Kickstarting a career

Kickstarter.com has only been around since 2009, but it’s already becoming the go-to approach for musicians, artists, filmmakers and tech developers to raise money for their projects. For artists especially, Kickstarter provides an easy-to-use, easy-to-relay method to get the word out — and to get the money to get things done. There are many recent local examples of Kickstarter in action. Most of the time, it really works.

Aaron “Woody” Wood’s Kickstarter campaign was one of the first around here, and it succeeded.

The background: For nearly a decade, Wood toured and played with The Blue Rags, a mostly defunct blues/ragtime band that signed to Sup Pop Records. After selling off nearly all his music equipment and almost calling it quits earlier this year, Wood may have found the way to jump start (or even Kickstart) his career — in a kind of rebirth as a solo artist. All it took was a little help from family, friends and fans — and a little more help from his manager (and studio manager at Echo Mountain), Jessica Tomasin.

Wood credits the entire Kickstarter campaign to Tomasin. “Jess was smart enough to be like, ‘You can do this. We know enough people we can do it.’ It’s basically all her idea, no joke.”

And the two learned some things in the process. Tomasin encourages those running a campaign to “be prepared to actually contribute the last $1,000 and then pay yourself back, if that’s what you need to do so you don’t lose out. Be realistic with what your budget is,” she cautions, “because it’s all or nothing.”

Kickstarters are further encouraged “to find ways to get the word out and make your incentives affordable. I think that’s really important. Who are your fans and can they afford that sort of thing? We had some people who were really great and were able to pay anywhere from $100-$750.” However, she explains, “That number was a lot smaller than the people who could afford $15. I think when you don’t offer the incentives at the lower level that you lose a grand by people who can’t afford $50.”

There are things to beware of, Tomasin warns. “Be prepared, because there are people who do not follow through with what they say they’re going to give you.” The funding “doesn’t happen until the end of your campaign. When it was all said and done, it said that we had raised $9,480. We ended up with $7,800 because people who said they were going to pledge didn’t. Their credit cards or bank accounts were denied.”

Wood and Tomasin attribute a great deal of their success to the live events they held during the campaign. “Honestly, there are the people who are not going to take the time and energy to fill [the pledge form] out online,” says Tomasin. “There were a lot of older folks who were like, ‘You know I’m not comfortable putting my credit card on the Internet.’ Another reason to do a private house show, you can get those people to come out to the show. One guy gave us $300 who does not have a computer.”

And the album is moving ahead. “Our problem right now is we’re a little behind, because, schedule-wise, it’s just so hard to finish tracking,” Tomasin says.

In addition to New York City gigs the first week of December, “Woody’s gone again this month for another seven days — going down to New Orleans. It makes it hard to coordinate with [Wood’s accompanying musicians]. We actually did the vocals for the first five songs in one of our studio houses … and it sounds great. We’ll be doing some things like tracking in unique places just because we don’t have the time here at the studio. All of our rooms are pretty much booked.”

At the time of the interview, they had finished three preproduction days with producer Roger Alan Nichols. Mike Rhodes had laid down the drum tracks and Tony Black the bass tracks, for all six new songs. Wood recorded the guitar parts and a scratch vocal. Robert Ryan Burns overdubbed keys on four of the songs. For this, backers who had given $500 were invited into the studio to watch the process for two hours.

Tomasin estimates another four full days of tracking to record the keys for the other two songs, as well as Wood’s vocal and guitar overdubs. When those are complete, Roger starts mixing the tracks. The finished album is expected to be in the hands of backers in January.

Coming next week: A look at how other locals fared with Kickstarter.

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4 thoughts on “Kickstarting a career

  1. boatrocker

    Obviously if it’s important enough to be featured in the Xpress, it must be taken as gospel-

    A few thoughts about Kickstarter- minus any bashing of Woody as he’s a nice guy having met him in person many times- These same points have been raised in semi-recent forum entries and do not reflect any liking or not of actual artists’ material- just a dislike of the method of payment.

    1) Kickstarter keeps 5% of all funds raised- feel like having another manager who takes 5% vs. regular managers who take anywhere from 15%-20%? Beware, local musicans. Similar online promotion sites do not charge anything for doing the same as Kickstarter.

    2) Woody’s manager was quoted as saying that one might have to raise another $1,000 themselves. Does that or does it not defeat the entire purpose of Kickstarter? Thanks, Bank of Mom for the last $500, etc.

    Believe it or not, quite a few albums made locally here featured on Mtn. X write ups were birthed for less than $1,000. If anyone feels like dissing on them now knowing this, please retract all “this is great music!” type comments from earlier posts.

    3) If you are a local musician who feels the need to be at the mercy of your “fans” in terms of them determining what material to play, give a ‘woot woot’ shout out here. Otherwise, you’ll be asked by fans who contribute x amount to your campaign to record a specific song of their choosing.

    Who’s really in charge of the material featured on an album then?

    Nothing against any Kickstarter kids (somehow I have a feeling this new trend will be prominently featured in music write-ups as it’s “new!” and “hot!”), but every album I’ve heard from locals here who raise the money themselves sound damn fine too.

    Blood, sweat and tears isn’t just a band, it’s a way of knowing that earning money to birth a new album of your own material means that you truly have done it yourself. The taste is ever so much sweeter when played on an appropriate music playing device.

    But don’t let that keep any follow-up Kickstart success stories from appearing here. Just expect it to be treated like a musical version of Jared (Subway) success stories.

  2. Daniel G

    What is Mr. Boat Rocker’s complaint here? That musicians shouldn’t make money? That an artist who is uses money is a ‘sellout’? That only music recorded on a 4-track is legitimate? That Kickstarter is /GASP/ actually looking to make money for providing a service??!

    It’s really quite difficult to discern. Perhaps he/he can clarify?

  3. boatrocker

    No real complaint here, but I’ll summarize my first post and my questions for you-

    If earning money to record an album is the end goal, does it really make sense to earn it in a roundabout and more complicated way than actually working for it?

    At the end of the day, it would seem that the fans carry the brunt of pledging to make sure your financial goal is met. Call me loopy, but simply saving money seems easier to me than all the online tomfoolery in promoting an album that doesn’t even exist yet. The fact that I was referred to another similar Kickstart-esque site from a similar article on the Xpress a while back that does not charge %5 just made me think a bit.

    Thanks for at least not mistaking this for some sort of personal attack on any artist who uses Kickstarter.

  4. Danel G

    “At the end of the day, it would seem that the fans carry the brunt of pledging to make sure your financial goal is met.”

    Is this really any different than fans ‘carrying the brunt’ on the back end through album sales, merch, and ticket prices?

    “Call me loopy, but simply saving money seems easier to me than all the online tomfoolery in promoting an album that doesn’t even exist yet.”

    Really? I think getting people to contribute towards art/music they support and enjoy seems like a brilliant way to take some of the financial burden off of the artist so they can focus on, you know, all that art stuff we enjoy.

    And I have to say, the five percent kickstarter takes for coordinating and managing the whole exchange seems quite reasonable. Do the other sites you refer to provide the same service? (you haven’t given any specific source yet)

    I can’t comment on kickstarter, as I have never worked with them, but local artists seem quite satisfied. Why complain about a surcharge for a service the patrons seem happy to pay?

    “Thanks for at least not mistaking this for some sort of personal attack on any artist who uses Kickstarter. ”

    I still can’t really discern WHAT your complain is.

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