Kickstarter Kicks DIY to the Curb | Darren Keen

Posted by Andrew Norman on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 1:22pm in column, darren keen, kickstarter, music, nebraska, the show is the rainbow

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.



Jordan on Thu, 05/19/2011 - 2:05pm

Great insight from DK

I agree with Darren. I care, because I also love Nebraska bands.

I think this column is insightful, especially to less-established, up-and-coming bands. You can't jump the gun, whether it's touring or making an album.

Collin, I find your comment to be asinine, especially since you happen to be in a lesser-established local band that has never been on tour before. Don't tell me that what's being said in this column does not apply to you, because it does, with or without Kickstarter.     

darren keen on Thu, 05/19/2011 - 7:26am

well colinp...

I care. I really love Nebraska bands, and believe in them. I want to see everyone succeed, and maybe I'm right, maybe I'm wrong, but I'm going to at least TRY and share what I've learned in my 8 1/2 years of touring.

But, it IS just my opinion, so it's ok to disagree for sure!

collinp on Thu, 05/19/2011 - 1:35am

who honestly cares

who honestly cares

brendan g-w on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 3:58pm

golf clap

Well put DK. 

Get on the road. Play some shows. Make some money. Write good songs so people buy them. Use that money to record better songs. Rinse. Repeat. 

Joshomaha on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 3:31pm

More Power to Ya

I agree that if bands aren't playing live in every corner of their own locale BEFORE they decide to go on tour, it seems a bit disingenuous to start asking fans for money to fund something that may not even have an audience beyond the people funding it. However, $2000 can be the difference between sleeping on floors and getting a hotel on a small tour. Although couch-surfing was a full time occupation for me at one point in time, there's no way I would be able to talk my wife into it if we decided to hit the road for a tour! Some band members just have less tolerance for that kind of living than others. The trade-off is the art may seem more plastic and out of touch.

There's definitely something honest and "real" about artists who begin humbly and are willing to do whatever it takes to spread their music. Most of my favorite bands are the ones that have gone through hell and back to become successful. Part of what makes their music so good is that it seeps "real life". Over time, many of the most famous bands' music becomes less and less about what made them famous in the first place simply because their life no longer contains all of the strain and strife that was echoed in their music when they started out. 

No matter what our personal feelings and tastes are, not all musicians are targeting us specifically. The fact is that bands these days are each a small business and everyone is going to do things a bit differently. I say, let them raise money however they want. I just hope bands don't start writing songs about Kickstarter. 

Great article!

caster8 on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 3:17pm

Not that familiar with

Not that familiar with Kickstarter, but I think you are right on about the "beautiful, important" part of hitting the road and "forging through".  You can feel an almost imperceptible pulse in the music of the true, road warrior bands/artists.  You can't "kick-start" the loyalty of the people that will be at every basement, bar and backyard of the bands that they really dig.

Also, I had a nice big chuckle reading your third paragraph.  And my hearnebraska password is tough to remember.




Soto Guy on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 2:54pm

Vision & Passion


That is a great critical look at how Kickstarter can be exploited. I still believe it is an awesome way for bands to start up. With CD sales nonexistent & Labels more broke than the artists, this is a great way for fans to directly fund the band they love, plus see an actual manifestation of their donation. It is up to the artist whether or not they squander that monetary love, but if the vision is clear & the passion is fiery, may my $100 launch a thousand tours.

Spike_Jordan on Wed, 05/18/2011 - 2:03pm

Holds true on the east end I guess...

I can agree: Bands need to make sacrifices to do the things they are passionate about, otherwise they end up appearing crass, self centered, and ultimately: undeserving of notoriety and fanbase. 

Embrace more of the "Black Flag: Get In The Van" and less of the "Decline of Western Civilization II".  Success in this day and age does not occur overnight.

In an area with a well established scene like Lincoln/Omaha it is rather irksome to see "gimme gimme" attitudes like that amongst bands who are trying to speed up the natural progression of what has been conventionalized as the "path to success." 

If you can score a venue to play every other weekend or at least once a month in either Lincoln or Omaha, then in my mind you can't complain. If you think you have it hard playing shows there or making it by on your cut of the cover, I invite you to venture out here to the panhandle and try to tour back out across the state.