Earl’s gumbo, Emily’s postcard, and LaPorte’s song here too — is that rewards can have only a cursory relationship to the actual project, especially if they highlight another part of the story.

Because project creators get to sculpt their own offer from top to bottom, there’s the option to commodify whatever you choose: you can be a painter and offer cookies, you can be an explorer and hand-knit scarves, anything that someone might want. And in many cases, there’s a real benefit to moving outside of the natural wheelhouse: it broadens the appeal and can add to the story element, too.

We sent Mr. Dream a few questions about their project and their rewards, and here is their response. You can visit their Kickstarter project here.

Tell us about your project and your background.

Our project is fairly straightforward: We are a punk-rock band, and we have it in our punk-rock-band heads that the first release should be a four-song seven-inch vinyl EP. The corollary to that is we don’t have the kind of money to put that one out ourselves. The catch-22 is we won’t find a label to back us without a legitimate recording. Outside of extreme maneuvering on next year’s tax returns, or outright theft, Kickstarter is the only way we’ll be able to put this record together.

How’s it going so far?

We’re thrilled. Shocked, really. Our friends have been generous in a way we never expected. A large part of this — not to sell ourselves short but still — part of this is that people want to see something like a Kickstarter campaign *work*. The campaign runs on optimism, and optimism runs on positive feedback. It’s been heartwarming to see the number and level of contribution increase as our campaign faces down its last few days.

What’s been your most popular reward?

The $100 incentive has been popular. You get the seven-inch record, the MP3s, the digital bonus track, the exclusive liner notes written by New Yorker cartoonist Zach Kanin, and an 8x10 photo print by cover artist Rob Dubbin, who daylights as a writer for the Colbert Report. Additionally — and I admit this is probably only interesting if you have a lot of time and/or our band gets massively popular and inspires cult-like devotion — you also get every single one-mic demo recording of the five final songs. So you can hear the evolution of the songs — some of them over the course of a year — which parts were added, how the melodies and rhythms changed, and so on.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?

There were a few emails to friends, some twittering (mrdreamnyc), some posts on my blog Riffmarket. Matt, Adam, and I aren’t the greatest self-promoters, so we came up with roundabout ways to point people to the  campaign: a vanity URL that we left as our gchat away messages (http://mrdream.goestojail.com), a set of mini-moo business cards that we handed out at concerts. In what strikes me only now as a move reminiscent of the burglars in Home Alone, I left the cards at restaurants and in bathrooms on my way out too. Our most important and successful strategy though was playing really good live shows, and getting people to actually see us and like our music. “The only way you’ll be able to hear these songs is if you help us record them,” is the implication.

What will you do with the money?

The money pays for a 300-copy vinyl run of Mr. Dream Goes To Jail. A short version of what that entails is: In early August, we recorded the songs ourselves in our practice space in Brooklyn. Those songs, once mixed, we took to Joe Lambert for mastering. We’re thrilled we got to work with Joe. This year alone, he’s mastered Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, Black Dice’s Repo, Obits’ I Blame You, Deerhunter’s Microcastle, Yacht’s See Mystery Lights… Joe cuts the master lacquers of our record too, which, from what I understand, means he turns our sounds into a spiral of grooves that
turntables read to re-produce our songs. The master lacquers are brittle though, which is why a company called Mastercraft plates them, and then these plates are sent down to A&R Records in Texas, who use them to press the vinyl copies of the record. This is to say nothing of packaging and artwork costs and, if there’s any money left over, a music video for “No Pressure.”

The Reddit/JetBlue/Kickstarter Challenge

Three days ago a Reddit user named hiS_oWn started a thread suggesting that members of Reddit join together to buy one of those JetBlue promotional passes that gets you unlimited flights for a month for $600, and that they use it to run continental errands and for general adventure.

At some point someone decided giving Kickstarter a try, and so within a couple of hours there was a Kickstarter project seeking $600 in two days (the promotion was ending this week) to send one unemployed Redditor on a month-long trip. Within a couple of hours the money was raised, and before the clock ended the project pulled in $1,943, enough money to send three people, if that’s what the community decided to do.

