Kicking the Start, or, stuff I keep wanting to say
It’s the middle of the night in Juneau. My hair is still all curly from being in a wedding today. I have a lot of thank yous to say, and a lot of explaining to do.
THANK YOU to all of you folks who contributed to my crazy Kickstarter. You are mighty when you pull together! Just look what you’ve done, it’s incredible! And by that I mean barely credible! I mean, I knew you would fund my asking amount, but I did NOT anticipate becoming a poster girl for Kickstarteriness. More on that in a second. I’m busy trying to keep up with your messages to me and get the survey stragglers in the database and get necklaces mailed out. But first –
THANK YOU to the people who forged the Kickstarter and who are even now working on making and fulfilling the rewards. Thank you Chris Cushman who made the armor — Valette who shot the photos — Adam Levermore who designed the graphics — Patrick who made the website and shot the video — Katie who helped build the back-of-house infrastructure (there’s TONS of it) — Annie who will soon have handmade over 150 necklaces — Dammit Liz who is even now helping to book shows in Europe.
If you missed the excitement — I’m sorry you did, because it was terribly exciting. In short, I decided to fund a Europe tour, because my European fans have been patiently waiting for a tour which I could not afford. I conjured rewards and a sort of game to try to fairly determine where in Europe I would book shows. Then I asked for $11,111 with some stretch goals reaching up to about $18k, at which point my tour would be funded to several countries.
We raised the first $11,111 within about 3 hours of my first announcement. Holy hand grenades, Batman!
I was shocked. I knew we would raise the funds, but I don’t think anyone who has been tracking me closely would have anticipated the speed — or the fact that, for the first couple days, the average pledge was around $79 (the Kickstarter overall average is $25, and while I love my fans, I know they aren’t all rich, so I was blown away by the level of support per person.)
I set some stretch goals, because we blew past the $20k mark within the first two days, if I remember correctly. I caught a lucky snapshot on my phone of this moment:
Things slowed down awhile in the middle of the fundraiser, but toward the end Patrick told me I should offer cover songs for higher levels. I decided to choose songs that were classics to me, songs from my musico-cultural desert island list, like the Muppets and TMBG and Tom Lehrer and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (I wanted to be Julie Andrews when I was little). The internet responded that yes, they wanted those cover songs, and they funded us all the way from $40k to $50k, and then up to $60k, where I threw up my hands and decided to just lie prone on the floor in surprise for awhile.
Now I am happier and wiser and very very very very very busy girl. I have used up my all caps quota for the year several times over. Now I’m just piled high in more work than anyone can manage; if you’re still waiting on something, sorry, working on it. Fulfilling rewards is no small task, and I have laid out for myself a nearly impossible amount of recording by the end of the year. But in my family we have a saying: “That’s impossible. Let’s do it.”
Guys. Guys. We did it. Thank you!
In the middle of the work, though, I thought I should take a minute to talk about the whole experience, because I am getting asked lots and lots and lots of things about Kickstarter, and I’ve gotten letters of all kinds, from very nice and admiring to sort of slimy and advertisey to very mean (only one of those though). And I get asked tons of questions about the music business in general that I wish I could answer better. So without any particular order or editing, because it’s 1am, here are some of my thoughts.
- I am being asked quite a lot about what I did to make the Kickstarter go boom like that. I have a lot of specific techniques and ideas (most covered below), but seriously, the biggest thing is do your art. Do it a lot. Make the art good. Make it good enough to turn heads. Then make it better. Nothing else comes before that. Because if you’re asking other people to put up money for it, it needs to be really good, and there’s a lot of really good art out there right now (yay!). I’m not trying to say my art is so amazing, I’m just saying that the REAL first step of my fundraiser was studying and performing music intensively for 20 years. And that was hard, and it mostly didn’t earn me anything, and it still doesn’t earn me much more than a secretarial job. But that’s where it starts, not with a smart fundraising strategy or clever video.
