What's the incentive, Kickstarter?

Posted by Kevin Warwick on Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 5:07 PM

Murder by Death, ready to meet you along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
  • Greg Whitaker
  • Murder by Death, ready to meet you along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Editors' note: This post was expanded and reformatted for the September 6, 2012, issue of the Reader. The following is the amended version as it appears in the print issue.

I'm pretty wary of Kickstarter. For every outlandish but fascinating tech campaign—the Bonobo Chat app, for instance, would've allowed translated communication with bonobos via lexigram, so that you could be shooting the breeze with great apes from a specialized Internet-connected keyboard right now—there are dozens of modest Kickstarters that ultimately add up to little more than the shuffling and reshuffling of money among friends and acquaintances, never bringing in any significant resources from outside the group.

This seems to happen quite a bit with the funding of albums. As an aspiring crotchety naysayer—one who bumbled his way through a number of bands in his teens and 20s—I've always figured that if you don't have sufficient funds to put out your unsigned band's debut, then you work a few more hours stocking shelves at Trader Joe's, or you deliver a dozen or so extra pizzas a week. Simple enough. Using Kickstarter can come off as an icky way to guilt friends into contributing cash to a piece of music they know full well doesn't deserve to see the light of day. And if they feel obligated to buy the album once it comes out—assuming they don't get a copy gratis for making a Kickstarter pledge—then that completes its closed (and warped) circle of life.

What often makes the difference between a band Kickstarter that's worthwhile and intriguing and one that tries everybody's patience is the choice of incentives—and I'm not talking about guest-list treatment at a CD-release show or a rag-ready extra-large T-shirt. I'm talking about outrageous, even fantastical stuff. If you want me to donate $20, $100, or even (gasp!) $1,000, the selfish part of me will wonder what I get out of it, other than the knowledge that I helped support someone's grandiose artistic vision.

Kickstarters for certain kinds of start-ups can offer intriguing lifetime-membership opportunities. When Pipeworks Brewing launched its Kickstarter in 2010, the local brewery included a "Friends With Benefits" program that gave donors of $100 or more special privileges for life—they can reserve bottle allotments of every single Pipeworks release (even small batches), rather than hoping to track the beers down before they disappear from store shelves. And bands have understood for a long time how important it is to make their devoted followers feel like part of a secret society—something a little more exclusive than a garden-variety fan club. In the early 90s, nearly two decades before Kickstarter, Rocket From the Crypt offered free admission to any and all of their shows in perpetuity (contingent on the venue permitting it) to anyone showing off an RFTC tattoo.

Bands that have the means (that is, bands that are popular enough—independently wealthy musicians don't need Kickstarter in the first place) can and will go much further than RFTC to induce their fans to help fund an album. After all, they're asking for money, not just an inked-on display of loyalty. The pleas can be hokey, overblown, inventive, or even all three at once. Late last year Five Iron Frenzy launched a Kickstarter that promised, among other weird gifts, a two-hour guitar lesson (pledges of $750 or more) and a date with the band consisting of dinner and mini golf ($1,500 or more). The campaign eventually took in more than 200 grand, and ranks second on the all-time list of band Kickstarters—well behind Amanda Palmer's incredible $1.2 million—because people apparently love Christian ska way more than I can fathom.

Murder by Death from Bloomington, Indiana, closed a campaign on August 10 that didn't top Five Iron Frenzy in terms of funds raised—they finished about 20 grand behind, taking third place—but blew it away in creativity and ridiculousness. To pay for a deluxe vinyl version of the upcoming Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon, the indie-rock ensemble went overboard with the incentives—they even included a "Golden Ticket" (at the $500 level) that works just like those old Rocket From the Crypt tattoos. This is only a partial, edited list of the premiums on the band's Kickstarter page—and most also include a copy of the limited-edition vinyl:

Pledge $100 or more

MBD WHISKEY CREW. — Any pledges over $100 and you become a member of the Murder by Death Whiskey Crew. Get a sweet-ass MBD gang patch. If you show up wearing your colors at an MBD show, you will be pleased to see the perks you will receive at the merch table. Plus look fuckin' rad.

Pledge $100 or more

POSTCARD CLUB! — Once a tour we will send you a postcard from the road. Fun! If you want to add this to an already existing pledge, just add $100. Doesn't come with anything else.

