There are two ways to look at the exploding array of services (Kickstarter, I Critique U, Immitter, etc) available on the Internet. On the one hand, artists can be optimistic and embrace them as potentially revolutionary opportunities for their careers. On the other, artists can regard them with skepticism, as bright ideas that work better in theory than practice.
The latter view is understandable. It’s not like the cover stories on Spin or Guitar Player are using these services (yet), so it’s tough to see them as legitimate stepping stones on the path to success. But if bands like the Loom are any indication, sites like Kickstarter are here to stay because they really do work. Brooklyn-based folk sextet The Loom recently used Kickstarter to raise money to record their debut album. Unsure of what they were getting themselves into, they set up a campaign with a modest goal of $2500 and crossed their fingers. What happened exceeded their wildest expectations. I got Jon Alvarez, the band’s drummer, on the phone to discuss their experience, what led them to Kickstarter, and potluck dinners, and here’s what happened.
I want to begin by talking about your debut EP, which was the first thing your band ever released. Not only did the Boston Globe review it, but a couple of its songs were licensed. How did you get so much attention for a self-released EP?
When we released it, we also did a little bit of a PR push with it, which really helped us out a lot.
With an agency?
With an agency, yeah. Basically, our strategy around that time, and also now, is to play a lot of shows, just as many shows as we can play. Not just in New York, but throughout the northeast: Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, you know, playing shows and spreading the word. John, our lead singer, used to work in PR, so that really helps us out too. [laughs] It’s been a combination of DIY resources, and working outside ourselves.
It’s interesting, though, because with all that buzz, you probably could’ve found a label willing to help you record this album. Why did you decide to use Kickstarter instead?
Our strategy for the record still is to get it released through a label, but we thought that the best way to sell a record to a label is to sell the finished product as opposed to an idea that’s in formulation. So rather than shopping demos, which we did for a little bit, we just decided, “Let’s not wait to record an album, let’s just do it ourselves, and that’ll make our record even more marketable,” or whatever.
So when you came up with this idea, did you consider alternatives, things like Sellaband? Why did you use Kickstarter?
Well, we’re friends with one of the staff members at Kickstarter, just someone we met through a mutual friend. And also, we played with the Rural Alberta Advantage before, and another one of the staff members used to work at eMusic, which has a connection to R.A.A. as well, so just through mutual connections. It was in the beta version when it first came on our radar, so we were one of the first few hundred bands to post a project on Kickstarter. It was just through personal connections that we found it. We actually didn’t do a lot of research. just because of the personal connection and because it was really user-friendly, in our experience, and because we’d seen other projects were successful using it…
You felt like you could trust it.
Exactly. And also, the Rural Alberta Advantage had recently completed a project using it, so that gave us a lot of confidence and got us thinking, “If they can do it, so can we.”
Getting into the campaign itself, how did you figure out what to put in the pricing tiers? And also, if someone had actually bid on the potluck dinner, what would you guys have cooked?
[laughs] That’s a good question. I kind of wish they had! A lot of people in the band actually love to cook, and we probably would have had a big barbecue. We actually did have a separate barbecue fundraiser for the album, which was also really successful. Just a really good time, and it raised a lot of money.
In terms of the tiers, we took some notes off of what other bands had done, but at the same time we wanted to do our own thing. We just figured people like material stuff [laughs], so we thought, “Let’s make a t-shirt.” So we designed our own t-shirts, one of the members in our band does lettering and artistry, so she’s doing the limited edition hand-illustrated sleeve and booklet we’re offering. We basically just tapped into our own talents and the people in our band. We just wanted to get a balance between charging enough to raise the final amount and we didn’t want to charge too much to where we couldn’t include everybody.
It does sound like you guys were in a good spot to do this, as a band: you’ve got people who like to cook, you’ve got artisans, you’re renaissance men! Do you think this would’ve been harder to do without all those skills?
Absolutely. It’s all about resourcing with the talents that we have. That’s one of the people that helps about having six people in a band! [laughs] Just through sheer numbers…but everybody has other talents. That’s been really helpful.
Even though this sounds like it was really successful for you, if you could go back and do this all over again, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
That’s a good question. I think we’re super happy about how it went. Maybe the one thing we were totally shocked and humbled by was people’s generosity. Our initial goal was $2500, and what we wound up with was $4165, almost double what we’d asked for. There were people who just came out of the woodwork, people that we still, to this day, haven’t met, and that was really cool too. It wasn’t just friends, it was fans. So if we could do this again, maybe we’d set the bar a little higher. We weren’t sure we’d get to $2500, and then we blew past that in our first week. And it really helps, because it enables us to put the extra money towards things like mixing and mastering.
One final weird thing. on your campaign’s page, there’s a tally of how much money you raised, and how many people contributed at whichever tier, but the math doesn’t work. What’s the story with that?
That just gets back to people’s generosity. You can pledge more than the amount for what you’re getting, and you can also just pledge, without a tier in mind.
So you got more than half your money from stuff like that?
Exactly! For example, you could pledge $100 for the $10 pledge.
I see what you mean when you called the experience “humbling.”
Yeah, and the funny thing is, there were one or two that were around the $300 or $400 mark, and we totally would’ve done a potluck for them [laughs], they just didn’t ask for it!
They missed out. So what’s the latest with your record?
It’s completely done. It’s recorded, mixed, mastered, it’s even gone off to the pressing plants, we’ve got the masters, everything. The artwork is being done by DM Stith, who’s on Asthmatic Kitty? he’s awesome. So we’re super-excited about it being done, but the album’s not officially released. We’re keeping it close to ourselves in the efforts to find a label that will release it. That’s our campaign right now: doing outreach and trying to find a label we can partner with.