- The second biggest thing is to know your audience. Duh, you’re saying, and I’m like, that’s so nineties of you to say Duh. But here’s what I mean: know in advance how much you can fundraise, and how fast, and who is likely to fund it. I knew the amount I proposed was a doable amount, because I fundraise sort of quietly in the background all the time, little poster sales and things, and I have an auction once a year. After fundraising slowly for my album Something Fierce, I had a very clear idea what a reasonable minimum would be. I can’t tell you how painful it is to see Kickstarters for bands asking for $50,000 for their first ever album — with stretch goals already listed for $100,000, which is just embarrassing when their funding is stalling out at $10k. Where will the money come from and how much will it really be? If you don’t know this in advance, wait. Do some other experiments first. Test the water. You might have a lot of fans or followers, but that doesn’t translate to money. How and what people purchase is something you really only find out by selling them your things. No model works but your own, don’t use other people’s numbers. We all sell differently and we all sell something unique in this market.
- When I say know your audience, I mean something else too, something more important: love your audience. Respect your audience. I spend time with my fans more days than I don’t. I’m definitely not perfect with them (there is just never enough TIME, guys) but I like them. I like you. And I like spending time with you, and I just wish there was more time to spend. I kind of want the same things my fans want; I get excited by what excites them, so putting together a silly website gamey thing they might enjoy was fun for me. I can’t tell you how many hours I puzzled over the Rulebook and the Coins and the FAQ’s and the ridiculous minutiae, because I knew some nerd out there would care as much as I do. When I was coming up with the rewards, I just asked my Twitter stream: what do you want from me out of a Kickstarter? What are other people doing, what have you liked, what bores you, what’s meaningless? And I got exactly the answers I needed, within minutes. (Here’s what’s meaningless, according to the survey: movie credits. I kinda have to agree. The glamour went out of that ages ago since every person I know has been part of a movie recently. I don’t need a movie credit, guys. I need a cookie.)
- Now that I’ve typed it a bunch, I kinda dislike the word “fans.” It seems weird to me. Beyoncé has fans. I have ………um………my people. The people who live in my phone and sometimes materialize at concerts, and then I sleep on their floor and meet their pet tarantula or hedgehog or what have you. I really really like and respect them, and I am convinced their time and money is precious, and it’s awesome when they spend some on me. They have so many other options. If you don’t like and respect your fans, if they’re not the folks you want to be hanging out with, well, bummer. (I get sad when I see artists who sort of secretly scorn the people who support them, because that means they secretly scorn people who like what they do. I hope they try making different stuff or marketing it different ways.)
- Two things I’ve had to tell a lot of different people, in a friendly fashion, trying not to hurt their feelings: 1) If your music doesn’t turn the heads of strangers on the street, don’t have a fundraiser yet. 2) If you can’t immediately list 10 specific subgroups that describe your demographic, if you don’t know who your fans are — then you shouldn’t have a big fundraiser yet. You should make/meet more fans. Or have a tiny discreet fundraiser appropriate to your audience base right now, and use the thing you make as a stepping stone.
- Make a spreadsheet. Patrick forced me to make a spreadsheet, and I spent as much time fussing with and fretting over it as I did on the rest of the Kickstarter. Why? Because when you look at your chunk of money, and you deduct 10% for Kickstarter/Amazon and then 15% for taxes, and then you really add up the cost of fulfillment, you might be earning only $2-3 at your reward level that seems to profitable. The thing most people forget in their spreadsheet is worth looking at if you’re gonna kick some start, it’s on the second NUMBER SMASH page of my public budget. I calculated what each reward level would cost me, and then I wondered how many people would go for higher-return vs. lower-return rewards. What would people buy the most of? If everyone went for necklaces & USB drives, could I still actually afford to do my trip? I worked through a couple different scenarios to get a good estimate of what rewards would cost me — and how much I would need to ask for to wind up with $7,000 to make it to Europe & back (the answer is about $11,000, so $4000 would go into fees & fulfillment). The extra math saved me much grief. I frequently see bands offering physical CD’s or vinyl at reward amounts that ensure they will be losing money. Please do the extra math and give folks the physical CD for $25 instead of $15 if you’re raising funds for anything besides just duplication.