Pledge $250 or more

ONE-YEAR SUBSCRIPTION TO THE MBD BOOK CLUB. — Once a month receive some recommended reading from MBD. Each book will contain an inscription from a member of the band describing why they love the book. We will throw in fun other goodies now and then too.

Pledge $750 or more

OUR DRUMMER DAGAN WILL GET A TATTOO OF ANYTHING YOU WANT. — Yep. Obviously nothing hateful though. Maybe it's a heart with your name in it. Maybe it's your face. Maybe it's a kangaroo drinking a martini whilst playing basketball. I dunno. He's got a sense of humor. Maybe you do too.

Pledge $1,000 or more

MBD COVERS ANY SONG YOU REQUEST. — You pick the song. We cover it for you in a studio recording done at Farm Fresh Studios in Bloomington, Indiana. We will also hand-make a CD case for you and give you the only copy of it. The digital will be online for others to hear, but you have the only copy!

Pledge $4,000 or more

MBD WILL PERFORM IN YOUR LIVING ROOM/BASEMENT ETC in the USA (travel costs included in fee). — MBD will come to perform at your house for a show with your friends. Or for just you. Whatever. It will most likely be acoustic as to avoid the interference of the law. This fee is for anywhere in the USA. We will try to do the shows as soon as possible, and would like to do 'em sooner rather than later, but promise to do it (on a date we agree on together) before the end of 2013.

Pledge $4,001 or more

MBD WILL FLY YOU AND A FRIEND TO CEDAR POINT AMUSEMENT PARK AND RIDE ROLLER COASTERS ALL DAY WITH YOU. — You and a friend will go to the greatest roller coaster park in the world with MBD. You'll get photos of us all looking amazed at how rad the Top Thrill Dragster is. We will throw hoops around milk bottles and play the shit out of skee-ball. We will dish out whatever we can think of. It's the vacation you always wanted as a kid, with your favorite band.

Pledge $6,500 or more

MBD KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL BLOWOUT. — You and a friend get to go on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with MBD, touring our favorite whiskey distilleries in a badass limo. You'll fly into Louisville, Kentucky, and stay at 21C (one of the finest hotels in Louisville) and eat at their amazing restaurant, Proof, with the band. A photographer will join you, documenting this bacchanalian feast, and will print up a hardcover book of the best photos as a keepsake.

I'm not quite into goth-tinted indie-rock bands with cello players and orchestral accents, so I've never paid much attention to Murder by Death—aside from noting that they apparently play half the street festivals in Chicago every year. So when I got a PR e-mail a couple weeks back with the subject line "Murder by Death Become the Third Highest-Funded Music Project on Kickstarter," my first inclination was to hate. I was irked that a relatively successful band had used the site to milk its fans of money it knew they would willingly give up. If you want to release a fancy, die-cut-packaged, "speckled-moon" piece of vinyl, either figure out how to make it happen yourself, or release a boring, regular piece of vinyl—it'll sell, I swear.

But after seeing the extremes to which Murder by Death took the campaign—offering 34 pledge options and including house shows and vacations in the incentives—I changed my mind. I can't help but admire Murder by Death's wild imagination, despite how stupidly expensive the best options are (someone did qualify for the Cedar Point excursion, though). Even fans (and potential fans) who can't afford any of the best premiums can bond with the band just because the descriptions sound like the kind of cool stuff that somebody they'd want to hang out with might think of—which can only help rally a bigger audience in the long run. I just added "touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in a badass limo" to my bucket list, that's for sure.

I'll probably always be a little iffy on Kickstarter, but if the goal is to use imaginative or peculiar means to help donors (and fans) feel involved in the band's history—while in the process raising money to produce something substantial—I think I can back that.

Comments (24)

Showing 1-24 of 24

The world needs Kickstopper more.

report 4 likes, 7 dislikes   
Posted by Bitter McGripealot on 08/28/2012 at 10:48 AM

Fuck you for the five iron comment. You have no idea what that bands means to people. Do some fucking research.

report 39 likes, 9 dislikes   
Posted by acomment on 09/09/2012 at 8:46 PM

Brought Five Iron back from retirement. FIF fans roll deep.

report 63 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Cameron Williamson on 09/09/2012 at 8:47 PM

Five Iron is so much more than Christian Ska. They were a light in the wilderness and a token of everything that Christian music could have been. You. Right there. You started to smirk when I said, "Christian music." That is because so much of it is terrible yet ubiquitous. Listen to an FIF record. Listen to the lyrics.

