A 10 Step Artist Guide to Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Over the last month, since I wrote a pair of articles about my Kickstarter campaign, a number of people have reached out to me looking for insight regarding the ins and outs of crowdfunding. For the most part, the overarching theme has been fear - almost every person who has inquired about the process has mentioned that they’ve considered a campaign but have held off because they’re afraid of failure.
Until now, I was in that boat as well. As I stated in my first article, my biggest fear about crowdfunding was taking a giant leap of faith only to fall flat on my face in front of the handful of people who I know would enjoy nothing more than to see me crash and burn. We all have haters, but artists of all calibers and genres have an especially passionate group of followers that love to criticize everything we do. Failing in front of these people would be like taking a swan dive into a pool of broken glass. Covered in AIDS. With hungry sharks in the pool, their teeth made of fire. And… well, you get the point.
At this very moment I’ve raised a total of $4,574, or 152% of my first $3,000 goal. My ultimate goal is to hit $12,000 and, while I’m not anywhere close to that number yet, I still have three weeks to go and I’m confident I can get there.
A lot of DJBooth readers might be wondering how a severely underrated (or overrated, depending on who you ask), relatively unknown rapper who disappeared into thin air for four years while spiraling into creative insanity managed to pop back up and run a successful Kickstarter campaign. Since I know this is a burning question in your mind right now, I’m going to break it down for you.
Welcome to my not-so-perfect, kind of accurate, just-the-tip-of-the-iceberg, it-worked-for-me-so-it-might-work-for-you Guide to Kickstarter.
STEP 1: Before You Begin a Campaign, Make Sure It's Completely Necessary
You probably have an idea that’s going to require insane amount of money you don’t have, but really, how necessary is that idea at this point in your life? How much time have you devoted to developing this idea on your own? Kickstarter can be used for a number of reasons, but for the sake of this article and its audience, we’ll stick with music as an example. How long have you actually been making music? Is this just an experiment to see if you’re good at something or is this something you’ve spent years chipping away at and trying to perfect?
These questions are important because a Kickstarter campaign is a lot of work, and by a lot of work I mean this thing is going to consume your life for about 2-3 months. Most artists use Kickstarter to fund the recording or promotion of an album, but in many cases they haven’t recorded or released anything on their own so they aren't even sure if people will like what they make. In this situation, my suggestion is to save up a few hundred dollars, and record and release a few songs to test the waters first. This will be my third album and it’s only now that I feel confident enough to say that with the right tools and people in place, my music will generate modest to moderate success. Be honest with yourself: if you’re not ready, take some time to refine your sound and wait until you’re certain a Kickstarter campaign is the right path for you.
STEP 2: Build The Damn Thing
Give yourself about 6-8 weeks to design and build your campaign before launching it to the public. In my case, I needed a video explaining what my campaign was about, graphics for the campaign page itself, a t-shirt design, a separate music video and a shit ton of content for social media (photos, other videos, album covers, songs for streaming, etc.).
The most important part of building your campaign will be the video. I was lucky in this regard because my best friend just so happens to be a talented director who has invested tens of thousands of dollars in professional video gear. As a result, we were able to produce something that looked great. But a professional video isn’t a necessity here, it’s a bonus. You can get away with filming something on your phone and editing on iMovie or any of the free online video editing programs that are a quick Google search away. The important thing is getting your message across and making sure people understand your goals. Which brings me to the next step…
STEP 3: Tell Your Story
The biggest mistake a lot of artists make in their Kickstarter video is talking about the project itself with very little insight into who they are. The hard truth about running a Kickstarter campaign is this: NOBODY WANTS TO SUPPORT YOUR MUSIC, THEY WANT TO SUPPORT YOU.
The majority of the support for your campaign will come from people who know you well, but don’t know everything about you, therefore you have to open up and bare your soul. You have to tell your story and allow yourself to be vulnerable. For me, it was about conveying the struggles I’ve faced from an early age and sharing my passion for music. It’s important that your potential backers connect with you on a personal level because these people aren’t investing in your project, they’re investing in you. Be honest with them about who you are and what makes you tick.
STEP 4: Set Realistic Goals
I know you think your album or project is worth a million dollars, and maybe it will be, someday. For now, though, let’s face reality - you know about twenty people. So unless each person is planning on pledging $50,000 to your Kickstarter, you can be assured you won’t hit your million dollar goal.
I have over 1,200 people in my inner and outer circles with a solid pool of resources (you are literally looking at one of them right now) and I set my first goal at $3,000, even though it’s going to take $12,000 to accomplish what I’ve set out to do. You have to be honest with yourself when determining what you’re capable of; generating $40,000 to record and promote your album would be fantastic, but can you realistically get there? Probably not, so set your first goal low enough that you can at least cross the finish line and collect the funds you’re going to break your neck trying to raise. My suggestion is to set your first goal low, with another higher middle-tier goal and make your ultimate goal - the number you’re really after - the third one down the line. This helps people understand what you’re trying to do and you’ll get a huge boost of confidence when you hit that first goal even though it’s the bare minimum amount to get you started.
STEP 5: Create Rewards
Rewards are Kickstarter’s clever way of getting around the whole "selling stuff online" thing, and the truth is, you’re not really selling anything because you’re going to have to price whatever you’re offering at a premium for it to make sense. The way I look at it, the rewards aspect of Kickstarter is just there so your investors can get something physical in return for their support. For my campaign I’ve offered everything from digital downloads of the album to t-shirts and hoodies to boxing lessons and even an executive producer credit on the album. These are all things that I have access to and can deliver.