- Be prepared for both failure and success. I had a solid plan if funding wasn’t going well. I was prepared to pound pavement if the pledges were not coming in, and I knew exactly what pavement to pound and how to pound it. Turns out I didn’t have to. But success brought its own problems — I had to completely redesign my website and Kickstarter page on the first day when we funded so quickly. I had to come up with more rewards at certain levels. Local jewelry suppliers ran out of the silver we needed to finish the necklaces. Fulfillment got to be a huge job, much bigger than we thought, not to mention the pure administrative effort involved (thank you Katie!). So plan ahead. I thought I was overthinking absurdly, with all my FAQ’s and blathering, but it turns out it was very good I thought through all the questions carefully just in case of success.
- For heaven’s sakes, don’t list tons of stretch goals until it appears you will certainly fund ahead of schedule. Chickens, counting, hatching.
- I have a rude question. Does anyone want you to make the thing you want to make? Are people clamoring for it? Because — this is an important distinction — there is art you make because other people want you to make it, and there is art you make because you must make it. The latter is more pure, in some ways, personal and vulnerable and sometimes revolutionary (and occasionally both sorts align). But you only want to crowdfund something people want and need and get super excited about. Before you start *any project,* ask a ton of people whether they want it, or what they want. Don’t ask your friends, ask strangers and fans. Would they pay for it? Do they really want it to exist? If they’re not responding, that means it doesn’t compel them. I’m not saying don’t make it. I’m saying fund that thing in another way. Get a grant. Invest in it yourself. Produce a more popular in-demand thing to fund the Art You Must Make That Nobody Demands. Don’t let the crowd decide the fate of that kind of art — it’s too personal and it doesn’t need thousands of voices in on the process anyway, people who feel like stakeholders.
- Don’t do a Kickstarter thing just to raise some extra money. People can tell and it’s weird. Do it when you have a project you really really care about. Kickstarters, like Hansel, are so hot right now. And for good reason — what a great model! You won’t believe me, but I wrote those two sentences without initially seeing any connection between them. But the thing is, everyone’s got a Kickstarter or Indiegogo cause lately. They’re like belly buttons. I get requests to retweet them every day (sorry, I mostly can’t, the volume of requests is absurd). So let’s pretend you are only allowed to do one Kickstarter for the next two years, just one. What will it be about? Why is it bigger and more special than your everyday business? (Because your normal business should be able to fund itself — you shouldn’t need a Kickstarter to just do your job.) A Kickstarter is fast and big and dramatic and public, moreso than the mellower kinds of fundraising that go on all year. So don’t do one just to do one. Do one when you have a real project or a real vision that moves you. If it moves you, if it’s exceptional and exciting for you, it will be for other people too.
- Since you asked or assumed: I am not rich now. I don’t know if you saw Amanda Palmer’s blog entry re. “where did all that money go,” but my budget looks very similar; the business itself eats the money. I put a big chunk of money towards debt, I replaced some failing equipment, and the rest is all getting folded back into touring and business expenses and fulfilling the promises I made. After sweating over the budget quite a lot, I realized there was no tropical vacation in it for me, and not even really a shopping trip. I might get crazy and spring for a doctor and dentist visit, but that’s about it. Upgrading my infrastructure and doing a ton of recording and touring and being a little less in debt will be my reward. (And for someone who love love loves her business, that’s a huge reward.)
I guess what I’m really wanting to say to you is this. The groundwork for a successful fundraiser is not having the right strategy or the right gimmick or the perfect combination of currently popular things (Ooh! Zombies and steampunk and rhythm gymnastics! A hit!). It’s about knowing yourself and knowing the people you’re connecting with. To thine own self be true. Know what you want, know what your supporters want, and make them align.
I hope I didn’t say anything wrong but I’m too fall-asleepy to discuss anymore. So I’ma add links, publish, sleep, and spend tomorrow working on getting all you survey stragglers into the Kickstarter fulfillment spreadsheet I made, and fulfilling your rewards, and booking Europe. Then I’m gonna disappear into the Alaskan wild for a couple nights to do something that’s not Kickstarter.
Next up: I play Juneau on 8/17-18, I tour the Midwest thru the end of August and then go to Dragon*Con, then I play at SPACE CAMP on Labor Day, then Auburn, then I’m desperately seeking a concert in Nashville, then playing DC and the Northeast U.S./CAN including 3 shows with Molly Lewis & the Doubleclicks, then I go to Europe, then Anchorage, then home for the winter to sleep for months.
Love you all. G’night!