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How I Made $13,544 In A Month (on Kickstarter)


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Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.
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You may have heard the Amanda Palmer story on how she made $19,000 in 10 hours (3 years before her $1.2 million Kickstarter) on Twitter. Or maybe you haven’t, but it’s quite impressive. But the thing that always bugs me about these stories – especially when they’re titled “Indie musician Amanda Palmer…” – is that even though she’s TECHNICALLY “indie” she used to be part of the system and on a major label and did massive tours funded by the label and had a huge team. It gives false hope to the true “indie” artists who never had a team or never had a hit or a label pouring millions into their career.

Don’t get me wrong, Amanda Palmer is an inspiration and I backed her Kickstarter campaign, but it’s hard to model her success and translate it to the average indie band with a decent (or local) fanbase. She did an incredible job keeping her existing fans engaged over the years when her label wouldn’t and because of that she brought them with her when she left her label.

They say it takes 1,000 true fans to sustain a career. A “true fan” is someone who is willing to spend $100 a year on you. If you do the math (I’ll wait for you to grab your calculator), that’s $100,000 gross income. Not bad. After expenses, it’s upper-middle class. We should be so lucky as musicians. From Amanda’s Kickstarter campaign, you’ll see she has WAY more than 1,000 true fans. From my Kickstarter you’ll see I have less, but I leveraged my existing fans to make $13,544 in one month.

So many musicians see success stories on Kickstarter and think “man all I need to do is put up a video (maybe) and come up with a couple rewards and I’ll make a SHIT TON OF MONEY! So easy!” Well, it’s a little bit more involved.

How did I do it? Well, for starters I spent a full month of doing nothing but preparing the Kickstarter launch. A full month not touring, not performing, not practicing (much), not going out partying, not drinking, etc. I’m no saint. It was hard fucking work. I worked with a couple close friends (I don’t have a band to bounce ideas off) and put the campaign together.

The Campaign
Like an album release, a Kickstarter launch is a full-fledged campaign and should be looked to as such. Everything online should reflect the campaign. We came up with a title for the campaign that was unique to what I do (Help Build the Loop – because most people know me as a looping artist) we came up with a background color/design theme that was used everywhere (my website, twitter, Facebook, tumblr, etc), did a photo shoot released at the launch, wrote a video script, shot a HIGH QUALITY video (in HD), got together a to-do list of things I would do during the campaign to keep it fresh and to be constantly releasing new content (weekly cover song videos, weekly streaming sessions from inside the studio, Facebook/Twitter sharing/RTing contests, demos of new songs for backers, etc) and pointed everything online (and off) to the Kickstarter page.
+It Doesn’t Take a Web Genius

The Rewards
I don’t care how big your fan base is, if you don’t go about this right, you won’t reach your goal. There are (unfortunately) tons of examples on Kickstarter of musicians (and some have MASSIVE fan bases) with half-assed videos and unattractive rewards who never reach their goal. If you haven’t gotten it from my other posts, it takes hard work to succeed in the music biz. You can’t cut corners on anything you do – especially not Kickstarter. I spent a long time coming up with the rewards, bouncing the ideas off friends and only used rewards that seemed exciting, enticing and things that people (I) would actually want.

+Who Is Ari

Your backers aren’t an elusive group of random nobodies from around the globe, they will most likely be people you know personally, have hung out with and are your biggest supporters who have come to multiple concerts. You must tailor your rewards to them. Too many musicians create unoriginal rewards that may have been cool in the 90s to them if their favorite (superstar) band was running this kind of thing, but today, you have to understand who you are targeting. These are YOUR friends and fans, you should know them best. If your music is about partying, then create an “exclusive YOUR BAND NAME Party Package” containing a 40 minute dance mix of your songs remixed along with confetti, Beer pong cups with each one signed by the band and a party hat.
+Double Your Income…No Really

Create MANY rewards. It looks like you didn’t put any effort into your project if you have 5 unoriginal rewards. I would say you must have a minimum of 12 rewards. Create high dollar amounts even if you think there’s no way anyone will give you that much. Someone might! Maybe your aunt, maybe a friend from high school who you haven’t spoken to in years but has been following your career and is proud of you and is now an investment banker and finally has found a way to really help you out. Make it an option to be rewarded for a $1,000 pledge and a $5,000 pledge. Even though technically you can pledge any amount on Kickstarter, most people don’t know this and will only pledge amounts for which there are rewards.

