Photo by Thomas Stuby
Last fall, I spent twenty days in a Seattle studio making a record. I paid for it out of my own pocket and felt very good about how it turned out. I planned to release it on my own little label, Red Valise Recordings, as I had done with my two previous albums. But I was at the end of my resources financially, so I sat on it for a while trying to figure out how I would get the songs out to the people who were waiting to hear them.
I was in New York City to play some shows, having coffee with a friend of mine who works for a prominent indie label. We were discussing the somewhat dire straits the music industry has found itself in of late, especially concerning record sales. Where had all the money gone? Where would it be found again? Major corporations were struggling on a different level than I, but we were all in the same boat, the big difference being that my financial needs are much smaller than those of a major label. If people no longer buy records, how then will labels or independent artists pay to make them? It still costs money to make the ‘product,’ but the ‘product’ doesn’t generate a profit as directly as it used to, despite what seems to be an increase in demand.
The good news with my situation was that I already had a finished work. The songs were there, the record was ready. Still, if I didn’t do anything with it, it would end up a tree falling in a forest. “It doesn’t matter how good your record is, if no one hears it,” my friend said. Then he suggested I look into Kickstarter.com.
I am not one to ask for money. I don’t expect handouts, I don’t feel a sense of entitlement. I am just like anyone else trying to do what I do. It happens that I write songs and play shows and make records and so most everything in my life is geared towards that specific pursuit. I have considered doing other more profitable or pragmatic things, but with every new song and every new show comes renewed purpose and resolve.
Kickstarter.com is a platform for arts related ventures. It allows artists of different trades to propose projects, set goals, and connect with fans, friends and supporters to fund their projects. I was intrigued by this idea as it reminded me of the old patrons of the arts model, only in a more modern democratic framework. Anyone and everyone could become involved in bankrolling a project. I would ask my fans and friends to act as my label. If this record was meant to be released, if people wanted to hear it, they could now become involved in making that possible.
I called my project “Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is” and I hoped that maybe just maybe some people’s hearts would be in supporting independent music. I made a video explaining where I was at with my new record, why I needed help releasing it, what I would do with the money, and what I would give backers in return for their support. Within a week, I was halfway to my $5,000 goal and in less than four we had met and exceeded it. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed at the generosity of what would become over sixty-some backers.
Working with Kickstarter.com to release my album made every move in the process that much more important, from choosing the manufacturing house to make the CDs, to finding the most cost effective way to promote the release, to planning the tour that would support it. I feel 100 times more accountable knowing that people like me and you have thrown down some serious cash, because they believe in the songs, in the music, and in me.
It’s about community. I just played an amazing outdoor house concert in my hometown of Akron, Ohio to celebrate the success of our Kickstarter project. Looking out at all the faces familiar, and new, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy knowing that these people care enough to give 30, 50, even 500 dollars to see the dream of this record become a reality.
Before Kickstarter, I was okay with the idea of being an independent artist, though at times I considered it more a curse than a blessing. Throughout the course of this project, I have become convinced that I am exactly where I need to be. I am among friends.
Kate's record, White Horses, will be released on June 29th.