Kickstarter: the pros & cons of crowdsourced fundraising

kickstarter-logoKickstarter, the popular crowd-sourcing means of project fundraising, might not be all it’s cracked up to be. By no means am I suggesting that the site or the folks behind are crooked – nay, nay, I say. They take a straight 5% off the top, and the rest goes to the folks raising the cash. No, to what I refer is this: there’s a certain negative aspect to raising money that might end up negatively affecting one’s relationship with one’s fans.

The site’s been used to raise money for everything from movies to TV shows to books to records, and it’s in that last category that we’ll be focusing, as well as the negative connotations that Kickstarter is beginning to acquire: namely, that this is a way for bands to get folks to pay for stuff that doesn’t exist, and they’re willing do nearly anything to get your money.

Comedian Kyle Kinane posted to the following regarding Kickstarter to Twitter:

“Kickstarter seems like 4th grade when we collected $6 so this kid Marc would eat an old McNugget we found in the trash by the tennis court.”

dollyots-kickstarterThat rather perfectly sums up the ridiculous things that acts seem willing to do in order to get people to donate in the upper echelon. The Dollyrots’ Kickstarter for their next full-length is the usual $10 for digital download, $15 for album, $25 for autographed album in the lower amounts, but as you get up in the upper reaches, things get kind of weird. $100 involves a lock of lead singer and guitarist Kelly’s hair, $400 gets you a private karaoke party with the band, and there are several instances of clothing or instruments being sold. It just seems that the music industry is fucked to the point that bands have to do some ridiculous shit just in order to raise a few grand to get some studio time and press a record.

It’s one thing for a band to offer up a pre-order for their album, and charge a few bucks extra for things like test presses or an exclusive t-shirt. Someone has to ask, though, at what point does the band stop being a creative entity and become a commercial shill? Then again, how is recording a song for a fan that gave you money any different than composing a tune for a commercial? Does it become a moot point if the band is already admittedly commercial? There are no clear-cut answers to any of these questions.

Essentially, it depends on your personal convictions as to whether or not overly-ornate rewards are a positive or a negative when it comes to Kickstarter. For the fan being asked, you can look at a Kickstarter for a record simply as a pre-order, with the option to throw in a few more bucks and get something special. Most folks, looking at a Kickstarter page for an LP, will throw down the $15 for the LP, and considering it as ordering the album, with a bit of a wait. Others can take it as a rare occasion to get something special from a band they enjoy: if you’ve got $1000 burning a hole in your bank account, you can get a song written for you and you alone.

And all of that is fine and fucking dandy, I suppose. I feel sorry for bands that have to figure out exactly what they’re willing to do in order to fund their album. I also feel sorry for the people who get disappointed. There’s a dark side to Kickstarter that nobody seems to be acknowledging, and part of that’s the fact that some of these projects don’t get funded. Kickstarter seems like a great idea until people aren’t interested. Granted, you’ve saved yourself a lot of pain and heartache by discovering that there’s not enough people following your Twitter or liking you on Facebook to buy the record you were about to press without actually having to go to the time and expense of pressing said record. Still, it’s got to be shitty to discover that you can’t get 200 people to shell out $10 over the course of a month.

Also shitty? There’s nobody holding anyone to their Kickstarter promises. Aside from the fans who donated, nobody over at Kickstarter is holding anyone to any sort of schedule. Chris Crisci of Appleseed Cast set up a Kickstarter for his acoustic project, the Old Canes, and it was funded back in January. The first installment isn’t due out until March of next year. According to a post Crisci made to the Vinyl Collective board, there’ve been various delays preventing this from happening. Fine and dandy, but had nobody bitched on a bulletin board, there’d’ve been no-one else to enforce accountability.

When even a high-profile project like the mc chris cartoon has under 1200 backers, you’re talking a miniscule number of people involved. While social media allows for the possibility of shaming the folks who take advantage of the financial model offered by Kickstarter, there’s nothing inherent in the Kickstarter model that requires folks to come up with a business plan. If you’re coming to your friends and fans, hat in hand, I’d hope you have something that says “barring any unforeseen consequences, you’ll have this project in your hand by [insert date here].” I’ve not seen that.