Kickstarter Advice from Successful Indie Artists [GUEST POST]

escape directors kickstarter

When my alternative-pop band, Escape Directors, set out in early 2011 to use the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to raise money for our new EP, we spent a lot of time researching tips and suggestions from those who had successfully set out to accomplish the same goal. There are a few articles out there giving the basics, but I figured I would share experiences from our successful campaign now that we’ve been through the trenches. I sought out additional advice from a few other Kickstarter-successful artists — Idgy Dean and Case In Theory — to get a more in-depth view of how other indie artists made it happen as well.

I’ll assume everyone knows the basic components of a campaign and how it works — if you don’t, click around their help section and you’ll figure it out quickly. Let’s start with the preparation. Take at least a month to plan, look at other projects, get an idea of the pledge incentives you want, making the video, etc. Do not attempt a campaign without properly preparing yourself and giving it 100%. Case In Theory says the best advice they can give is to “take your time, plan it out, be realistic, and most of all BE PROFESSIONAL!” Go into it with the attitude that if you aren’t successful, you can’t make your album (or whatever your project is).

Your video is the most important element of the project. Idgy Dean said, “The video seemed absolutely clutch to the success of my project. Having that expert presentation of your project, the look, the sound, and making sure it’s short and sweet (1-3 minutes tops), will help garner much more attention to your campaign. So, if you’re not crafty yourself with video editing, etc., be sure to find someone who is.” Find a friend with a nice DSLR camera to shoot the video – it’ll pay off as the video determines the first impression for your project and will essentially either gain pledges or turn away potential pledgers. Keep it short as Idgy Dean said — quickly explain what you’re doing, how Kickstarter works, and try to keep their attention. We performed a new song in our video with cut-ins of us explaining our project. We kept it short and promised our fans that if we reached our goal we would release the entire video (which had our fanbase buzzing about the video and demanding it after we reached our goal).

The project length is also important — we kept ours at 30 days.

“I recommend keeping the campaign length relatively short — just enough time to generate hype and excitement, but also urgency, so that people don’t put off pledging.”

— Idgy Dean

The project goal is another very crucial part to think about. Don’t just settle on what you think should be the goal.

“We spent many times debating on the length of the campaign, the incentives, and goal before we launched. We did not want to set the bar too high where it seemed like it was unobtainable.”

— Case In Theory

Be honest with yourself. Do not set your goal at $10,000 just because that is what your record will cost. Acknowledge your fans and your prior sales. Remember, if you don’t reach your goal, you don’t get the money. From what we saw, reaching your goal early will not dissuade others from pledging, so don’t feel bad about underestimating your worth, but at the same time don’t sell yourself too short. We felt $2,500 was a modest goal that reflected our current position at the time — not overzealous but still a “confident” goal.

The pledge incentives are important to think about too. You can get really creative with these, and this is where I suggest taking time to research other projects to see what has worked for other people. The incentives you choose are entirely up to you. However, understand that the more ambitious you are, the more work you’ll have afterwards in fulfilling your pledges &mash; usually in the midst of your album release when you have hundreds of other things to worry about.

For example, for $100, we offered to write and record a personal song for people. It was a fun few days doing all the songs and packaging all the other trinkets, but did take a lot of time. There is a lot of psychology involved in creating the incentives as well. Don’t create too many because people will become overwhelmed with choices. The most popular price point for 90% of projects is around the $25 range. We knew that going in, so we tried to make our $20 pledge very appealing. We didn’t put too many other options around it, only a $5 pledge then a $35 one. The jump in quality-of-rewards up from the $5 pledge to $20 was big and the jump up from there to $35 wasn’t too big. As a result, our $20 pledge accounted for a third of our backers, which was great. This incentive just made sense to people so we were able to draw a lot of pledgers to it that way.

Check out our campaigns:

The most important advice I can give, personally, is to get pledgers right away. This attributed a lot to our success, and this parallels the preparation we put into it. We didn’t put it up and then start advertising it. We spent the whole week prior to the campaign’s launch letting all our close fans, friends, and family know about the campaign, so that when it launched we got a flood of initial pledges to create momentum. Don’t be ashamed to get support from your closest fans in advance. Contact the people you know will 100% support the cause and let them know you’d appreciate their support as soon as the project launches. We reached 73% of our goal in 2 days as a result of the avalanche effect this caused.

With all the proper preparation, you’ll be taken away by the support you receive.

“I was so in awe of the extent of generosity people displayed in support of my project, not only close friends and family, but total strangers, too. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the variety of people who re-posted and pushed for this project’s success on Facebook… good friends, friends-of-friends, friends-of-friends-of-friends, long-lost people of my past who I rarely if ever communicate with, just, the masses.”

— Idgy Dean

We had someone we’ve never met pledge $500 just because a friend linked them and they liked our video (another reason I stress the importance of the video).

Graph from Escape Director's Kickstarter Campaign

(Click to enlarge the graph)

Keep the momentum going, it’s all about your marketing. Case In Theory says they had a steady stream throughout, whereas you can see that we hit a plateau around a week in. Our last two days we hit our social media hard, which got 10 last-minute backers to bring our final funding to 200% our original goal. Knowing our fan base and the sensitivity of repetitive posts, we didn’t want to do daily reminders. We did a heavy first week, and then waited to the very end to hit people hard with a last-minute reminder: “Last chance to get our new EP in advance and support our production!” This worked very well with our fanbase, but you may want to tailor your strategy differently.

Final thoughts

  • Don’t half-ass your project. Treat it as the gateway to your career and give it the proper preparation to set yourself up for success.
  • Get verbal commitments from your closest fans / friends in advance of your project launch, ensuring that they will pledge.
  • Don’t call pledges donations. Donations don’t require reciprocation. While many people would donate to your cause anyway, make sure they know you care about their contribution. You are rewarding them for their entirely selfless pledge, not just doing it to get into their pants (wallets).
  • Research, research, research. Don’t let this be the only article you read. Here is a particularly great one to dive into.

If you have any questions along the way, do not hesitate to drop me a line. I’d love to give you my advice:

  • Nicey

    I completely agree with this post, I’m working on a project now and I’m trying to build momentum two months ahead of time for it with different ideas.  I never thought about getting verbal pledges from people for support, and now I think I can utilize it as well! Great Post!

  • Greater Alexander

    This totally opened up my eyes. I was trying to figure out how to formulate a plan on the pledge idea amounts and this helped big time. Thank you.

  • z.eectric

    wow, i would never have though of fund raising to do an EP… ours (to be released in 3 weeks) cost £1000 and has been entirely funded from the personal incomes of the band member’s day jobs. 

    Funding via pledges obviously works for many, but the unsigned bands scene here in the UK is replete with folks asking for money, attendance at gigs, buy my T-shirt etc… I just can’t bear the thought of trying to get our fans to fund our recording work… 

    Playing and making the music is a joy – I’d happily sink double the money into it.