Crowdfunding musical projects

13 May '11

I’ve been thinking a bit about “crowd funding” recently since some good friends were successful in using Kickstarter to fund their commissioning project for percussion music. Kickstarter is for US residents only but I see that there’s an similar product called Pozible available for Australians.

Is there something “new” going on in crowd funding? I guess the new thing is the “all or nothing” approach, where Kickstarter or whatever website holds on to your backer’s money until the project has 100% of the required funding, otherwise it is returned after the call is over. The idea being that the entrepreneurs are never in the position of doing a project with only 80% of the funding (not so much fun…) and the backers don’t see their money going into projects that fail through a lack of funds.

The other “new” thing I guess is that the websites have all the right social media hooks so that entrepreneurs can make their projects visible to all their friends on Facebook.

Is this useful for people like me? Can it help fund crazy performance/installations and pay me to work on them?

Most of the kickstarter projects that I see on the blogs area actually presales of things…. design books, arduino shields, touch screen writing doodads and CDs. In many of these cases they’re actually only funding the LAST stage of the project, i.e. the doodad has already been conceived, designed and prototyped, they’ve already been out to the doodad factory and decided that they need to sell 5000 doodads to do a production run, so they just need to go ahead and do that in their Kickstarter, and everyone who backs them for the price a doodad will get one after they’re produced.

Craigmod wrote a great analysis of his Kickstarter experience which goes exactly like this.

In all of these presale cases there’s actually multiple steps for the whole and usually in the Kickstarter projects the cost of the early steps was “free”, i.e. somebody gave up all there free time to make it happen. This is probably not a recipe for a sustainable business unless the final stage makes a LOT of money, i.e. enough to pay for all the time you gave away at the start. For making doodads, maybe it is if your doodad can go into further production after the initial run. For making contemporary art it’s probably not.

Usually my projects go something like this:

(creative development, research) —> development —> production —> performance

I think that crowd-funding works best for the final stage, where you can offer something like a CD or a concert ticket to the backers. In general, it’s easier to convince backers when there’s a clear line to a tangible outcome. Asking someone to give me money to develop a work that might be produced and performed later down the track is always going to be a hard sell.

And this is exactly what the design book writers, doodad makers and CD recorders know intuitively and implement in their calls for funding.

Craigmod makes a point that I think is interesting: “people don’t mind paying $50 or more for a project they love”

Since all the backers above $65 received a copy of the design book Craigmod was printing, I’m not very surprised about this. $65 is inexpensive for a beautifully produced book and obviously people don’t mind spending $50 or more on it, these are the same people who love and buy all those other crazy expensive design books.

I think the real lesson is (common sense alert…) “the thing you’re preselling should be sold for around it’s normal value” or probably a little bit cheaper, since the whole idea is asking people to PRE pay for it.

Anyway, some thoughts, I’ll elaborate later on.