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Cucumbers & Gin - a film of a violin piece

9 like 0 dislike
I write classical music, and figuring out what to do online with that can be tough. I've tried a couple different models out, and the one that worked best gave me this:

It's a film adaptation of the piece, basically a music video of a classical recording session, with a brief documentary style interview on the front of it. For anyone who stumbles across it on YouTube they have a chance to understand what's going on. For me, one of the most important parts was that the film be of as high a quality as the performance.

One unexpected tie-in that gave a good boost to the project was the fact that NoteFlight (a web application for musical notation) released a feature that lets you sync up a youtube video with a Noteflight score. This allows people who visit my site to watch a virtuosic violin piece and simultaneously see exactly what he's playing. A lot of people, particularly musicians, thought this was awesome, and the Noteflight blog itself gave the project a decent amount of traffic. Unfortunately, the video plays through the Noteflight interface don't impact viewcount.

So how did we pay for it? Kickstarter. The funding goal was $750, we made $1,150. The film eventually cost around $2,000 all in. with the difference coming out of my bank account. Because of the title I was able to do cocktail recipes as a backer reward, which sold very well at $50, and allowed me to make other creative work that I care about as part of the project.

What I didn't get was enough money to even cover expenses - and that was with the entire film crew working WELL BELOW market rates. It's a creative project, an easy gig for most of the crew, and a fun thing to do with friends on a Saturday with free food and beer, so freelance filmmakers in their twenties generally understand that kind of work. But still, this project did not come anywhere close to paying for itself.

Then why is it a success story?

Because a ton of good things came out of it. New connections with talented artists, a film to highlight my work and the violinist's, new audiences for the work (the staff at Noteflight for a start) and a list of 34 people who've already given money to support my work (including a fair number of complete strangers). It's also given my closest friends and family a taste of what it's like to write checks to make these things happen - that will make it easier the next time around when I'm looking for more money. That's really valuable.

Also, because I successfully managed a kickstarter project I've become a kind of resource to other artists who are thinking about doing similar things. This hasn't led to any revenue yet, but it has led to some great conversations, helping on awesome projects, and again, more connections and potential audience and supporters for my next project.

There are a lot of different smaller lessons in the experience as well, including how to handle film equipment rental houses without insurance, work with an audio and video editor, and what it's like to work with an astonishingly well put-together film crew. I learned a huge amount about the crowdfunding process, and have been reinforced in my view that Kickstarter is simply well out and ahead of everyone else in the field - in terms of UX, dollars pledged, motivation, PR for their projects and building a community, they're just way ahead. (and I say this as someone who did some crowdfunding work at his day job in the arts).

The biggest gain for my work from this project though is just that it's accomplished. Now a piece that existed just on paper exists in a very high quality form all over the internet. It's not the same as a real payday for the work involved, but the non-financial benefits for this project well outweighed the costs.
initiated Nov 2, 2011 in Lessons Learned by Kevin Clark (1,470 points)   4 8 14
edited Nov 4, 2011 by Kevin Clark

6 Responses

4 like 0 dislike
Speaking of success models, posting here actually made the project a lot more sucessful. How meta is that?

Still no monetary rewards, but as a result of posting here the project got a positive mention on Alarm Will Sound's facebook page for the Noteflight integration (I've worked with them on a commission project for Ken Ueno in the past), Mike Masnick (hi there!) wrote us up on TechDirt, which then got tweeted by Felicia Day, and blogged about by Minnesota Public Radio.

It's been fun to watch the viewcount on the video and my own site traffic over the last few days. I've been keeping the crew from the film up to date on the spike and it's been really great for them to see this day's work from last April paying off in some not insignificant internet outlets.

So... yeah... thanks Step2!
response added Nov 6, 2011 by Kevin Clark (1,470 points)   4 8 14
@kevinefclark whoo hoo!  you're welcome.  :)
3 like 0 dislike
Hey, I'm glad you liked it!

I think it was the right project for the time - I'd do things very differently today but I don't think there were many unforced errors along the way. The one thing I might go back and change at the time is raising the fundraising goal to $1,000. I think the video pitch and the rewards were pretty solid, particularly the cocktail recipes, and I probably could have sold them a bit more to cocktail blogs. The performance itself, the shoot location, and the film production all went amazingly well, so I probably wouldn't change a thing about that. Also: I owe undying gratitude to the Alan Jeffries and the genius crew he put together for creating the film - they did astounding work on a shoestring in their spare time.

If I were to start tomorrow on a similar film project for another solo piece (I've got a few options for that) I'd probably try to raise significantly more money ($2,500 or so) and add other non-classical music creative stuff I can satisfyingly do as rewards (comic art song setting of your tweets, dinner recipe tailored to your needs, etc....)
response added Nov 3, 2011 by Kevin Clark (1,470 points)   4 8 14
2 like 0 dislike

This is a good example of value not equaling money. In a capitalist society this distinction can be very difficult to communicate to those people in business that see everything in terms of dollars.

This is very similar to the Lean Manufacturing concept of customer value. Value is always subjective. In the case of Lean you should always be focused on customer value. The real trick here is figuring out exactly who the customer is and what they value.

A very big stumbling block is often that who the customer is, is not always obvious. In this case Mr. Clark is both a producer and customer. In addition there are multiple customers in the overall story. The contributors to the Kickstater project are customers, with likely more than one set of things they value. The violinist is also a customer and producer in this case, because he too gained some value.

The mixing up of producers and customers, and what value they get out of activities, is actually very common when you start looking at things. Particularly when it comes to creative activities.

response added Nov 4, 2011 by John Fetzik (260 points)   1 1 3
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Kevin: Fascinating case study, and I love the insights.  Only question: if you were starting out and about to do the same thing over again, would you do anything differently?
response added Nov 3, 2011 by Mike Masnick (22,930 points)   59 99 160
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What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.

Bob Dylan
response added Nov 3, 2011 by Keith Emperor of Penguins (170 points)   1 1 1
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I love the idea of the personalised cocktail recipes for backers - very, very cool. And the film is a great vehicle, I think, for showing off the piece - video seems to hold the attention a bit better sometimes, I think, than just audio, especially for people who aren't used to listening to contemporary music, and to have one of such professional quality is fantastic.

I find it particularly interesting to hear about your success with Kickstarter in that it seems to be rare to see KS projects that don't result in a purchasable product at the end of it - usually it's a CD or an app or something that you won't get if you don't pay for it somewhere, whereas this project (from what I can tell) draws more on a desire for people to support your work generally (rather than with a specific concrete thing for them at the end of it) with the added whimsy of the personal recipe - or were there other concrete rewards too? Is your Kickstarter page still available online? I'd love to see how you presented the project.
response added Nov 4, 2011 by Caitlin Rowley (190 points)   1 1 1
@caitlinrowley Hey - thanks! the kickstarter page is still live, you can see it here:

And a much more detailed look at basically everything about the project is here:

I'm particularly proud of the kickstarter video, which Alan (our director) shot and I wrote, mostly during the shoot...
@caitlinrowley it's actually a good point.  i do wonder how many successful kickstarter projects don't involve a final product that will be for sale... seems like an interesting project for someone to check out.  but the key point, then, is that people are clearly doing this to support the artist, not just to get product.
@mmasnick It's also worth noting that I _could_ have CDs and DVDs for sale. In fact, one of the key rewards on the site was a pre-order for the CD (I had a ton more here and the website just swallowed it.... it was interesting too about the appearance of a transaction when it's actually just a donation for smaller arts projects...)

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