Enough with Kickstarter, already

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Kickstarter has proven a remarkably popular tool for, er, kickstarting all different sorts of projects. Nonprofits have used it with great success. So have filmmakers, video-game designers, artists and musicians. Crowd-sourcing your fundraising efforts is a very 21st-century idea. At this point, though, it seems like musicians are skipping necessary steps before resorting to it.

Denver is a great location to find DIY musicians. It seems like every week, we're exposed to hand-printed album covers, silk-screened posters, and music that is clearly born from the sweat and blood of playing millions of live shows.

Kickstarter, however, takes away from the aesthetic. It relies upon the generosity of fans so bands don't have to work. They don't have to spend their own money, and they don't have to throw their own fundraisers. It's no longer DIY. It's YDIFM: You Do It For Me.

If you need to fund an album, play more shows. Save your money. Alternately, look into cheaper recording techniques. If you're paying $4,000 to record your debut and release your record, you're doing it wrong.

CDR releases were once considered less professional, but since nobody places much value on a product anymore, the stigma has essentially been erased. Want to keep it analog? Go cassette with a digital download code. Work some extra hours at your day job and release it on vinyl. Nobody said being in a band was supposed to be easy. That said, with websites like Bandcamp, it's easier than ever to release an album without overhead.

The same goes with recording. You can throw a rock and hit a recording engineer willing to record your album on the cheap. That's not meant to belittle the efforts of an ace engineer, but if your only goal is to get your music to tape, the main focus should be your music, not the amount you paid to get it recorded.

Times are tough, raises are rare, and the amount of people going to shows is down. But is Kickstarter really the answer? There's a bit more leeway granted to projects that are funding a second, third or fourth release, but there is no excuse for a band to ask its friends to fund a debut album. That's the band's job. If you can't afford to record and release it, maybe it's too early to do so.

There is certainly a place for Kickstarter. There are a lot of really good projects going up every day, but it seems like bands are starting to use it as a first resort as opposed to a last one. If Kickstarter really is the only way to fund a record, bands need to provide a good incentive to reward backers. It can't just be a physical product.

You need to make sure you're giving out free passes to the release show to every backer, as well as the album. Are you good at something other than playing music? Give that away, too. Fix someone's car, build them a table, let them sleep on your couch if they need it. Or take a cue from the Epilogues and offer to take them to South by Southwest with you. They worked hard to make the money they're giving to you for an imaginary product, so be sure to reward them accordingly.

If nothing else, make sure you say thank you to each and every backer, personally. Not a Facebook update, not a tweet, but a personal e-mail. Either that or just suck it up and take a financial hit of your own to complete this project you love.

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6 comments
Bree Davies
Bree Davies

Kickstarter diminishes the hustle. And without the hustle, why are you even pretending to be out there doing what you're doing? This is where your community should come into play—and it is beyond networking. It is about support. So, you can't afford to record? Find someone who records bands for cheap or better yet, for free. There are people out there who record bands because they love to, or are just starting out and need to get their name out there just as much as your band needs or wants to, or are in school and would love to record your record as practice or for a project. At the level most people using Kickstarter are finding themselves, they shouldn't be too above a little trade and elbow grease. Strategize. Play more shows. Talk to people at your shows—that's where you can easily find others in your same frame of mind who want to help foster your music.

backbeatmod
backbeatmod

Diminished hustle is only one side of this debate. The other side: Does kicking down some scratch for the band of their choice give fans a greater investment in that band in terms of creating a genuinely vested interest? Does it make them even more excited to monitor the progress of the recordings and subsequently feel like they had a hand in the creative process -- albeit as a benefactor? Or is this sort of thing becoming wearisome, the notion of artists holding their hands out? Is it a leg-up or a handout?

Bree Davies
Bree Davies

As a musician, I would rather have people throw down money for music after we make it. I don't know—Investing in art is a whole different debate, I think. I don't want anyone "giving" my band money and then desiring to monitor our progress or feel like they have a stake in it. I had some very kind friends who even offered just to loan us a large some of money to record, no questions asked, repayment only expected when we could afford it. We thought about it long and hard, and decided against it. When there is perceived pressure and money and things like that surrounding art—especially if it hasn't even been created yet—it changes the game.

For me, the hustle is part of what makes it all real, and that is the reason I do it. I'm still in debt to my family for the self-booked tour we went on last year, and my only hope is that I get it paid off before our next tour in April. If I don't, oh well. I would rather have it be on me than on anyone else.

Jmpmk2
Jmpmk2

I agree in that Kickstarter is an absolute cop-out. As an active musician in this community, I'd feel dirty trying to get advances for projects. What I spend on a record should be a direct reflection of what I've been able to make through live performances and previous CD sales, not an aggregate "loan" from fans.

That said, $4000 is not a whole lot to spend on a record. Factoring in recording, mastering, replication, and promotional costs, that's really on the low end of the spectrum, no matter how DIY you are.

And putting your record on a fucking cassette tape is not the same thing as "going analog". That sentence is literally embarrassing to even read. Tracking a record to 2" these days is going to run you nearly $1000 in tape costs at the very minimum -- and that's the ONLY way you can "go analog".

Eric
Eric

I feel like this article only contributes to and encourages the very diminishing value of products referenced in the article itself. Beyond the gross generalizations about band revenue, the article also presents a number of contradictory arguments.

"If your only goal is to get your music to tape, the main focus should be your music, not the amount you paid to get it recorded." - Doesn't Kickstarter support the idea of musicians putting more focus on their music by taking away the "business" aspect of music and its production?

If "the amount of people going to shows is down," how can artists expect to "play more shows [and] save [their] money?" This assuming that shows even paid particularly well in the first place.

On a more general level, the article derides Kickstarter and bands who utilize it, but turns around and makes exception if bands further devalue their art by giving away even more.

The idea shouldn't be to devalue creativity and production to match the already valueless product expectations of many consumers, it should be to re-value the product. Regardless of your opinions of Kickstarter, at the very least it allows consumers to give creativity the value they think it deserves.

Thorin
Thorin

It definitely allows consumers to contribute and pay a little bit of cash into a project they admire -- but at the same time it's worrisome to me that a band would even allow a stranger to back them. The worry is that bands would start making music with a target market in mind, which is not a creative endeavor, but a financial one. They might say, oh look, Charlie here donated $200 and he really like the song, "Rocks with Sox," so let's write more songs like that. The main point I was trying to make is that bands can and should look for alternate methods of release before resorting to Kickstarter, but it seems like many are using Kickstarter first and not cutting their teeth on the grind of playing tons of live shows, saving their money and doing music on their own terms.

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