We have several trite truisms for moments like these — you live and you learn; if you fall down, pick yourself back up again; if life gives you lemons then make lemonade — but seldom do these account for a strong internal compass. Recently, I decided to try my hand at Kickstarter with one of the strangest ideas I’ve ever dreamed up — which, as you know, is saying something. Though it has four days left and would only take 143 people to fully fund, as it stands my Kickstarter is failing quite miserably because of a basic miscalculation: I thought the rules I apply to everything else in my creative and professional life wouldn’t apply to Kickstarter.
I was wrong.
So here’s what I learned after living through 23 days of Kickstarter, soon to be 30 days — hopefully the lessons I’m learning as my Kickstarter is failing will help those of you who plan to use the platform in the future. Here’s me picking myself back up after having fallen. Here’s some lemonade:
Mystery has no place in a one-to-one business pitch. I know this, of course, and seldom actually fundraise or sell books based on mystery alone. However, I somehow thought Kickstarter enjoyed mystical immunity from the rules. Kickstarter definitely works one way and definitely does not work another: it works well when structured like the old As Seen on TV commercials. It works poorly when used like an Apple sales countdown or using the principles of viral marketing campaigns of the JJ Abrahms variety. I owe Richard Monson-Haefel for this insight and will be applying his wisdom to all future out-there ideas. As Don DeWelt used to say, “Teach an old idea in a new way or a new idea in an old way.” This was a bad case of a new idea sold in a new way — less than 1% of the people who watched the video inside Kickstarter have given. That tells me all I need to know.
A divided house cannot stand and neither can a divided business. While doing this Kickstarter, I’ve been in the middle of a capital campaign for my patrons. Ultimately, I should have waited — there’s simply too much communication coming out from me at the same time and people get mixed messages. If something has to go, it needs to be the Kickstarter and I’m happy to let it fail in order for my core business and relationships and art to succeed. This also kept me from making a big pitch: let’s be honest, $5k isn’t inspiring. $500,000k is inspiring. You know how I know this?
Don’t major in the minors. The album I was Kickstarting was written by a character in my forthcoming debut novel. The upside to this is that a lot of people are now excited for that novel. The downside to this is that very few people cared about the album. I will likely need to play shows under Mearcstapa for a good long while and try again much, much farther down the road. That and as a Redditor said release the novel first. Good and noble and true ideas have an infinite shelf-life. I believe that applies to this idea and the songs are already recorded — eventually there will be an audience for this thing, maybe when I’m sixty, and it’ll take next-to-nothing to finish production on the symphonic novella, so we’ll simply let it go into hibernation until demand climbs higher unless, of course, 143 people go grab a copy right now.
People need a personal connection. Part of the problem with my very mysterious intro video is that it removed me — the author and songwriter — from the people I care about and want to connect to. Only a handful of people know my music (some old college buddies, some people in NYC, and a dozen writers from a writer’s enclave). The other 8,000 or so know my fiction, my articles, my speaking, my work with intentional communities here in NYC, etc. In other words, even for those that realized I was writing an album from the perspective of one of my novel’s characters, I didn’t connected my face and name to the project so they had a huge apathy barrier to overcome.
Try before you buy. Honestly, the biggest piece was not having an EP or a Rockwood Live or something to direct people towards. Some sort of sample — playing the mystery card really, really shot me in the foot on this one. And this is where I’m going to have to get personal — in this project I learned about the handful of people who will support my work through thick and thin, through all vicissitudes. And I feel like even though the Kickstarter’s at 21% and probably won’t get to 100% before next Tuesday, I feel like I owe those early backers at least something beyond the sample of the reading and Even If:
So I decided to get really vulnerable and share a series of rough video recordings of these songs that grew out of my really painful 2015 as well as some of the stories behind them:
The good news?
My debut novel Faceless heads to the editor on June 27th and then the real fun begins.
THANK YOU for all of the support, even when I fail. You guys are the greatest — all 8,000 or so of you.