report 55 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Ben Mordecai on 09/09/2012 at 8:54 PM

its obvious that you know nothing about the music industry and being a musician. kickstarter is a great idea because it lets the fans take the place of the record label, if the fans want new music, they fund it instead of the label and then that way the bands are not in debit to the label. its basically a big pre-order. being in a band is VERY expensive. studio time, merch, keeping a tour bus, gas for the tour bus, gear, plus they have to pay their own bills and feed their families so saying bands are wealthy enough and dont need this type of support is bullsh*t.

p.s that band Five Iron Frenzy makes awesome music, just because they are christian doesn't mean that cant make good music that everyone can enjoy. im not a Christan and i love that band.

report 35 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by anon on 09/09/2012 at 9:00 PM

Sound like a pretentious asshole much? Let me guess, your Hipster girlfriend broke your heart by going lesbian? If people like something and you don't, you'll write articles based on the perspective of an asshat. OK, I get it now. Carry on.

report 7 likes, 6 dislikes   
Posted by blArgh! on 09/09/2012 at 9:02 PM

Ben Mordecai, Cameron Williamson and Ben Mordecai - couldn't agree more with all of you. FIF represents what the Christian music scene should have become. Instead it's become what it is today. Long live FIF!

report 25 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Tim Hosey on 09/09/2012 at 9:07 PM

I guess I don't see the need to needlessly bash on artists simply because you don't like them. If an indie Christian ska band of all things can pull in the second highest KS total for a band, then they should be commended for obviously doing something right.

report 32 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Matt Brown on 09/09/2012 at 9:08 PM

agreeing with this guy ^^ you're a bitter ingrown pube for not recognizing the obvious fact that that band evidently means the world to some people

report 7 likes, 4 dislikes   
Posted by chicagopeoplethinktheyareawesomebuttheysuckdonkeyballs on 09/09/2012 at 9:12 PM

Wow, this article doesnt read bitter at all! Jealous that a Christian Ska Band raised more money, had more people see them, and just generally has more fans than this paper, the author, or any of the authors failed bands? Why hate? Why not be happy for something so eclectic being so succesful? FIF has been around for almost 20 years now and has helped lots of people through all sorts of highs and lows.

Just be happy man, they would be for you. Have some #Dandelions on me and swing those arms and legs!

report 22 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Rusty Bryant on 09/09/2012 at 9:19 PM

This article isn't hateful or bitter. Ultimately the writer is saying that he can get behind Kickstarter as a way for bands to connect with their fans while they raise money to go on and play more music. Just look at the last line of the article. What was the Five Iron Frenzy Kickstarter campaign if not a way for the fans to show FIF how much we love them and how much we want to support them on the occasion of their re-birth? *We* know what FIF means to all the people their music has touched. Just because this writer can't fathom why Five Iron is awesome doesn't mean we need to give him an internet commentary beatdown.

report 9 likes, 2 dislikes   
Posted by Johnson 'n' Johnson on 09/09/2012 at 9:33 PM

"I like art, but not when it gets supported"
Really, what was the point of this article? Glad that the world now knows that their use of Kickstarter is justified by Mr. Warwick. I didn't realize "Christian ska" and "good music" had to be in separate categories, thanks for the clarification and my daily dose of ignorance.. I was afraid I might go to bed with some faith in humanity.

report 6 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Dylan on 09/09/2012 at 9:48 PM

Seriously, those Five Iron comments were way out of line. If you had ANY clue about that band, you would realize how much they meant to A LOT of people. Do yourself a favor and read a bit about Reese Roper. Then listen to some of their music. Come back when you're a little less ignorant.

report 7 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by hereswhyyousuck on 09/09/2012 at 9:56 PM

I know the author here may not know much about FIF, but they really do mean a lot to us fans. They are not just some run of the mill cookie cutter band, in it for fame or money. They are one of the rare bands that do it for the love of the message they are spreading, the love of the fans, and for just having fun. They dropped out for a few years because of burn out with the pressures of record labels, and I am grateful to kickstarter for giving them a means and a reason to come back. They would have had no desire or motivation to do so if they had to go back to a record label. If you understood how much people love this band, you would know that fans would have sponsored a comeback, even without incentives.

report 10 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Josh K Davis on 09/09/2012 at 10:21 PM

