With today’s technology, it has become easier and cheaper for an artist to share his or her work with the world. But, depending on what you want to make and of what quality, cash is still often required at some point during the creation process. Dwindling arts grants have shut that source off for most artists that formerly would have been eligible for them. So it is fairly surprising that there aren’t a bazillion artists (from writers, musicians and filmmakers to visual artists and beyond) using Kickstarter, the online hub that helps creators fundraise and finance their projects. There have been some successful campaigns by artists in the Greater Cincinnati area, but, still, Kickstarter lists only two Cincinnati projects currently in the “raising funds” stage. —-
Perhaps some artists don’t want to “beg” friends, fans and family for money. (Doesn't stop you when your kid's selling Girl Scout cookies though, does it?) And some are turned off because Kickstarter charges a 5% fee if you reach your target amount or that they require you to bring in your own supporters and not provide a base of eager donors or whatever other issues you can find on tech blogs across the Net. But if you take a look at some of the successful projects from Cincinnati on Kickstarter, it’s hard to believe more people haven’t at least given it a shot. (It should be noted that the site doesn’t list “unsuccessful” campaigns, so maybe tons of artists from the area have tried to use the service but failed to reach their goal.)
For the average supporter of the arts, Kickstarter is a nice way to “give back” to the community and its artists. You can troll the site for projects currently in the works and get a sense of them via video trailers/commercials and, if applicable, samples of previous work. Like an NPR or PBS pledge drive, the artists are encouraged to offer a rewards tier for different levels of support. Local photographer Issy Dockery, for example, is trying to raise money to publish a book of photography from her upcoming trip to Nepal where she is volunteering at an orphanage. Pledges of $10 or more will get you a postcard sent from the artist during her travels and a thanks on her blog; $50 gets all of that and acknowledgement in the book; at the $100 level, donors are promised a “one of a kind souvenir from Nepal.”
Among the recent successful campaigns with local ties are the films Redlegs (“a comedy about death”) and Inhumanwich! (described as “your basic astronaut returns from space and mutates into a hideous rampaging monster, only our monster is an ever-growing mass of sloppy joe meat”), the Warlord Video Game Project (“a fast paced tactical RTS game”), a musical titled The Vivian Girls (by novelist/playwright Stacy Sims, with music by singer/songwriter Peter Adams and choreography by Heather Britt) and The Global Lovers, a dramatic play presented at the 2010 Fringe Festival.
Musicians have also used the strategy successfully. Mark Utley, leader of Americana ensemble Magnolia Mountain, might just be the king of Kickstarter projects. Last spring, Utley surpassed his pledge goal and was able to finance the release of his band’s Redbird Green album on vinyl; it worked so well, Utley used Kickstarter to raise the money to press the band’s debut album on vinyl, too. And just before Christmas, Utley reached his goal to finance the Music for the Mountains compilation album, a benefit project to fight the controversial, environmentally destructive “mountaintop removal” mining process used in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. The campaign enabled Utley to have the album mastered and pressed, with money left over to pay for various odds and ends (licensing fees for the artists who did a cover song for the project, promotional and marketing budgets, etc.). The album — featuring artists like Frontier Folk Nebraska, The Hiders, Mike Oberst of The Tillers, Chuck Cleaver & Lisa Walker (of Wussy), David Rhodes Brown and several others — is being released at a Feb. 12 benefit concert at the Southgate House. Utley’s campaign for Music for the Mountains included pledge perks like a 10-CD collection of recordings by the participating artists and the chance to perform on stage at the release show with the artist of your choice.
Electronic, experimental Pop artist Fidel Catastrophe used Kickstarter to raise funds to press his debut, And the Bleak Shall Inherit the Earth, on vinyl this past spring. Among the best of his clever pledge perks: “I will draw you a picture of a centaur riding a pegasus and personalize the drawing.” In October, Indie Pop ensemble The Minor Leagues completed a successful campaign to finance its upcoming concept album, North College Hill. The band is currently making good on some of its campaign promises, namely recording acoustic versions of cover songs chosen by pledgers (according to the band’s recent e-mail blast, tackling “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is the current task at hand).
Not every campaign features a video plea, but The Minor Leagues’ video pitch is a funny, clever example of how to do a good one:
Many internationally-recognized projects have used Kickstarter — the more private social network Diaspora got off the ground through funds raised on the site, the campaign behind the documentary The Pirate Bay - Away From Keyboard raised double its goal and David J of Love and Rockets and Bauhaus is currently seeking money for a new solo album, following in the footsteps of many other major-label castaways, including cult Pop fave Bleu.
There doesn’t seem to be any risk in using Kickstarter. If you don’t reach your goal, the company has a “let’s just pretend this never happened” policy — no one is charged for their pledge. The most you can lose is Kickstarter’s 5% fee (but you lose it only after you've successfully raised your funds). There is some merit to the argument that if an artist has enough of a following that he or she can hit up fans and raise a few thousand dollars by directing them to Kickstarter to donate money, then they might be better served setting up their own Paypal account and cutting out the middleman. But even Paypal (and, for that matter, Etsy, iTunes and Bandcamp) charges transaction fees. And they don’t have the cool software all set up and ready to help you raise money.
Maybe it’s still catching on or maybe there’s some major flaw I’m overlooking, but it seems like Kickstarter should be way more popular than it currently is.