Recently, I spoke with Yancey Strickler, who is the co-founder of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creativity. In this interview, Strickler talks about moving past a one-size fits all model for financing creativity, how pull marketing models relate to Kickstarter, and why fan-funding encourages fans to become more active particiapants in their cultural lives.
How does crowdfunding disrupt the one-size-fits-all paradigm of financing the production of recorded music? Being that it's more democratic in nature, does it fund creative works that otherwise wouldn't be produced?
Yancey Strickler: Let's step back a little bit first. Because art in its most popular forms (music, film, etc) has been primarily financed and distributed by corporations, its expression has been market-driven. Movie theaters book 90 to 120 minute movies so that's how long a film becomes, music is sold in albums comprised of 12 songs in 50 minutes, etc. We define films and albums by those parameters even though they're arbitrary. Nothing inherent in the art itself requires that structure. Instead it's art conforming to the demands of the marketplace.
Artists have always had some reservations about this, but those reservations were largely academic. If you wanted to make a 17-minute feature length film, where would you find the money? No traditional source is going to fund a project that has no home, so everyone tries to make their vision fit into what they think someone else thinks the public will want. It's bizarre.
Audiences could care less. They just want to see their favorite artists make something they'll like. Commercial potential is completely irrelevant. It only matters to the company that's put capital behind it.
On Kickstarter there's no one to satisfy except your fans.
Kickstarter allows artists to imagine a whole new universe, to create a mini-economy around their work and invite their audiences to become a part of it. Giving creative people the freedom to create however and whatever they want is a great thing. At its simplest essence, this is Kickstarter's purpose.
Hypebot: The record industry is structured around a top-down, highly centralized “push” marketing model whereas crowdfunding utilizes a pull marketing model.
In what ways does this change the level of involvement that fans have in the production process and their commitment to the resulting art?
Yancey Strickler: The biggest differences are in who controls the relationship. Labels, studios, publishers, etc have always shielded artists from the public, but we've now reached a moment where that fan relationship is every artist's most important asset. Relationships can't be pirated, and neither can the shared experiences that come with them. A Kickstarter project hones those interactions.
Artists and fans have always had relationships, of course. The difference now is that the relationship is being pushed further up the pipe. Rather than waiting until the album is out and the tour is in full swing to engage, it's now in everyone's best interests to interact from the get-go. Don't wait until the thing is out to build an audience. Do it constantly and directly. Invite people to participate as much as you feel comfortable. If you're lucky enough to have an audience that deeply cares about your work, reward them! Bring them closer, make them part of the process, think like a fan.
Hypebot: For most fans, their involvement in the careers of artists are characterized by consumption and passivity. In this sense, these fans are not active participants in their cultural lives; they're disconnected from the material processes arts creation, as well as, the people and places that are involved in it.
How does crowdfunding encourage fans to become more active participants in their cultural lives and does it serve to more closely connect fans to the material processes of arts creation?
Yancey Strickler: The web has been steadily pulling us toward an author-less society. We don't think of culture as being created, we think of it as being ubiquitous. It just exists, and it diminishes the importance of the source material. As great as the latest animated GIF meme might be, it wouldn't exist without that primary recorded action. This is something we often forget. We need to reattach art to its author. Without it we feel entitled to everything -- piracy increases and our respect for the creative process diminishes. We need to remember that art comes from people. It's not an algorithm, it's not magically generated in the cloud. It originates from people like us.
Encouraging more people to indulge their creative impulses is important for our culture and society. As we get older it becomes easier to not follow through on our ideas and ambitions. Don't have the time, don't have the money, no one will care. We want Kickstarter to change that resignation. Before dismissing that crazy idea as being too impractical, throw it up on Kickstarter and see if your community wants to see it happen. If they do, that's awesome; if they don't, at least you tried. Trying is a big step.
Hypebot: The challenge of crowdfunding a record pertain to aligning a project with realistic financial expectations and coordinating the right type of incentive.
What are the essential elements of contribution tiers?
Yancey Strickler: Rewards are very important. On Kickstarter they loosely breakdown into four types:
1) Presell the thing. Someone raises money to make a record; you get a copy when it's done.
2) Limited Editions. First 100 copies of the deluxe vinyl are individually numbered and personally signed.
3) Sharing the story. Here's a token that demonstrates your involvement in the project and my appreciation for it. Think Polaroids from the studio, old guitar strings, etc.
4) Creative experiences. Bring someone into the process itself. "This track needs handclaps -- come in the studio and provide them."
In film projects we see people offer walk-on roles; in comics they'll draw you into the story, etc.
These are a great way to demonstrate who you are as an artist and a person, and to give your fans a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.