When 28-year-old New Orleans singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton decided to record an album of melodic jazz tunes, she faced the typical artist’s challenge: Though she’s rich in talent, Blanton was short on cash.
She knew of other artists who had turned to an unusual Internet-based funding mechanism called Kickstarter to raise money for their projects. Since there was no sign of a rich relative waiting in the wings to help her, she decided to give it a try.
Blanton did some research, developed a game plan and within weeks was ready to launch her 30-day online fundraising campaign, wherein she would ask countless people who had never heard of her to donate to her cause. Her goal: $29,000.
Soon, her head was spinning. Only a third of the way through the campaign, online donors had already pledged $34,000 for her project. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says.
The website Kickstarter may be the most innovative method of project-targeted fundraising in, well, the history of fundraising. The site bills itself as a new way to fund creative projects, and that’s something of an understatement.
Since its startup in 2009, nearly 50,000 artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers and others have turned to Kickstarter to raise money. Almost 5 million people have pledged more than $800 million to support projects.
Operating somewhat like its older colleague eBay, Kickstarter doesn’t involve itself in any of the projects being pitched on its site, nor does it promote or endorse any project or individual fundraiser. Project creators set a funding goal and deadline, and promote their own project using photos, videos and their own marketing ideas.
Funding on Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition. Donors can make pledges of any amount, anytime before the campaign ending date, but no charges are authorized to their credit cards until the campaign ends, and then only if the campaign has reached its pledge goal.
According to information on the Kickstarter website, 44 percent of projects pitched on the site since its launch have achieved their funding goals.
While online fundraising has put a unique 21st-century twist on nurturing artistic talent, a note on the Kickstarter website points out that the idea of financing creative projects “democratically” isn’t new:
“Mozart, Beethoven, Whitman, Twain and other artists funded works in similar ways – not just with help from large patrons, but by soliciting money from smaller patrons … Kickstarter is an extension of this model, turbocharged by the web.”
While Kickstarter doesn’t endorse individual projects, it reminds potential donors that giving money to artists is “supporting their dream to create something.”
People who contribute receive fair warning that there’s no guarantee their money will be put to good use. Regardless of how much they pledge, the donors get no ownership in the project, though the project creators may offer perks as incentives to contribute. Supporters of a writer seeking to publish a book, for instance, might receive a copy of the finished work.
From the standpoint of the individual’s fundraiser, the biggest downside to receiving money through Kickstarter may be the risk of a damaged reputation. If a person accepts contributions toward a project and then fails to complete it or communicate with donors as to its progress, the artist’s professional image may be tarnished.
For those prepared to follow through, though, the Kickstarter experience seems almost magical.
Blanton, who had hoped to raise just enough money to pay for recording her jazz CD, figured she would deal with the manufacturing, distribution and promotional costs later. But by the end of her Kickstarter campaign, she had $60,000 in hand. Some 1,200 donors had made pledges ranging from $1 to $5,000.
“It was just beyond my wildest dreams,” she says.
Blanton says mounting the campaign “was a lot of work” and became a full-time job during the month of fundraising, as she communicated by email with every donor who sent her a question or asked to know more about her project.
A big part of her success likely stemmed from the time she spent making a charming video that became the foundation of her pitch. (See it at Kickstarter.com/projects/carsieblanton/jazz-is-for-everybody.)
Blanton thinks the video not only boosted her campaign, but may broaden her audience as well.
“I ended up getting a lot more traction from people who weren’t already familiar with my music,” she says, noting that support came from abroad and from U.S. cities where she hasn’t performed before.
Blanton, whose Kickstarter campaign ended in August, recorded her new CD at Music Shed Studios in New Orleans, backed by musicians including Ellis Marsalis and David Torkanowsky, who also arranged the tunes.
She hopes the album will be ready for a spring 2014 release, at which time she plans to promote it by going on tour. “By the end of my Kickstarter campaign, I had enough money to add a release tour with a full band,” she says.
Facts About Kickstarter
Funding data (as of Sept. 30, 2013)
Headquarters: New York, N.Y.
Number of staff: 70
Total dollars pledged to projects: $805 million
Number of projects funded: 49,200
Total pledges: 11,143,566
Total backers: 4,876,866
Repeat backers: 1,404,919
• Most successfully funded projects raise less than $10,000, but some have reached more than $100,000.
• Kickstarter-funded art works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial, the Kennedy Center, the Walker Art Center, the Smithsonian and the American Folk Art Museum.
• Roughly 10 percent of the films accepted by the 2012 Sundance, Tribeca and South by Southwest film festivals were funded on Kickstarter.
• Six Kickstarter-funded films have been nominated for Academy Awards. One of them, Inocente, received an Oscar in 2013.
• Amanda Palmer’s Kickstarter-funded album debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart in 2012.
• At least a dozen projects have launched objects into space.