"Five Iron is so much more than Christian Ska."


report 7 likes, 3 dislikes   
Posted by FGFM on 09/09/2012 at 10:23 PM

Come on guys. Five Iron does not endorse flame wars, I'm sure. I totally see where this guy is coming from. Though personally, I don't see the "closed loop" for an artist as necessarily a problem. If an artist calculates how much money they need to make their album (and maybe how much they want to make off it), and can get it in advance from the fans on Kickstarter, that's great! It's a solution to the great Collective Action problems: how do you get people to band together to make something they want to happen happen? Collect the money in advance. After the album releases, if people want to share their mp3s they got for supporting the band, no big deal--the band already made the money they needed, and the rest can (hopefully) come from shows.

I'm not by any means a music industry expert, this is just the way I see it. But yes, ridiculous incentives are awesome, but the real incentive is simply this: one more album from our favorite band.

report 5 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Daniel Virden on 09/09/2012 at 10:38 PM

Lol, I love FIF. I think most of us should calm it down just a bit with bashing the basher of our favorite band, but I love the support, its so cool to see how undead FIF is. To add my two cents to defending Five Iron: They all have lives and needed money to justify taking time off work and normal life to make a new album. I thought their incentives were freakin’ awesome. Maybe not as awesome as the other, more crazy awesome incentive-giving band in the article, but I thought each prize was worth it. If a band can use Kickstarter to achieve what they need, they ought to go for it. It is a well known project-supporting site that provides an easy and confident way for all of us to support what interests us. Why pass on an opportunity to attain what you want? It is not a con or a bad thing; if you offer something and people choose to pay for it, it is because they have deemed it an equal exchange in some way.

report 2 likes, 0 dislikes   
Posted by Jesse Strode on 09/10/2012 at 12:43 AM

why dont you listen to band and judge them for what they are and sound like than judging them of a label you slapped on them. Kevin Warwick youre the biggest fucking loser in your medium for making the #1 biggest mistake

report 1 like, 4 dislikes   
Posted by sts on 09/10/2012 at 3:38 AM

You're just upset you didn't have Kickstarter when your crappy bands were around. Well jokes on you, because I'm going to support ALL the crappy bands out there.

P.S. FIF rulez

report 1 like, 0 dislikes   
Posted by umadwarwick? on 09/10/2012 at 8:30 AM

Mr. Warwick,

Kickstarter isn't a way of guilting friends and family into funding your half assed art project. We live in a time where art and artist are being recognized as things of importance, and people are willing to give a little to see someones vision come to life. Thats absolutely beautiful, and you would be able to see that if you had your head somewhere where you could see more than your own lower intestine. I have donated on kickstarter (not at a high level seeing as how I have very little money being an artist myself) knowing full well that I would not get any perks, but also knowing that I'm contributing to a richer artistic community. That's what it's about.

FIF got me through my teens. They also gave to hope to Christians, like me, that religious music doesn't have to suck balls, or preach, but simply be good music. So it's not just christian music. It's music that teaches you to love all people, love life, and to just have fun. It's because of things that I've learned from their music that I'm refraining from spilling some choice words.

Also… your first reaction is to hate on someone because they got a ton of funding on kickstarter? Really? Listen to "Handbook for the sellout" Five Iron Frenzy.

Posted by Sullivan P Slentz on 09/10/2012 at 9:35 AM

You know what i got to do because of five iron's kickstarter? Fly to denver and see their reunion show with a few hundred other people. You know what someone else got to do? Give the lead singer a wedgie on stage :) i thought their incentives were fantasic and endearing. Long live the undead!

Posted by Isaac Gilkinson on 09/10/2012 at 10:35 AM

So you know this Warwick guy didn't actually hate on FIF, right? It's too bad, though, because there is always room for hating on ska bands, especially of the Christian sort. Based on the comments here FIF fans seem like the worst kind of fans, what a bunch of turds.

report 0 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Skank for Christ on 09/10/2012 at 3:26 PM

I hear David Cassidy is financing his next tour with Kickstarter.

Posted by BlahBlah on 09/10/2012 at 5:11 PM

Is there any truth to the rumor that Five Iron Frenzy's new album will be titled "Christian Ska Up Your Ass?"

report 3 likes, 3 dislikes   
Posted by FGFM on 09/10/2012 at 6:01 PM
Showing 1-24 of 24

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