The key to this entire project has been the communal self-determination that lead to its creation and that’s currently deciding the particulars of how this will be executed. Redditors are being asked to make their pitch for why they should be allowed to be the community’s representative, and a group screening process has begun. The Reddit folks are also creating what is essentially a project constitution: what sorts of missions should be allowed on this trip? Does someone who contributed $100 get to request a similarly scoped mission as someone who contributed $15? Everything is up to the members.

While building Kickstarter, we talked a lot about groups and communities using Kickstarter as a tool to solve their own needs — we always thought it served that purpose perfectly. This Reddit project is an incredible example of that, and it’s a perfect illustration of how Kickstarter can make Herculean efforts simpler, cleaner, and so much less of a headache.

We can’t wait to see how these trips develop and where it will take them. And fortunately we will get to follow along — apparently one of the chosen Redditors is a filmmaker, and will be documenting the experience. Sounds like a second Kickstarter project to us!

Now Available: Kind of Bloop

Kickstarter CTO Andy Baio’s Miles Davis tribute album Kind of Bloop went on sale today to non-Kickstarter backers. (Backers got their copies on Monday.) It’ll set you back a reasonable $5, and it’s available in both MP3 and FLAC formats. Get your copy here: http://kindofbloop.com/

Kind of Bloop was the subject of a Time article today, as well. Congrats to Andy and the five incredible musicians who made the record. And if anyone’s taking requests on the next 8-bit project, can I nominate the Jon Spencer Bloop Explosion?

Creator Q&A: Crossword Puzzles!

Eric Berlin’s Crossword Puzzles! was an early Kickstarter success. And how could it not be? Berlin makes crosswords and puzzles for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, among other esteemed establishments, and for a paltry $100 he offered to make people a completely custom crossword puzzle. As Berlin notes in our Q&A below, that’s quite the bargain. And we almost forgot about all-time Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings blogging about the project.

Crossword Puzzles! ended on June 30, and on August 31 Berlin will be presenting the nine promised puzzles for the very first time. There’s even a grand prize!

Nine crosswords, including a couple of nifty variety puzzles, all based on board games you know and love. Solve them all, figure out the final answer, and maybe you’ll win yourself a juicy little prize.

We’re thrilled that Berlin was able to put Kickstarter to good use and was able to create a non-traditional vehicle for his work in the process. Read on for some thoughts from Eric Berlin.

Tell us about your project.

It is a suite of nine interelated crossword puzzles. There is almost no market for such a thing — I can sell individual puzzles to newspapers, and I can make a whole book of crosswords and try to sell it to a publisher, but there is no way to sell a set of nine crosswords to any media outlet. Kickstarter let me market the product directly to crossword-loving consumers.

How did you decide on your rewards?

Impulsively. I have a couple of puzzle-filled mysteries for kids, so it seemed a natural to offer those as rewards. And what else could I offer big spenders but a custom made crossword? So that’s the direction I went.

How many of your backers do you know personally?

I’d guess about 20%, maybe a little more.

Have you learned/discovered anything from the experience?

I confirmed something that I suspected, which is that there is a good-sized audience out there seeking high-quality crosswords. I’m already trying to think of a new product to sell to this audience.

What was unanticipated about the experience?

I set the price of my topmost tier too low — I should have made it $150 instead of $100. I honestly didn’t think anybody would donate that much money, and six people did. I had to close out that tier.

What, if anything, would you change about your project?

Besides charging more for the top tier, nothing.

Creator Q&A: LaPorte Indiana

LaPorte, Indiana is a documentary film about a small town in Indiana told through formal portraits of the townspeople taken in the 1950s and ’60s that were later discovered (and turned into a book) by Jason Bitner, the cocreator of Found Magazine. Two years after Bitner’s photo book of 200-some images from the town was published, townspeople began idenitfying themselves in the anonymous photos, and stories began to leap from its pages.

Jason has since teamed with an Emmy-nominated This American Life producer named Joe Beshenkovsky to make a documentary about the town and its population, and their Kickstarter project is raising money for its completion. The project has done very well: in the two days between me sending Jason a handful of questions about his in-progress project and his answers’ return, LaPorte has shot right past its $7500 goal and is closing in on $10,000.

One area where this project really excels is rewards, which are all based on a “portrait” theme: backers can elect to have a song written about them, can have a professional portrait, and can even get a personal tour of LaPorte itself.

We asked Jason Bitner about his rewards and some other topics as well. Read on for his responses.

