Why The Opportunities On Kickstarter Are Real

image from blog.eliotsykes.com This is part two of my interview segment with Yancey Strickler, who is the co-founder of Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform for creativity. In this section, Strickler talks about his optimism for the future of music, why he and his staff don't even use the word crowdfunding, and how the $20 million that people have contibuted to projects has created real opportunities.

Hypebot: Not long ago, buying an album, a t-shirt, or concert ticket constituted as the only points of entry that enabled fans to support their favorite artists.

Are crowdfunding initiatives showing that many artists might be leaving money on the table when they engage in marketing campaigns and can tiered incentives counteract the devaluing of recorded music? 

Yancey Strickler: Kickstarter has certainly demonstrated that there's a better way. Imagine you could choose between getting $10,000 from a record company or $10,000 from 500 of your fans. The smart choice is the latter -- not only do you have the money but you have a community that's now personally invested in your success.  Money is often the least important thing that comes from a Kickstarter project. A Kickstarter project focuses your support around a common goal and let's you know exactly who your audience is.

You'll get their names and email addresses, and you'll have an open channel to communicate with them going forward. There's enormous value in that. All of that said, there are tremendous amounts of money involved.

Since we launched in April 2009, more than a quarter-million people have pledged over $20 million to Kickstarter projects. The opportunities are real.

Hypebot: Author and former Rolling Stone editor Fred Goodman is the proponent of the idea that if no one buys music and there's a lack of financial incentive to make music for the sake of making just music—that artists will no longer create.

Has your involvement in Kickstarter made you optimistic about the future of fan-funded music and do you have any fears about an age in which artists no longer have the incentives needed to produce music?  

Yancey Strickler:  It's important for artists to have the right kind of expectations. For my friends who are musicians the goal is simple: to not have a day job.

That's what success is. It's not selling a million records or getting on TV, it's carving out enough of an existence where the majority of your energy goes to creating art. That's a completely admirable goal, to be a working class artist. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's achievable.

It's about living life the way that you want. I'm absolutely optimistic that Kickstarter can make that more attainable. 

Hypebot: In his fantastic book Cognitive Surplus, social media commentator Clay Shirky writes, "What matters most now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us, individually and collectively is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward creativity, participation, and sharing." To me, this quote speaks volumes and gives insight into the future of the record and music industries in the digital age.

Do you think the opportunity before us—to recast the cultural industries in a new light and lay a more sustainable infrastructure—is enormous?

Yancey Strickler:  It has to start with the understanding that no one is going to do this for us. The future -- especially in these creative industries -- is completely self-determined. We are our own thought leaders and innovators, and we need to take cues from each other in developing whatever we want the future to be.

One of the foundations of any sustainable future for artists has to involve removing the barriers between artists and fans. The more direct we can make those relationships the better for everyone involved. Affinity is a very powerful thing: it builds a longer-lasting relationship, it makes connections that extend far beyond financial exchanges, and it points to a future that can exist without greater corporate interest. All of those things are very positive for both artists and audiences.  

What role will crowdfunding play in this new digital ecology and how will it help rebuild music culture online? What part is Kickstarter is going play and how will it be a part of the evolution of this ecosystem?

Yancey Strickler: What's interesting is that in all of our time working on Kickstarter I don't think we've ever had a conversation about crowdfunding. It's just a mechanism, a means to foster more creativity, to encourage everyone to think about art in a bigger way, to try to make the act of doing something creative less distant, more palatable.

I'm really proud of the work we've done. Kickstarter has already helped bring to life more than 3,000 projects, and there are thousands upon thousands more where those came from. They encompass every corner of the creative landscape: film, music, food, art, technology, comics, games, etc. There is both tremendous need and opportunity in all of these worlds.

There are millions of amazing people out there building things not because they want to be rich and famous, but simply because they want to see that idea in their head exist in the real world. It's a beautiful desire -- the purest of all -- and the reason why we created Kickstarter.


Are crowdfunding initiatives showing that many artists might be leaving money on the table when they engage in marketing campaigns and can tiered incentives counteract the devaluing of recorded music? 

