Kickstarter: Six Ways Artists Should NOT Use the Crowdfunding Site
For nascent musicians, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have risen to unprecedented popularity. A vast array of projects are outlined, perhaps accompanied by a video, and anonymous, philanthropically minded individuals dish out varying amounts of cash for inventive rewards furnished by the recipient. At its best, Kickstarter is an innovative fund-raising method for a financially stunted industry used in a classy, effective way by inspired artists. At its worst, lackluster campaigns smack of "e-spanging" by entitled bands that are unwilling to persevere in a milieu that requires financial savvy. With these polar opposite uses in mind, we compiled this list of things that up-and-coming musicians operating in just about any genre should not do when using Kickstarter.
Don't campaign for tour necessities: A vehicle and fuel are the most basic and financially demanding aspects of a tour. For aspiring bands, the reality of a first tour is often not a financially lucrative one, but part of an aspiring band's early curriculum should also be learning how to play paying shows locally. Venues are infested with sharks, but learning the hustle locally is crucial to a band's development. If a band isn't savvy enough to sell some merchandise, book modestly paying gigs, and reserve those funds for tour necessities, they shouldn't be hitting the road in the first place.
Don't campaign for things that even a poor band should be able to afford: Investments in gear shouldn't be subsidized by anyone, unless the recipient is a child. A performer's instrument is so fundamental to practice, composition and performance that it should be acquired long before starting a band is even considered. Furthermore, the stories of performer's signature instruments are subjects of mystique that fans love to focus on. Call it shallow, but isn't it embarrassing to purchase a guitar with the spare cash of anonymous benefactor who liked your press photo on the Internet, especially compared to the notorious stories of how other bands acquired their gear?
Don't create a campaign to fund a joint project without telling your collaborator: This might seem obvious, but the Kickstarter phenomenon is fresh, and etiquette has yet to really be hashed out. If bands are jointly funding the release of a split record or compilation, one would be completely out of line to begin a Kickstarter for their portion without informing other parties involved. It unfairly endangers the credibility of bands using money out of pocket to have their name potentially dragged through the mud by one poorly presented Kickstarter campaign.
Don't offer stupid rewards: A contribution towards hiring a director to shoot your video should warrant something more substantial than a drink ticket from Lucky's in Chattanooga. Backers are investing in a band's creative endeavor, so reward them with an artistic product. Michael Gira of Swans, whose crowdsourced funding techniques are an excellent example of how to use the tactic with class, often requests money from fans to fund future projects. Their contributions are rewarded with limited, alternate mixes in handmade packaging. For a $15 contribution, for example, about $10 is allotted to producing the hand-made reward, while the rest is stowed away for the considerable recording expense of another Swans album. Fans appreciate the ambitious, grandiose recording and production of Swans recordings enough to shell out, but Gira provides them with a truly unique incentive.
Don't campaign half-heartedly: Every fledgling band considers their biggest problem to be a lack of capital, rather than sub-par music. If a band is unable to coherently articulate and demonstrate what artistic merit they already possess without money, their worthiness for handouts should be reconsidered.
Don't campaign to overcome every financial obstacle: It is better to bear the financial burden of numerous small obstacles and solicit money for the big project. Backers will become disenchanted with relentless pleas for cash to overcome miniscule obstacles. For example, don't campaign to record your demo. Let your demo be what motivates backers to fund the recording of your orchestral chamber-pop opus.