I’ve been reading a lot about Kickstarter.com lately. The wildly successful online fundraising platform has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and everywhere in between. Just this morning I read a great article by my old friend Dan Bolles, the Music Editor at Seven Days, my hometown of Burlington, VT’s excellent alternative weekly. He likens a Kickstarter campaign to an NPR pledge drive, which I think is a useful if imprecise analogy and I’ll explain why later. The article goes on to describe other innovative ways of raising money online, from simply putting a PayPal donation button on your web site to organizing weekly live, streaming concerts.
Also among recent Kickstarter coverage is an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune claiming the site channels more than $1 million every week to creative projects. This made me wonder, is that a lot? Here are some points of reference: 1) A 2003 study by The Urban Institute (full disclosure, I worked on this) found that there is more than $91 million available in cash grants to artists every year—these are “traditional” grant programs administered by state and local arts agencies, and private foundations. If you averaged that out over the course of a year it’d come to about $1.75 million every week. 2) In 2009, the BSO’s annual budget was about $85 million (see guidestar.org). Averaged out over the course of a year that comes to $1.65 million per week. 3) The iTunes store is the world’s largest music retailer. Between January 2009 and February 2010 the iTunes store sold 4 billion songs. With most songs priced at $1/song that works out to an average of roughly $70 million per week. Bottom line: the iTunes store is huge, but when it comes to funding creative projects, Kickstarter is no slouch!
A lot of students come into the Career Services Center needing to raise a small amount of money for a specific project. Say for example, you received a scholarship to attend a great summer festival, but need money to cover your airfare. Or, you have a bunch of tunes already recorded but need money to pay for mixing and mastering. Perhaps your first question is: what grants can I apply for? And unfortunately, I have to tell you there aren’t a lot of grants to support these types of expenses. There’s the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation’s USArtists International program, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music’s Recording Program, both of which are highly competitive, national programs. Local funding sources are also certainly worth exploring. NEC alum Rosalind Buda, for example, received a mini-grant from the Iowa Arts Council to attend a summer festival as an undergrad. But in most cases, my suggestion is to reach out to friends, family, and supporters to raise the money in small donations, and that a Kickstarter campaign is a great way to do this.
Some folks are receptive to this advice, but many are skeptical. There’s a perception that Kickstarter is just a high-tech way to beg money from our equally poor friends. Well, maybe there’s some truth to this. But even our poorest friends might have $1 or 5 to donate to a creative project. Plus, it’s all about your network. What about your rich aunt? Your parents’ friends? That guy that randomly came to your show and liked what you were doing so you exchanged contact info? Or your friend from high school who was great with computers and now makes a bunch of money?
Here’s where the NPR analogy comes in. I’ve listened to NPR for years. For most of those years, I didn’t have much disposable income, and whenever a pledge drive came around I thought, “not a chance.” But now I’m at a point in my life where I have a steady job that I enjoy and I actually want to give NPR my money. The point is, there are people out there that want to give you money too! And all you have to do is ask.
Here’s where the NPR analogy breaks down. Their incentives aren’t usually very appealing. A tote bag? No thanks. Dragon speech recognition software? No again. Being entered into a lottery to possibly win a vacation in France? Sure, I guess. On Kickstarter you set the pledge levels and you choose the incentives. You could give away handwritten thank you letters, the donor’s name on your web site, copies of your new album, a limited edition t-shirt, dinner and a movie, the possibilities are endless. Last fall my friend Ed used Kickstarter to raise money to record a Christmas album and I got a CD, t-shirt, and a screen-printed poster, all for a mere $50!
Check out these examples of NEC-related Kickstarter projects:
- NEC alums Brian Kaufman and Michael Reichman used Kickstarter to raise money for their project Musical Diplomacy: A Concert and Discussion on Race and Culture in the Age of Obama.
- Traditional folk band Long Time Courting, featuring NEC student Ari Friedman, used Kickstarter to raise money for the mixing, mastering, and manufacturing of their debut CD.
- NEC doctoral candidates, composers Osnat Netzer and Derek David are currently in the midst of a campaign to raise money to stage scenes from each of their recent operas.
What other cool Kickstarter projects are out there?
Contributed by: Dan Swenson, Career Services Coordinator and Manager of Bridge