Utilize your unique talents for the rewards. If one band member creates spray painted Tshirts then have that as one of the rewards. Why it’s going to be cool to be YOUR backer and not a backer of all the other bands running simultaneous Kickstarter campaigns is they get something that is unique to you and that they can’t get anywhere else. You have to be more creative than “get the album a month before it’s released with your name in the liner notes.” Sure, that can be one reward, but that should be the least interesting one.

You are creative people, get creative!

The Launch
This is the biggest day of your year. You should spend the week before leading up to this: getting your base excited for “something really big coming this Friday.” Rally them back up. Maybe you’ve been quiet for awhile. Re-engage! You should clear your schedule this day (and possibly a couple days after it). Take off work. Stay home with the band and do nothing but get the word out, all at once, about your Kickstarter. Answer any questions people have immediately. Rally everyone online and get that momentum going. You will most likely raise 1/3-1/2 of your goal in the first week. This is an extremely important week!
+How I Got 250 To My Debut CD Release

The Video
This is the most important part of your Kickstarter. The success rates for projects with and without videos are highly weighted on those with videos (as you would imagine). Plan this out. Find a good camera. Get lights. Write a creative script. Rehearse it. Use your creative talents to make this video unlike all the other ones out there. If you have any hope of penetrating the general Kickstarter community, your video needs to stand out amongst the rest.

Don’t Forget the Link
Every time you mention anything regarding your Kickstarter campaign you must include the link. This is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. Don’t assume people are going to track down the link or take the time to go to and search for your project. Especially if they missed the past 5 posts about it with the link. If this is the only post/tweet they see and there’s no link they won’t check it out. Maybe they’ve seen all the posts about it and have ignored it and they see this post and are finally pushed enough to check it out and there’s no link, you just lost a backer. You cannot post the link enough. Don’t make people work to find your Kickstarter page.
+It Doesn’t Take a Web Genius

The Interim
The slowest part of your campaign will be week 2 through a week before your last. There’s not the urgency like there is at the end and not the initial excitement like at the beginning. So, to keep the dollars flowing and to keep people excited you need to come up with reasons for people to pledge TODAY. I ran contests on Facebook like “everyone who pledges before midnight tonight I will record a personal video for you and post it to your wall.” That worked like a fucking charm. I believe over 40 people pledged because of that and I spent the next couple days on their damn videos.

Keep the content flowing – not just the requests for people to donate. If you keep putting up videos and releasing new songs (for backers in the Updates section) then non-backers will be inspired to get involved and be a part of the process and thank you for all the new content they are enjoying.

We’re In It Together
In everything you do with the campaign, your angle should be that “we’re in this together.” Succeed or fail. And not just with the campaign. Make them believe they are part of the next phase of your career. This IS the next phase and will turn into you reaching the next level. Invite them to join you for this. It’s not begging. You want them to feel like they are a part of the process. Invite them into the studio (via the webcam), ask them for lyric help on lines you’re struggling with (maybe vote on a line or two –I did this and worked very well). Ask them their honest thoughts on an idea you have: “Should I turn this into a song? Do you like anything about this.” Keep them engaged and treat them like they are a part of your team.

Don’t Beg
You can’t look at the campaign like your backers are doing you favors because then it will turn into you begging and you will put on an air that you don’t deserve this. Thank your backers profusely, but keep it exciting and uplifting. Positivity is key. Use phrases like “We just made it to our halfway point! You guys are amazing. We’re actually doing this. We’re going to make this album kickass together. I have a demo of a new song I want your opinion on in the Backer updates. If you haven’t backed, do it now and help me with this new song.” It gives it urgency and makes it enticing, but doesn’t beg.

