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Ross Edman, aka Datahowler, is a designer and musician by trade. But for the last few weeks, he's also been a salesman—pitching friends, family and the curious denizens of the Internet via a video about his upcoming space-themed record, Slowdrifter, in the hopes of raising the funds necessary to master the album and press a few hundred copes on CD and cassette.
Like many independent artists around the country, Edman turned to the two-year-old website Kickstarter for his fundraising campaign. And it paid off big time: Edman raised $600 more than his stated $1,500 goal.
"I was extremely surprised," says Edman. "My project was featured on many blogs and on every major section of the Kickstarter site. The co-founder and a few other staff members of Kickstarter even pledged for the project. The support I received was overwhelming."
Edman's not alone, either—in recent months a host of independent North Texas acts with vastly different fan bases and financial goals have found success on the website, including Fever in the Funkhouse, Daniel Hart, Green River Ordinance, A.Dd+ and Via Maris.
Though featured in The New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere over the past year, the site remains a relatively new concept for most music fans. It works like this: An artist sets a monetary goal for their project and explains where that money will go should they meet their fundraising goal. They set a specific time by which they hope to accomplish this goal (usually a few weeks), and if they meet it, Kickstarter keeps 5 percent of the money raised, while Amazon takes another 2 percent for facilitating payments.
If the goal's not met, all donations are canceled and the artist is left to ponder the worthiness of their project or improve their sales pitch—a dilemma currently faced by Denton act Sunnybrook, whose Kickstarter account recently failed to achieve its goal.
"My first mistake was that I didn't post a video on my page," says Tailor Deihl, owner of Sunnybrook's fledgling label, Appalachian Records.
Luckily for them, you can retry Kickstarter as many times as you want, though your project does have to pass the website's smell test—that the posted projects have both a finite aim and finite ending—before it will be posted.
Another requirement of Kickstarter's is that artists, to encourage donations, offer gift packages for different donation levels, just like a PBS pledge drive. This practice is the backbone of what makes Kickstarter so successful, as fans and investors receive plenty of cool rewards—eccentric singer-songwriter Jim White even claimed he would rename his first-born child after a high-dollar donor—as well as the satisfaction of knowing they're part of a project they believe in.
"I'm big into this notion that, beyond creating great music, artists should also give their fans items worth buying," says Rosalinda Ruiz, manager for Dallas hip-hop duo A.Dd+, who raised money on Kickstarter for a national promotional campaign for their upcoming debut album, When Pigs Fly.
"Our incremental prizes were based on realistic expectations of what people could give and items that could mean something to them," says Ruiz, who helped the duo devise perks like limited-edition packaging, private release parties and A.Dd+-designed T-shirts, "all things that took time and effort to create and that we hope will have even more meaning to the fans now and later down the line."
Successful Fort Worth band Green River Ordinance even severed ties with Capitol Records in the hopes of funding their own album on Kickstarter, and were able to raise over $41,000 by offering fans everything from private house concerts to a night of bowling and laser tag with the band.
"We were blown away by the generosity of our fans," says Jamey Ice, the band's guitarist. "Green River Ordinance has been a band for 10 years. And, for the first time in 10 years, we are completely debt free and will be making a record debt free. When we made our first independent album and EPs we borrowed money from our parents to do it. When we decided to do music full time and quit school and jobs, we took out a loan to buy a van and a trailer and basically paid for our first tour with a credit card."
The band's investment did allow them to raise their profile, however. So, when Capitol/Virgin came calling with a big record deal, Green River Ordinance thought they had it made—only to quickly realize the drawbacks of being on a major label, including even deeper debt.
"All a record deal is, is a giant loan," says Ice. "They pay for everything and give you money, but it's actually just a giant loan against your record. But with Kickstarter, our fans have paid for our future record. It's amazing and really frees us up to do a lot more."
Obviously, almost as important as the financial freedom Kickstarter affords is the bond that a successful Kickstarter campaign can create with an artist's fan base. Reunited Deep Ellum stalwarts Fever in the Funkhouse recently found this out firsthand when they raised over $16,000 on the website, ending their campaign with a thank you concert for their generous fans earlier this month at Club Dada.