Tell us about your project and your background.

A few years ago, I came across a stash of 18,000 portrait photos in the back room of a diner in Northwestern Indiana.  The photos were beautiful, and they documented thousands of townspeople from the 1950s and 60s.  I ended up making a book out of these images, and after the collection was published, I ended up meeting many of the people from the photos.

The film will be a feature documentary about the town of LaPorte, Indiana.  We’ve done extensive interviews with many of the people found in these photos, and we’ll be weaving their stories together to get a sense of this small Midwestern town.

How’s it going so far?

Kickstarter has been a perfect vehicle for raising money.  We’d initially decided we wanted to have a community-funded approach, but I don’t have the skills to develop a good system for raising funds.  As soon as I’d heard about Kickstarter, I knew it would be the perfect approach.

Our initial goal was to raise $7500; to date, we’re up to $9027, with a new goal of $12,000 by August 21st.  We’re hopeful we’ll make the new number— but more than anything we’re thrilled with the community of people who are becoming active supporters of the project.  We feel a ton of support and good will from everyone who donates, and we couldn’t be happier with the turnout.

What’s been your most popular reward?

People seem to gravitate toward the $100 reward.  I’m not sure if there’s a preference for round numbers, or if they’re excited to receive a copy of the book, two original photos and a thank you in the film credits.  We’re also surprised to have received six $500 pledges (very helpful!) as well as fifteen people who just wanted to donate funds, without asking for any reward in return.  Whether it’s $3 or $1000, we’re thrilled that people are helping out in any way they can.  Pretty awesome.

So far, no one’s taken us up on the $2495 reward.  I’d be thrilled to provide a two-day tour of LaPorte for anyone interested, but so far, this one’s gone unclaimed.

What’s your strategy for getting your project funded?

I’m not sure that we have much of a strategy, other than giving people a chance to view a trailer of the film.  Director/editor Joe Beshenkovsky (along with our cinematographer Jeremy Gould) have made a beautiful video that can describe the project much better than my words can… if people watch the teaser, they’ll come to understand what the project is all about.

What will you do with the money?

Every dollar that we receive will go directly towards the production and post-production costs for our film.  Turns out that filmmaking is a pricey endeavor- but we’re enthusiastic about the film, and Joe is extremely devoted and hard-working, so we hope to have a rough cut finished in a couple months.  From there, we hope to screen it in a bunch of festivals, and see what happens…

Any closing thoughts?

We’re incredibly thankful for everyone who’s donated to the project, and incredibly thankful for Kickstarter.  This whole fundraising effort has put a lot of wind in our sails, and we’ll use that to help finish up our film.

Send Kickstarter to SXSW

Yesterday, the South By Southwest festival, held every March in Austin, Texas, launched its “Panel Picker” microsite where the general public has a voice in deciding which topics will be covered in the gathering’s panels and chats. Kickstarter has three panels in the running, and we would appreciate your help in building support for them. They are:

  1. Funding Your Projects from the Crowd with CEO/Cofounder Perry Chen (Interactive)
  2. Crowdfunding Music: Raising Money from Your Fans with Cofounder Yancey Strickler (Music)
  3. Gaming the Crowd: Turning Work Into Play with CTO Andy Baio (Interactive)

As you can see there, two of the panels would be part of the Interactive portion of SXSW, and the other (mine) would be for music. We see SXSW as not only a great venue for us to talk about the opportunities that Kickstarter can provide, but as ground zero for the creative people who are looking for a tool like Kickstarter. We think this will be a great way to share it with everyone.

Voting is easy. Just sign up for an account and then just click those links above. Voting ends September 4th.

Thank you! We appreciate your help.

After Funding Succeeds

Last night, Brad Skistimas’ Five Times August project crossed its $20,000 finish line with about six hours to spare. It’s Kickstarter’s most-funded project to date, and incredibly he did it all in just 31 days. That’s about $700 a day, and it’s a stunning achievement on Brad’s part. Congratulations to him on a job well done.

This brings up a good question: what does happen when funding ends? After pounding the pavement to bring in backers and generating buzz, what are the next steps for both project creators and backers? We thought this would be a good chance to walk everyone through it. Let’s start with Amazon.

