To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart?

Some time ago, I backed the Kickstarter campaign of an acquaintance who was about to make his first record. It was the first crowd-funded project that I had supported. I pledged $10 and looked forward to getting  a few updates and, eventually, a digital copy of the project when it was finished. About a week later I received an short update about the records’ progress. After that, nothing. As far as I know, the project was never completed. Since then, my acquaintance moved away from Nashville, leaving a few angry friends behind. So… you be the judge.

Needless to say, I was not chomping at the bit to back another project.

Recently, though, many of my very talented friends have launched crowd-funding efforts for new records. These are projects that I really would like to see completed, and music that I would really like to hear. So, I’m back in the business of pledging support through Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, etc..

In general, I think that crowd-funding is great tool for artist and for fans. The money that labels usually provide isn’t available to independent artists, unlike other label services which can be provided by freelancing pros or other companies. Crowd-funding allows fans to get in on the capitol end of things and help bring music to market. Even established artists who are no longer working with labels are using crowd-finds to pay for projects.

It’s terrific, you should get involved and support your favorite artists!

On the artist end of things, though, there is more at play than just getting the money and then chipping away at the project. First, it’s imperative to think of crowd-funds not as a gift but as a contract advance against future work. Any time you ask for money, whether a home-loan or an advance, you must be certain that you will use the money only for what you have said it’s for (including money raised over your goal) that your plans for the money you’re raising are realistic (Think you’re going to make a record and promote it for $2,500? Think again.) and that you will deliver what you promise on time, whether a monthly payment or a completed project. Honesty, transparency and diligence are all keys. If you don’t deliver, or if you under-deliver, you can kiss future funding efforts goodbye.

You can probably also say goodbye to those fans, along with any of their friends.

Maybe most importantly, you can hurt other artists by making it harder for them to raise money. It was a long time before I was willing to get involved again after my first pledge experience. For many potential supporters, it could never happen. Don’t hurt the collective reputation of bands and artists by falling down on the job.

Finally, don’t abuse the system. Carefully consider whether or not you’re asking for help with appropriate things. Does your business model include going to your fans every time you need to record? Tour? Place a CD order? If so, you need to examine your model. You must expect to have some skin in the game and you can’t always rely on the confidence and generosity of your fans to close budget gaps. If you can’t make some things happen on your own your fans will stop helping you make them happen. They might even stop helping anyone at all.




3 responses to “To Kickstart or Not to Kickstart?”

  1. Your “skin the game comment” is spot on. I’ve often thought that if I launched a crowdfunding campaign, it would be for half of the total cost of whatever I was trying to do, leaving me responsible for the rest. I mean, if I don’t invest in my product, why on earth should I expect others to do so?

  2. Yes! I take it very seriously when I see friends launch a crowd-funding effort. I try to always give something and keep the karma flowing, and thankfully there are enough people out there who think like me to keep the abundance alive for those who need it most. I also feel a deep pain in my heart when I see a friend fail, since it really does reflect on all of us. Every time one artist abuses the crowd-funding system another artist loses a little clout they needed to meet their goal – so ethics and integrity are super important. We are all in this together.

    Some “best practices” I really like to see from myself and my pals:

    – Transparency: Outline your budget, detail the costs, and have a realistic goal and timeline.

    – Humble Goal: Show fans that you are willing to “meet them halfway” by asking for less than what you need for your total budget. Then use every effort to try and surpass that goal.

    – Fair Reward Cost: Are you offering the CD pre-order for $30 when a fan will be able to buy it later at a show for $15? How is that a way to thank someone who is offering to basically FRONT YOU MONEY?!? Seriously, the markup on CDs is good. The postage is only $2.66. Cut them a deal!

    – Be A Worthy Cause: Don’t start a Kickstarter just for the publicity (as some films have done – lookin’ at you, Veronica Mars). Don’t ask for money every 6 months. Probably not even every 18 months. Don’t ask your fans for help unless you really cannot do this without them. Worthy campaigns fail everyday. Don’t steal from the collective goodwill for crowd-funding by asking for help unnecessarily. It’s kind of like crying wolf and you might find yourself needing that goodwill someday. Will crowd-funding still be around then? I dunno – it’s your call.

    – Try, Try, Try: If you start a crowd-funding campaign, you had better damn well try to succeed! Failing at a Kickstarter (the only one that lets you actually fail) also steals from the collective goodwill of the world. It also bums your fans out, since people like to be on a winning team. Go big or go home!

    – Deliver on Rewards… and in a timely fashion. If you can’t do this because of unforeseen issues, then be apologetic and transparent with your backers. Also – a personal peeve – people sometimes miss those little “survey” emails asking for your mailing address for the umpteenth time. It’s up to you to personally ask them for the correct info and actually try your hardest to deliver (even when people are non-responsive or missing emails).

    In summary: When you enter into a crowd-funding campaign you are tying your fate to the fate of all other artists out there. It is a karmic exercise and deserves some reverence and respect. If you don’t have a sense of duty about it (and honestly about your art as well), you are doing a disservice to your fellow musicians.

    Fund responsibly, y’all. 🙂

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