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A Good Kickstarter in the Ass

by Paul Rapp on May 3, 2012

By now, you all must be familiar with Kickstarter, the crowd-funding site. It (and similar sites like Indiegogo, Sellaband, etc.) allows for bands, filmmakers, inventors, almost anybody, to raise money for a project from the public. The drill is like this: You put your pitch on the website, usually with a short video or written description, you set a goal, maybe you establish giving tiers with different gifts or levels of involvement for donors, then you work the bejesus out of your social networking platforms to get people to give you money.

Crowd-funding is another brilliant example of the Internet removing the middleman and allowing a direct artist-to-fan relationship that was barely possible before. It also can act as a harsh dose of reality to those whose projects crash and burn. In the online world where lots of people complain that a “lack of filters” results in good art getting buried under mountains of crap (an observation I don’t agree with), crowd-funding is the ultimate filter: If people don’t vote for you with their wallets, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re doing it wrong, or your art sucks, or both.

Doing it wrong can be as simple as a bad pitch. We’re talking about sales here, and some folks are good at it and some aren’t. Plenty of crowd-funded projects have been successful solely on the cuteness of the pitch. And while cuteness isn’t gonna sustain your career (it doesn’t matter how cute your pitch is, if your art sucks at the end of the day, your second cute pitch is gonna bomb), it can sure move it along.

Wanna see somebody who does it right? Go to Kickstarter and look at Amanda Fucking Palmer’s current campaign to raise money for a new album. A 30-day campaign to raise $100,000. She raised $250,000 in the first day. She’s now talking about raising a million! No record company, no recoupables, nothing but money to make art.

How does this happen? Hard work, that’s how. Palmer has been cultivating her fan base online for years. She tweets, she e-mails, she Bandcamps, she Facebooks, and she does it constantly, consistently, and she does it herself. She knows her fans, and she knows what they want. Look at the array of options she has for donations, starting at $1, which will get you a download of the album when it’s done, to $10,000, which will get you a visit from Palmer and her band, who, not unlike Grand Funk Railroad, will come to your town and party you down. In the middle range are passes to exclusive parties (that she’s throwing in New York, London, Berlin, etc.), signed books, CDs, all kinds of stuff.

Can you pull that off? Probably not on that level, not yet. But you need to do more than just announce that you need money and post a picture of yourself. You need fans that are alert, and you need to be clever. People like clever. A couple years ago, Ten Year Vamp launched a campaign with a short video featuring Debbie as “Brenda, the world’s #1 TYV fan” that was fall-down funny. Goal met! Railbird funded their trip to SXSW a few years ago on Kickstarter—I don’t remember their pitch, but I sent them some money and got a CD, a little drawing and a feather. I still have that feather on my desk, and when Railbird announced last week they were raising money to promote their new music, I looked at the feather and said, yeah man, I’m in.

I’ve seen plenty of pitches go bad. A friend put up a campaign for a $35,000 film project before she had a team, a film trailer, and a crystal-clear vision of where she was going. Time ran out before she could raise even $3,000. She’s spent the last year regrouping, doing the real prep work, meeting people, and building support, and I think the next campaign is gonna fly. There’s buzz.

And that’s the trade-off. In return for autonomy, you have to hustle, you have to sell, you have to do any number of things that aren’t exactly in the same category of skill sets as making a movie, a record, going on tour. I’ve heard complaints that artists are now required to spend more time schmoozing than making art. Hey, that’s nothing new. What I see with crowd-funding is when an artist truly believes, and really has something to present that people want, and if the artist isn’t an idiot (you don’t post hourly reminders on Facebook about your goddamn Kickstarter campaign, OK?) the sales part of it comes easily and naturally.

And if you get it all right and you still don’t get the money, then maybe the world is trying to tell you something. Listen closely.

Paul Rapp is a local art & entertainment attorney who thinks the new Rosary Beard album is just swell. He can be reached at his website, paulrapp.com.