Coming to Grips with Kickstarter

Since SXSW is pretty much over and my RSS reader (yes I still use an RSS reader) is chalk full of new articles discussing the “music industry”, it seems like a good time to recognize a new trend that seems like it will stick. That theme is embodied by Kickstarter, the site that lets you ask for money in order to do some project.

I was driving the van downtown and for whatever reason I was thinking about how bands could make it without a label or press. A label really helps with physical products and acts as an investor, with a major part of that investment being in press. Press is what lets you scale. You have the ability to garner a huge audience and scale your exposure.

Conversely, it can be a total waste of money. Radio is a good example of where you can spend money where the returns can be huge but are most likely pretty limited. The name of the game though is exposure.

If a band doesn’t have a label they still might be able to hire a press company. Most of the time that isn’t possible. You can always ask people to work on spec, which is to say that you promise some future profit or income in trade for services now. Again, this was popular when major labels would sign long shots with big advances, but not so much now. The only thing you really can do is ask people for money in order to pay a press person.

Kickstarter meets this need really well. You can ask for money and you just might get it. There has to be some legs behind your idea if you really want to get the money, but the interest is something that allows you to further bond with those that believe in you. Up until this point, my biggest issue with Kickstarter is that I’d hate to ask for money, but that perspective is changing for me.

The big change is that by using something like Kickstarter you are not really asking for donations. Your goal is to mobilize. As a band you have fans and fans want to see and hear your art. They come to shows, buy t-shirts, tell their friends and generally support you. Kickstarter is not about asking for money. It is recognizing that the middlemen known as labels are not really necessary. Fans are the ones that make everything work, so why use a label? Kickstarter gives fans yet another way to support the music.

This doesn’t mean that bands always need to use Kickstarter. There are still labels out there that believe in bands and can help. Having a label means that someone took on the sole amount of risk on an artist and that says something about the art. This helps a great deal in formalizing a bands stature as a respectable artist. Still, it seems that fans and artists are both recognizing that Kickstarter is a respectable way to move forward finding funding for making music.

This concept of mobilization is really the whole point, whether someone is using Kickstarter or not. Fans may pirate your music, but they will buy the record, the t-shirt and give money to your Kickstarter campaign to get your van fixed for the next tour. When I think of Kickstarter as mobilizing fans instead of begging for money it doesn’t feel wrong. You have fan clubs and street teams that do even more by posting flyers and spreading the word. Really, asking for $20 to get something done doesn’t seem like any more of an investment.