The official website showcasing the music of Yellowgold, produced by Jason Howell.

Lessons learned from a successful music Kickstarter campaign

My first Kickstarter campaign was a big success and led to the release of a professionally mastered album, Ever One, along with a ton of other stuff I never in a million years could have expected. Here are a few things I learned along the way.

  1. Find someone who has done it before. Probably the most important thing I take away from this experience is that, especially if you've never done a crowd-funding campaign before, doing it alone might not be the best approach. Early in the process, Tom Merritt directed me to David Michael who has experience managing the many facets of a crowd-funding campaign. This was ESSENTIAL because I had a ton of questions along the way. David was instrumental in keeping things organized, picking a strategy and schedule that was achievable, while still being ambitious, and coordinating fulfillment of the many levels of the project once the campaign ended successfully. I had far too much real-life going on outside of TWiT and the Yellowgold campaign to be able to focus attention on the details of the campaign, and David was my sounding board. My advice is to reach out to the people you know, hit up your network, and find somebody, anybody, who has done one of these before. They can tell you about the lessons they learned, the things they wish they'd done differently, and how to keep it all organized.
  2. Stretch goals should be about growing the project in the most cost effective way as possible. Example: My first stretch goal was to master an unreleased 3-song EP of mine. That EP cost me zero time to produce (it was produced years ago), and the cost of mastering it was marginal in the grand scheme of the project. But it brought an extra layer of music to the end game, and that had intrinsic value to backers. Same for stretch goal #2 which led to re-mastering my original release of The Mellower. That album was produced years ago so doing this meant no extra time commitment for me, and mastering the album wasn't necessarily cheap but it's an entire albums worth of bonus music, so the stretch goal amount could be boosted significantly and still bring value to backers in the end.
  3. Remember the goal of the Kickstarter: To fulfill the project, NOT to make a million dollars. This is one of those pieces of advice that sounds easy, especially if you've never done one before. But flash forward to that moment when your project has double funded and the pledged amount seems like a lot of dough. It's easy to start thinking about that money as your money. It's not. It's meant to fund the project. Now, this is not to say that you won't walk away from the campaign with a little extra cash after all is said and done, but likely the majority of your money will sink directly into fulfillment, shipping and taxes. Oh, taxes, that's next.
  4. Taxes are fun. OK maybe taxes aren't fun, but its best to pretend like they are. Otherwise, you'll get really scornful about the fact that 1/3 or more of the total funds in the end are being socked away to pay to "the man." It's just a reality of the situation. And if you don't sack that money away, and pretend that it's yours to keep, you'll probably be hurting come tax time anyway. So save yourself the grief and be liberal with the amount you set aside. Or better yet, consult your favorite tax guru and get a recommendation from them. Note: I AM A DIPSHIT WHEN IT COMES TO TAXES. So don't read this and say to yourself "nice, all I have to do is set aside  1/3 of what I bring in for taxes. Thanks Jason!" Do your own research. It's  a lot of money, and I don't want anything to do with your money, so don't simply take my word for it. It's on you.
  5. You'll be surprised by who backs you AND who doesn't. I don't want to sound like I don't appreciate the level of success I had with the Ever One Kickstarter campaign. It did far better than I ever expected it to. But the level to which I expected to hit when I set forth with the project was, in my mind, achievable particularly because of the people that I'm close to that have supported me for a long, long time in my creative endeavors. It's interesting to me to see how many people I thought were no-question backers didn't take part in any way. On the other side of the spectrum, isn't it freaking amazing that two dudes who I've never met decided to drop $500 on my project to be listed as Executive Producers? (They basically told me that they've followed and respected my work and wanted to give back. To which I'm INCREDIBLY humbled.) Expect to be surprised when you find out who backed you, and who didn't. But don't be offended by who you don't see. People give what they can, when they can, and if they are moved to do so. Be happy with what you get and realize that those people could easily have passed your project by. Everyone has crazy shit in their lives. But these people decided to drop a dime on YOU and your promise. That's pretty damn cool.
  6. Back something before you ask people to back you. It's listed prominently on your Kickstarter page, and let's face it. If you want people to walk the walk, show them that you can walk the walk too. Crowdfunding is about a community that's willing to part with money for projects that spark their interest. If you expect people to part with their hard earned dough for you, show that you know how to return the favor.
  7. In the case of a pre-release album of music, prepare for the official release of the album to pale in comparison. This is something that I hadn't considered, but the way it played out in the case of Ever One was that the Kickstarter was the buzz machine. It was the part that captured the attention of everyone. It was the part of the process that was exciting and felt like a snowball rolling down the mountain. When the official release of the album finally happened, there was a decent amount of feedback, but by and large, the most charged up people had already listened to the album through the Kickstarter more than a month prior. So by comparison, the public release was more of a footnote than the main attraction. And it took me a little while to come to terms with that. "The Kickstarter had so much momentum. Why doesn't the release have as many fireworks attached to it?" But the reality is that I chose for the Kickstarter to be the main attraction because running a Kickstarter requires for it to be so. And really, had I not done the Kickstarter with it's month-long build up and hype, I don't believe I would have had nearly as many folks listening to my music in the end. Had I simply released the album (as I had originally planned to do), some people surely would have grabbed the album, but there is no way that I would have reached as many people, nor would I have mastered all of that extra music, or released posters or double-cds of it all. All of the associated product would not exist at all. That's HUGE!

I know there's more but that's all I can come up with right now. If I think of more, I'll write another post. Ultimately, this was an incredibly satisfying and fulfilling process. I've been asked by MANY people when the next Kickstarter album release will happen. And I must say, I'm a bit torn on that one. I know I'm producing another album (I never stop writing music). Having already gone the Kickstarter route, SHOULD I do it again when another album is ready? Or should I try something new? I suppose I'll have to play it by ear and see what the latest hotness is in creative distribution. But it's nice having a successful Kickstarter under my belt. I hope some of these tips help some of you to achieve your own level of crowd-funding success as well. It really is about enabling people like me to fulfill dreams, thanks to people like you. Thank you.