Passive Backers
Understand that you will have active supporters who will comment on every post you make, but you will also have many passive backers who will pledge to support you and then unsubscribe from your emails and don’t really care to hear about it again until they receive the album in the mail. You have to respect them too and invite those people to pledge. Get them to pledge by saying that they are “pre-ordering” your album. Make it black and white. Sell them on why it’s beneficial to them to pledge. They may not care to necessarily be “a part of the process” but maybe they just enjoy your music and are excited about a new album. They’ll pledge to get a discount on it and to get it early. Come up with rewards for these people and post some statuses on Facebook and some tweets that target these people. Don’t assume everyone who backs will be following every word you say and are as excited about this project as you and your mom are.

Time Frame
Don’t make the time frame too long. Kickstarter has said the most successful projects are 30 days long. They say a longer time frame makes people lose interest and moreover when they check your project out they don’t feel a sense of urgency. You don’t want this to drag on. If you do your job right, no one who wants to pledge won’t know about it when the 30 days are up.

Get Annoying
This is the one time in your career that you have a right and SHOULD get annoying through all your online mediums. Tweet about it all the time. Make everything you do about this campaign. This is the next phase of your journey; the biggest thing in your life and your career at the moment. It’s only 1 month of annoyance and people will understand. Pledge drives are annoying, yes, (if you’re an NPR junkie like me you’ll understand) but necessary. Remember not all of your Facebook friends will see the launch post about it. They may not even see 80% of your posts about it, but then they’ll get a glimpse at one post and may be intrigued, but then will forget about it. They need to be constantly reminded. Maybe they’ll ignore it the first 5 times they see a post about it, but by the 6th post they’ll check it out and maybe it’ll be the 10th post they’ll actually pledge. Don’t get discouraged because your mom says “maybe you’re being a little annoying with it. Reduce the frequency a bit.” She checks your page out every time she logs onto Facebook. She is not a good sampling of all of your friends or fans.

About halfway through the campaign when pledges started to slow, I started getting very nervous. I started writing personal messages to friends, family, former co-workers and big fans who I’m friends with on Facebook and have been to multiple concerts of mine and knew would get into this. This works very well. Personalize the message: “How’s Teddy and Bar Mitzvah prep” whatever. Spend a couple days doing this. Yeah it’s annoying for you but if you get $1,000 extra out of it for two days of hard work – well that’s better than any day job out there.

Pick a Realistic Goal
If you’ve only played your local market and have less than 1,000 Facebook fans you probably don’t want to set your goal at $10,000. Remember you can always raise more money than the goal, BUT if you don’t reach your goal you get 0. Nada. Zip. That’s how Kickstarter works. So make sure you set a goal you will reach. You want to set it high enough so people will help you work for it and spread it around. Once the goal is reached people seem less willing to help spread it because it doesn’t seem as necessary. But make sure you set the goal high enough to be able to pay for what you are promising. Also remember that Kickstarter/Amazon will take 10% of everything you raise.

Make A Budget BEFORE The Launch

I learned this the hard way. I promised for the $125 package, a vinyl album. I didn’t do my research to see what the actual costs to create a vinyl are before I launched my campaign. I discovered that unless I get quite scrappy with the vinyl production, I would have to spend about 1/3 of my entire Kickstarter income just to create the vinyl! You can imagine the horror and the feeling in my belly when I discovered this. You don’t want to set the goal too high that you don’t reach it, but you have to raise enough to actually deliver on what you are promising without going homeless. Don’t underestimate the costs of sending out the packages to the backers either (shipping, supplies, ordering the Tshirts, CDs, vinyl, etc).

So if you’ve made it this far, you must actually be considering running a Kickstarter campaign and are serious about it (props to you – most musicians are too lazy to read in general, let alone a piece this long about the business). This is just a starting point. Do some more research on your own and check other successful campaigns and their videos for inspiration. Remember, get creative! Use what makes you special and channel it into this. This is a major moment in your career, so make sure you approach this right because you only get one shot at this every couple years or so (how much can you press your base for money like this – or how often are you going to release an album?).

+See My Kickstarter Campaign

Have more questions? Post them in the comments below and we’ll continue the conversation.

About The Author

Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand
Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based musician, the founder and CEO of Ari’s Take and the author of How to Make It in the New Music Business.

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