Why I didn’t use Kickstarter

May 3, 2013

People are busy, and don’t always have time to read big webpages. My webpage describing “The Hostage Situation” is a pretty big webpage, with a lot of information on it.

So, by popular demand, I’ll be breaking down the whole thing in Q&A form — more easily digestible snippets that you can take in as you please.

Our first, most popular question by far is:

WHY DIDN’T I USE KICKSTARTER (or any other crowdfunding site) FOR THIS PROJECT?

The current trend is to “crowd fund”; in every creative field, there’s kickstarting, indie-gogo-ing, pledge-ing, rocket-hubbing, and probably more platforms I’m not aware of.  Everybody’s doing it.  It’s gone from being novel to being normal.
I considered starting one of these fund-raising campaigns myself, but I decided against it for two big reasons:  
1)  The “all or nothing”-model: on many of these sites, if an artist doesn’t raise enough money to hit their intended goal within a certain time frame, the whole thing is called off, and no money gets collected, so after all the effort and hope the artist puts in to rallying fans and getting people excited, it can be for naught.  
2)  When an artist creates one of these things, they are required to offer all kinds of different “prize” levels based on however much somebody donates.  This isn’t optional; it’s required to make the whole campaign happen.
The “all or nothing” thing bugs me because I have a lot of experience with what it takes to get and keep the attention of a few thousand people… and it’s HARD.  No matter how hard you try, it’s still really tough to get people’s attention on YOUR schedule.  Even if you do, the idea that you could manage to get enough people to read your message, click your link, AND agree to donate money to your cause, all on the first try…  that’s a lofty goal, and I know a few artists who have had their hearts broken when realizing this as they watch their fund raising campaigns slowly failing.  
The idea is to cultivate excitement; to build the energy it takes to support a project.  If you give people a deadline, yes; that will motivate some people to action quicker than usual, but it also forces a sense of urgency that can come across as disingenuous.  Many are turned off by this; they simply murmur “whatever”, and click “delete”.  If they had been given time to take in the project, to realize that the end result is something that’s good for THEM, and to see the buzz building around it, the natural desire to be part of a success story would kick in, and be better for everyone in the long run.
(There’s also the trend of people attempting to “pay with likes”, as if that somehow counts.  Checking out a slew of musician’s Kickstarter pages; successful or not, it doesn’t seem to matter — I’ve noticed the number of people who have pledged to support the endeavor, and then the number of Facebook “likes” the campaign has received.  Over and over again, there are five to ten times as many “likes” as people who’ve actually decided to dig in and support the project.  That means for every person who donated to the cause, there were at least five who thought that clicking a button to “show they were there” was somehow enough.  This is not an idea I want to give credence to.)
The second issue is the “prize” incentive.  I have no problem with this in theory — in fact, I offered a similar exchange a few years ago when I made *Clang & Chime*.  But there was really only one “prize”; the opportunity to help produce the record as I made it, and it wasn’t a thing I had to make happen in addition to the process of creating music — it was a PART of that process.
These Kickstarter-style “incentives” have begun to look very similar. In ascending order, you usually see a thank you note, a download, a cd, a t-shirt, a combo pack of all of the above, some kind of Skype greeting or chat or outgoing voicemail message personalized by the artist, a hand-written note or lyric sheet, a ‘song written just for you’, a request for a cover song on YouTube, a house concert, a signed instrument or article of clothing, ostensibly belonging to or having great sentimental value to the artist…   any of this sound familiar? 
It’s become boilerplate, and (I think) a bit contrived.  And it forces the artist to spend their money, time, and energy becoming an order-fulfillment center instead of making the art they were trying to get the money for in the first place.  (Can we record this song now?  No… I have to personalize twenty lyric sheets and write a hundred postcards so that people will feel they got their fifteen dollars’ worth…)
That energy is supposed to be going towards making a piece of art, and instead it gets misdirected and dispersed and ultimately… wasted.
I want more honesty.  
In keeping with that, let’s acknowledge a truth: 
The reason crowd-funding became popular in the first place is because it has become the only way an artist can get PAID for the work…  by getting the money up front. 
Again – people are generally weak in the ethics department when they think nobody’s looking, and if you let them choose between paying and not paying, they will, more times than not, NOT pay.
Of course, if you just say “pay”, a few will still do it.
But a few of those who do will upload the tracks so that anyone else can download them for free.
And then suddenly, everyone has the choice again.  And we’ve already covered what happens there.



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