guest column by Darren Keen
Does your band have 1,000 fans? When trying to fund professional recording sessions, the pressing of 1,000-2,000 CDs, and "expensive" (more on this later) tours, many bands are coming up short on funds, and turning to Kickstarter to help them fund their projects.
Kickstarter is a website that allows people who want to pretend they are rock stars, or famous movie directors, to raise money to fund future endeavors, soliciting a range of different donation levels. A band might say “We are trying to get $2,000 to go into the studio to record our album,” and have a scale where a $5 donation gets you the download, a $10 donation gets you a CD, $15 a CD/shirt package and on up. Many bands use the $100-$2,000 donation range to offer songs written for the donator, or exclusive one-on-one performances or lessons.
On the surface, this seems awesome, but I'm not sold on it. To me, this whole process supports people who are so blinded by their self love, that they can't see that they are just one mere artistic force in a sea of thousands of deserving voices. You know singers like this, who think that mitigating circumstances are always to blame for their lack of success. They are easy to spot because they are always saying things like, “We played good, but they sound guy sucked,” or “The crowd just wasn't giving us enough energy,” or “my name is Darren Keen, of The Show is the Rainbow.” Maybe the reason you're having trouble funding your album is because you are reaching too high too quickly.
If your band can't afford a two-week recording session at a $500/day studio with a great producer, it might be because you aren't ready to be doing that stuff yet. So, instead becoming a financial burden on your friends and family, you might be able to find a different way to record.
For $500, you could buy a Digidesign Mbox audio interface. I bought a MBox and made several albums on it that were good enough to help me tour Europe several times and the U.S. dozens of times. For years, I've wanted to make my own Midnight Vultures. There, I finally said it. I love Beck and I totally want to be him and I want all my music to sound like that fucking masterpiece of an album, but I can't. I am not talented in the same ways as Beck is talented. And I can't afford two months in the studio with the Dust Brothers. What I can do is try my best, with what I have.
When trying to fund your tour, instead of soliciting donations, you could play some local shows. We Nebraska bands have it easy. Because Lincoln and Omaha are so close, so you can play one city when you leave (a tour kickoff show) and the other when you get back (a homecoming show). That's assuming you have a following in both cities. And if you don't, maybe you shouldn't be touring at all, yet.
Bands asking for money for a tour is even more perplexing to me. Gas prices are through the fucking roof, but you should be getting gas money for your shows, usually. If you aren't willing to crash on people's floors, and eat cheaply on tour, then why should the burden fall upon the fans to donate to you? If you can't give up your day-to-day pleasures, and you think you need hotels and a nice van with all the comforts of home, then you are missing out on part of the great experience of touring.
Even though you are giving people a tour poster or a CD/download in trade for their money, you are still skipping the step of booking shows and selling them to fans at the show, which is an important, formative step. Will you really be ready for the audiences on tour if you haven't played out? Tour shows are very hit and miss: You are playing unfamiliar stages with new sound people. If you are lucky, some people might be there, but they probably have no clue who you are, and would rather be listening to the jukebox or dubstep. You might think you are ready, but the only way to truly be ready is to play shows, and to get comfortable being a band on a variety of stages.
This all brings me back to my first question … does your band have 1,000 fans? I recently have realized that, after eight years of hard work, my band probably has around 500 fans. I could write an entire column about what a “fan” is, but for the purpose of this piece, let's say it's someone who will come to your show, pay the cover and buy your new album, or someone who will seek out your album and buy it from a record store or website. Rap culture is often criticized for being superficial, but isn't it equally lame to think that your 3-5-year-old band needs to have the same treatment as Bright Eyes? Bright Eyes didn't have the same treatment he does now when he was only a few years into what he was doing.
Forging through the horrible sludge of getting your name out to people is the most beautiful, important thing bands do. It's how you shape your sound. It's how you find out what works and what doesn't. I believe it's how you truly find your voice, and your place in the art community, for better or worse. You might not like “where you're at” currently. But the way to a successful, sustainable career isn't by pretending you're something you aren't — it's forged by making great art and sharing it with people in a way that is special, that they appreciate. It's letting them learn about you, the artist, and who you really are — a person who has struggled and would let his or her life get ruined at least a little bit for their art.
You know, an artist.
*Keen releases a new The Show is the Rainbow LP and launches a 10-month honeymoon tour Friday, May 20 at the Bourbon Theatre, with Piss Poor, Powerful Science Grabass and Bentone. The show starts at 9 p.m. and costs $7.
Darren Keen has a lot of sci-fi tattoos and makes a lot of experimental electronic music. What's your take on Kickstarter? Tell Darren in the comments below.