Yancey Strickler:

Kickstarter has certainly demonstrated that there's a better way. Imagine you could choose between getting $10,000 from a record company or $10,000 from 500 of your fans. The smart choice is the latter -- not only do you have the money but you have a community that's now personally invested in your success.  Money is often the least important thing that comes from a Kickstarter project. A Kickstarter project focuses your support around a common goal and let's you know exactly who your audience is. You'll get their names and email addresses, and you'll have an open channel to communicate with them going forward. There's enormous value in that. All of that said, there are tremendous amounts of money involved. Since we launched in April 2009, more than a quarter-million people have pledged over $20 million to Kickstarter projects. The opportunities are real. 

Author and former Rolling Stone editor Fred Goodman is the proponent of the idea that if no one buys music and there's a lack of financial incentive to make music for the sake of making just music—that artists will no longer create it and find another way to make a living. To me, this perspective denies that presence of intrinsic motives. That aside from the aspirations to create a career of solely producing music, most artists are driven to create, as they have a deep conviction to direct their own lives, get better and better at something that matters, and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Beyond that, his viewpoint fails to consider that we're going through a process of disruption.

The role of cultural creators is simply changing.  Our notions of what it means to be a professional artist will have to adjust as a result. Regardless, music will continue to be made. Musicians will exist.

Has your involvement in Kickstarter made you optimistic about the future of fan-funded music and do you have any fears about an age in which artists no longer have the incentives needed to produce music?  

Yancey Strickler:  It's important for artists to have the right kind of expectations. For my friends who are musicians the goal is simple: to not have a day job. That's what success is. It's not selling a million records or getting on TV, it's carving out enough of an existence where the majority of your energy goes to creating art. That's a completely admirable goal, to be a working class artist. That's not an easy thing to do, but it's achievable. It's about living life the way that you want. I'm absolutely optimistic that Kickstarter can make that more attainable. 

In his fantastic book Cognitive Surplus, social media commentator Clay Shirky writes, "What matters most now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us, individually and collectively is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward creativity, participation, and sharing." To me, this quote speaks volumes and gives insight into the future of the record and music industries in the digital age.

Do you think that the opportunity before us—to rethink and recast the cultural industries in a new light and lay down a more sustainable infrastructure—is enormous and what do you imagine that it will take to forge a brighter path into the digital age for the record and music industries, as well as, the others?

Yancey Strickler:  It has to start with the understanding that no one is going to do this for us. The future -- especially in these creative industries -- is completely self-determined. We are our own thought leaders and innovators, and we need to take cues from each other in developing whatever we want the future to be. One of the foundations of any sustainable future for artists has to involve removing the barriers between artists and fans. The more direct we can make those relationships the better for everyone involved. Affinity is a very powerful thing: it builds a longer-lasting relationship, it makes connections that extend far beyond financial exchanges, and it points to a future that can exist without greater corporate interest. All of those things are very positive for both artists and audiences.  

The last decade in the record industry was underpinned by numerous technological and societal shifts, but the most predominate and unchanging trend is the great migration of the social ecology of music culture to the digital sphere as it becomes damaged and dismantled in the physical world. All is not lost, because a new, more chaotic ecosystem is emerging online and its core foundation is the interaction between fans and the artists that they love.

What role will crowdfunding play in this new digital ecology and how will it help rebuild music culture online? What part is Kickstarter is going play and how will it be a part of the evolution of this ecosystem?

Yancey Strickler: What's interesting is that in all of our time working on Kickstarter I don't think we've ever had a conversation about crowdfunding. It's just a mechanism, a means to foster more creativity, to encourage everyone to think about art in a bigger way, to try to make the act of doing something creative less distant, more palatable.

I'm really proud of the work we've done. Kickstarter has already helped bring to life more than 3,000 projects, and there are thousands upon thousands more where those came from. They encompass every corner of the creative landscape: film, music, food, art, technology, comics, games, etc. There is both tremendous need and opportunity in all of these worlds.

There are millions of amazing people out there building things not because they want to be rich and famous, but simply because they want to see that idea in their head exist in the real world. It's a beautiful desire -- the purest of all -- and the reason why we created Kickstarter.


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