We’ve all seen Kickstarter campaigns with funny rewards like, “Go on a one on one vacation with me to a private island off the coast of Spain” and thought to ourselves, “That’s hilarious.” But mark my words - somebody, somewhere is going to claim that reward and the artist running that campaign is going to be FUCKED. Do not be that guy. Only create rewards for things you can provide.
STEP 6: Write Down Names
When I first started building my campaign, I had a bunch of names flowing through my mind - people to whom I would bring my Kickstarter as soon as it launched. Me being the naturally lazy artist that I am (I have a hard time even writing lyrics down), I convinced myself that I could memorize all of these names and sift through my mental dossier of songs, martial arts techniques, random lyrics and melodies from other people’s songs that I hate but are stuck in my mind forever. and the overwhelming assortment of useless information I’ve absorbed over the years, and access them at will when it came time to start contacting people.
But as I went through the names, I could really only recall about five or six, so instead I finally committed to writing them all down and I ended up with more than 1,000. That’s a huge gap, and it wasn’t until I wrote all of the names down that I realized how vast my inner and outer circles were.
If you make it this far into the preparation without quitting, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. The hours you spend writing down names will be vital throughout the course of your campaign and this list of people will become your main point of reference.
STEP 7: Contact Everyone Personally
Once you’ve launched, this will be the lifeblood of your Kickstarter campaign; the most important aspect. Oddly enough, this is the scariest part and therefore the one that most artists avoid, which is why most campaigns fail. To be blunt, you have to do it. If you’re apprehensive about contacting people directly, abandon your campaign and move on. Sharing the link on your social media is great, but it’s just an awareness tool. You have to actually call/text/email people directly for anybody to show support, and you will have to contact the same people multiple times. There will be that handful of people who support right away, but most of your friends, family, coworkers and random people you see at the grocery store will need to be reminded about it at least 2-3 times before they act.
For example, a close friend of mine said he would support on the first day of launch, but he didn’t. After a week went by, I reminded him and he said he would get on it, but again did not. The week after that, I reminded him again and he e-transferred some cash to me, which I took and put on a prepaid credit card then made the pledge myself under his name and email. Trust me, this is going to happen more often than you think.
If you can, take some time off from your 9-5 job (assuming you have one) and get the bulk of the initial communication done during the first week of your campaign’s launch. I used my vacation time this year to do it and, although I would have much rather been laying on a beach somewhere, it was an invaluable investment of my time. I spent seven straight days contacting every human being in my known universe and I hit my first $3,000 goal within six days. This is no coincidence.
STEP 8: Do Not Skip Anyone
Here’s how my Kickstarter has broken down so far in terms of supporters:
- 17% of my supporters elected not to choose a reward.
- 18% of my supporters chose the Good Samaritan reward, which is $100 in exchange for their name in the credits of the new album and a digital download of my discography.
- 23% of my supporters chose to pledge more than the dollar value of the reward they selected.
- 37% of my supporters chose the $20 digital album download reward.
- 96% of my supporters are people I know personally.
When I first started writing names down, there were people I was sure would support, people I wasn’t sure would support and people I was positive would not support. What I’ve realized after four weeks of running my campaign is that I was completely wrong about who would and wouldn’t support my Kickstarter.
The vast majority of people who have contributed are people that I haven’t seen in years or lost contact with for extended periods of time. Do not underestimate the love and appreciation people have for you. I’ve been surprised many times over by who has pledged to my campaign and it would’ve never happened had I have not reached out to them.
STEP 9: Content is King
You’re going to need a lot of social media content that you can post during your campaign: photos, videos, songs, lyrics. While social media content won’t be the reason most people contribute to your campaign, it will remind people you’ve contacted who may have forgotten to contribute or just ignored you altogether.
In my case, I made a music video specifically to reinforce my Kickstarter and did it on a zero dollar budget. Again, I’m lucky because I had the resources to do it, but there are tons of things that you can do to push your campaign online.
In the past four weeks I’ve posted the front and back album covers, song lyrics, a song from the album for streaming, photos, a music video and two videos filmed on my phone to personally thank everyone who has supported me. The last example was more something I wanted to do just to show my appreciation, but during your campaign every bit of content counts. Be genuine in your posts and run content that reflects who you are as an artist. Now is not the time to post photos of yourself standing in front of a Ferrari with stacks of money in your hand. Speak from the heart and directly to your supporters.
STEP 10: Be Grateful
Don’t be an asshole. Your supporters are real people with jobs, bills and families. Say thank you, smile, and give big fat bear hugs whenever you can.
There is so much that goes into running a successful Kickstarter campaign that I could write three or four more articles and still only scratch the surface. These are just 10 important steps to help you along the crowdfunding path should you choose to take it. Kickstarter is not an endless well of financial support - although some artists treat it that way - and you should only use it if you’re positive the result will drastically improve your status as an artist.
You're going to push yourself to the point of exhaustion so be prepared to put in countless hours working towards your goal. I said it in the beginning of this article and I’ll say it again: crowdfunding should only be an option when you’ve hit a wall that you can’t get over without a groundswell of support.
Original illustration by Joshua Hayden aka JHAY. Follow him on Instagram.