It started as a trickle, with one or two musicians I know or follow using the fundraising site Kickstarter.com to pay for album recording projects, but lately it has turned into a flood. Just among South Carolina acts, I know of Kickstarter projects open by Sea Wolf Mutiny, Haley Dreis, Leslie, and Mo’ Betta Soul, with American Gun just wrapping up their successful campaign. Add in the artists I like from other areas and I’ve received almost a dozen different solicitations for support in the past month.
If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it is a website where one can submit a ‘project’ to receive pledges of support toward a specific monetary goal. The nifty thing is that if the goal isn’t reached, no money changes hands. For independent musicians who can’t afford the five or ten grand a good studio album might cost them it’s an alternative to maxing out the credit card. Most artists offer special rewards or perks for different levels of financial support, starting with free music and going on up to private house concerts, etc.
Is it a good deal, though? For a successfully funded project, Kickstarter takes a five percent cut, then their exclusive payment partner, Amazon, takes another 3-5 percent. If you’re truly independent and don’t already pay a manager ten percent, too, that’s probably an acceptable level of skimming to make use of the tools and ease of use Kickstarter provides.
The bigger question may be whether an artist is ready for an album-length project if they can’t raise the money for it on their own through things like paying gigs. I worked with a band in the early 1990s that paid for a five-song demo by setting aside half of all their gig pay for about six months; the time spent waiting on the recording account to get big enough was used to write more, practice more, and by the time the recording session came around they were ready.
The upside to using something like Kickstarter is that it does get the fans involved on a personal level, and in a fun way depending on the rewards offered. “Allowing” fans to contribute to the recording fund and involving them in the whole process may serve to create more loyal fans who are invested (literally) in the successful completion and promotion of your music.
Ultimately Kickstarter may serve to illustrate just how many truly engaged ‘fans’ you have. If you surpass your goal easily, that could mean you have plenty of them willing to help out to get the perks or just to feel good about helping you. If you can’t come close to the needed funds, perhaps you need to go back to the basics of playing shows in front of real people and building a better fan base before spending their money on your music.
Any thoughts from those out there who have used or are using Kickstarter?
Current Kickstarter projects in South Carolina (click the names to see the project page with videos, info on pledge levels and status of the project):