Amazon Funds

When funding ends successfully, the cash is not immediately available for creators to get to work. Amazon Payments, which processes all Kickstarter transactions, has a mandatory hold period of 14 days for funds (it takes another three to five for the funds to transfer, as well). During that time there’s a seven-day window where backers can fix any payment problems, and finally in two weeks the funds are ready to withdraw.

Backer Surveys

Most successful projects involve rewards that will require extra information from backers — things like T-shirt size, mailing address, or preferred color — and once a project ends the creator will start to query backers about their particulars.

Project Updates

Every project is different: many are already underway pursuing their project before funding even begins, and others need to have the cash in hand to get started. In either case, there is plenty of work to be done post-funding, and many project creators keep their backers in the loop on each stage of the process (something we heartily encourage). Some great examples include Electronola and Kind of Bloop, which have had regular updates that have brought backers right into the creative process. The Five Times August project, which has been great with project updates, seems like one that will do the same.

That covers post-funding for creators.

What should backers expect?

Once a project ends, all backers receive an email notice saying whether or not the project was successful, and, if it was, a receipt for the charge. They’re notified by email if creators need information from them, and email is also used to notify folks with payment problems.

The Story Unfolds

It’s up to each project creator, but backers can have an active role in the development and nurturing of a project. Projects don’t just need money, they need support, a raison d’être, and a groundswell of engaged backers and followers is a great way to do it.

Announce the accomplishment and don’t be afraid to stress your importance. Used to be we’d brag about who heard something first. Now the project’s story can become our story, and we can honestly say, “I helped make that.” And in that simple statement, the project will continue to spread.

The New Filmmaking

“Here is the new way: filmmakers doing it themselves — paying for their own distribution, marketing films through social networking sites and Twitter blasts, putting their work up free on the Web to build a reputation, cozying up to concierges at luxury hotels in film festival cities to get them to whisper into the right ears.” — Michael Cieply, New York Times

This is how Geoff Edgers made Do It Again, his Kinks movie. This is how Jason Bitner and Joe Beshenkovsky are making their LaPorte, Indiana documentary. This is what many filmmakers are being forced to do if their project is not “commercially viable” in the exact right way (subject to change whenever and for whatever reason)(or no reason at all), and it’s been the case for the past thirty years. The difference now, of course, is that the studios’ stranglehold on the means of distribution and production has been eased (somewhat) by technology, and there are at least options now for filmmakers, Kickstarter among them.

The Times article also talks about Anvil!, the excellent documentary on an also-ran Canadian hair metal band:

“Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” a documentary about a Canadian metal band, turned into the do-it-yourself equivalent of a smash hit when it stretched a three-screen opening in April into a four-month run, still under way, on more than 150 screens around the country.

“I paid for everything, I took a second mortgage on my house,” said Sacha Gervasi, the film’s director.

Mr. Gervasi, whose studio writing credits include “The Terminal,” directed by Steven Spielberg, nearly three years ago, began filming “Anvil!” with his own money in hopes of attracting a conventional distributor. The movie played well at Sundance in 2008, but offers were low.

So Mr. Gervasi put up more money — his total cost was in “the upper hundred thousands,” he said — to distribute the film through a company called Abramorama, while selling the DVD and television rights to VH1.

What’s interesting is how close Gervasi’s approach to distributing his film is to what the band does in the film to make a record: borrow money, load up the credit cards, roll the dice. I left Anvil! feeling like I had just witnessed a 90-minute commercial for why Kickstarter exists. The level of passion that they and their fans feel for their music is proportional to how little the record companies care for them or understand what they’re trying to do. And for many artists, that’s the end of the line.

It’s not the end of line for Anvil because the filmmaker took drastic measures due to simple necessity. Every month or two we get trend articles like this one on inventive, creative, and potentially demeaning things people have to do to have their work seen, and it will often paint these decisions as political or a form of protest. But, Radiohead excepted, it’s not that: it’s just that they have no other choice if they want to present their vision without compromise. It’s necessity.

Technology — and Kickstarter in particular — can offer a different path to all kinds of creative endeavors, and people are increasingly choosing that option. It enables passionate pursuits to be more than commodities in some multi-national conglomerate’s portfolio, and it helps these things to exist in the first place. The less we all have to rely on the entertainment-industrial complex for our passions, the better.