Over the weekend, local impromptu electro-percussion act the itchy-O Marching Band hit its fundraising goal of $3,000. The funds, which have different pledge rewards, are being allotted to the recording of a five-song EP and a short documentary about the band. It's impressive that the members have not only met their original goal, but have actually gone over ($3,195 is currently pledged). This isn't the first time a band has funded recording and engineering costs with Kickstarter, but it's still an intriguing phenomenon.
Clearly, the Internet has leveled the playing field between major labels and indies with regard to a band's ability to get noticed. It's also given rise to the ability of a completely DIY act to achieve the same amount of success, especially if the band already has a good following and at least one shameless marketer inside its ranks. The biggest hurdle for acts not signed to a label is the cost of recording.
It's easy to see why a project like this would need funding -- itchy-O plays whenever the hell its members feel like it, in venues that don't ask them to be there. Basically, they don't get paid. Not that local bands ever really get paid what they deserve -- but typically, if bands play enough shows at bars, they'll eventually raise enough money to fund the recording of an album. Itchy-O doesn't have the benefit of the paid gig to help out.
If this is a real model for bands to fund their releases, backers need to get their rewards for pledging, and it all needs to happen in a timely matter. It's also arguable that these awards need to be better accounted for financially.
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Take the itchy-O project, which rewards you with either a physical copy of the band's CD or a T-shirt for pledging $20. We understand that when you pledge, you're not supposed to be doing it for the rewards (honestly, we do, and no, NPR, we don't want a tote bag), but still, it seems like it would make more sense to give something out to even the lowest backers. After all, that's what they're helping fund.
As far as itchy-O is concerned, we'd also have liked to see the actual shirt design. Call us crazy, but if we're tossing $20 into a fundraising pot, we'd like to know what our reward looks like. We'd also like a little transparency on the project.
Take the example of Craig Mod's publishing of the book Art Space Tokyo , in which we're given explicit breakdowns of the process, photos, ideas -- everything. It helps us as investors to believe in the people we're investing in more. This, as Mod points out, is key: "They're pledging money because they believe in you, the creator."
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He also points out the fact that the fewer the tiers of rewards and pledges, the better -- which is one area in which itchy-O might have improved. The band has a lot of tiers, some with only a few backers; it seems like it might have made sense to consolidate a lot of these. There's also a great breakdown on the Kickstarter blog about the most common pledges and best strategies.
The idea of band philanthropy is essentially a remodeled merch booth where you buy the idea of the merchandise before you see it. It's rather strange, really, but at the same time, it's an interesting model for bands.
This works with something like itchy-O, which has a track record of completing projects, making videos and recording -- but it's almost impossible to imagine it working for a start-up band. There's also the factor that the bandmembers need to be able to produce something -- meaning they need artists, silk-screen aficionados, video editors and sound engineers.
Then again, if you believe in the cause and the group involved, you probably don't care about the pledge rewards.