Why Kickstarter is Good for you

I launched my first Kickstarter Project last week.

I’ve raised money before- to put on concerts, to fund a cultural exchange, to start a business.  But this is different.  It’s more personal.  I knew that Kickstarter was a powerful tool to engage with one’s community.  I even expected to learn some things–about marketing, and the art of persuasion.  What I didn’t expect was that this would turn out to be one of those life experiences in which the benefit winds up being as much or more in the process as in the result.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want my project to fund.  I’m going to work to that end.  But I can also see that this experience has the potential to change me-maybe even profoundly.  I know it has just been a little over a week, but here are some of the lessons I’ve learned from Kickstarter.

1. Kickstarter says it is ok to ask for help.  The first thing one has to do to launch a Kickstarter project is to find a way to say clearly, graciously and articulately: “Help Me!” Kickstarter requires that I practice  humility, that I set aside the facade of self-sufficiency – my customary “I can handle it on my own” posture – and announce for the entire world to see that I need other people.

Yes, I imagine some would say that you could use hype.  That you sell your project on how exciting your rewards are, and how cool people will feel to be associated with you.  But I have looked at several projects on Kickstarter, and that is not what I see.  I see people saying honestly, humbly. “Hey. I really want to do this thing and I need your help.  If promoting that model were the only good that came out of Kickstarter, it would still be a very powerful thing.

2. Kickstarter asks that I consider that I am enough. No raffles, no contests, no cash prizes, no free airline tickets, just things you make or provide yourself.  As artists, we are not accustomed to thinking that we are enough. That our creativity, our imaginations, our quirkiness, our ideas, our real selves is what people really want-not the bells and whistles.  Kickstarter suggests that I re-examine what it is I actually have to offer.  The most common “reward” on Kickstarter is…gratitude.  And it isn’t expensive. Even one dollar will get you a heartfelt thank you.  And then there is the art given away in every variety one can imagine: samples of the art, previews of the art, details about the art, an inside look at the art, outtakes of the art, rehearsals for the art, and the most valuable premiums: a personal connection with… the artist.  That’s it.  And time after time, this is what seems to get projects funded. Could it be that this is what people really want? My gratitude? My Art? A connection?  Kickstarter requires that I explore that possibility.

3.  It doesn’t take much.  Six hours after I launched my Kickstarter, I had my first dollar- from someone I didn’t know. Maybe I’ll feel differently on future projects, but I have to say that first dollar gave me jolt like an electric charge.

Somebody backed me!

Maybe this thing might actually work.

I wanted to know who this person was and why he or she donated to my project?   Turns out she is an entrepreneur and business coach in Florida.  She has funded 845 Kickstarter projects!   How cool is that?  And I’m betting that this is what she has figured out: that the first dollar makes a huge impact.  It’s an acknowledgement that you are not crazy, that the famous quote is actually true. “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

That dollar gave me a lesson in effective philanthropy and a strategy for empowering people that I’ll never forget.  Every dollar does count. It doesn’t take much- to give hope, to get someone started, to say, “Carry on,” and to start the ball rolling.

4. Kickstarter is all about faith.

Faith in myself- that what I am after is worth doing, worth others caring about, and worth supporting,

Faith in the generosity of other people.  Kickstarter’s genius was to create a conduit for people’s generosity.   Every tick of that backer meter is an indication of the willingness of the people around me to give.  People I know and people I’ve never met.   I don’t believe one can experience that generosity and not be changed a little bit.  Can not have just a bit have more faith in the incremental.

I don’t know how this project will play out.  Maybe I’ll get the big gift, the superhero save that will lift me to my goal in one fell swoop.  I certainly daydream about that.  Maybe someone will be moved to give a major gift of $500 or $1K. But while I’m waiting for that, the days tick by, and the house is getting built brick by $5, $25, $50 or $100 brick  And that is the lesson I really need to learn- to have faith -not in superman or Santa Claus but in the possibility of many human-sized hands getting the job done.

“Crowd-funding” is really just fancy way to say that many people working together doing small things can make something happen.  I don’t know about you, but I forget this all the time.  I think: I’m not Bill Gates or Phil Knight or Warren Buffett –somebody who can make a real “dent in the world” as Steve Jobs used to say.

But Kickstarter begs to differ. If I’m willing to be patient. If I’m willing to ask for help.  If I’m willing to believe that people care.   If  I can understand that I don’t have to solve the whole problem, just lend a helping hand, then dents will occur. Many little dents, adding up to something.

It only took a week for Kickstarter to teach me all these things- which I realize that  so many people already know.  Whether my project funds or not (I’m choosing to believe it will), I have a chance to be a better person for taking this leap, more hopeful, more optimistic and more willing to risk giving it away.

kickstarter2

Local Heroes

As YouTube’d and Wiki’d and Facebooked and blogged-drenched as we are today. And as wicked cool as it is to have the entire world in digital form at our fingertips- we still need people to do stuff –Locally.

I might have the Mona Lisa as wallpaper on my computer screen, but it is the mural on the wall of the building around the corner that brings out the pride in the place where I live.  I might have an ipod full of the greatest recordings in the history of jazz, but it is the consistent swing of the drummer that plays at the club down the street that provides the heartbeat ofmy daily experience and the face to face inspiration that makes my kid want to study music.

I can listen to TedTalk’s and Fresh Air broadcasts, read Huffington Post and New Yorker articles that open the portals of the world. I can order in a bounty of exotic products from Amazon and Zappos and Ebay and never leave my couch. But I need real people to rub shoulders with, and inspire me, and  remind me the possibilities of the life I might aspire to–here in my own zip code.

I need people to make the great ideas of the world live on MY block.

I need local heros.

Why Megan McGeorge is my hero…

What Megan is doing has been done before. But not here. And so to me, even though her idea is simple, it is brilliant.  In retrospect it seems obvious, but that makes it no less inspiring.

Megan is my hero because she is one of those people who make a decision that a thing needs to happen, and then she get’s it to happen.  She didn’t wait to get a grant.   She didn’t wait for someone else to give her permission.  She gathered her courage and asked. Then she rolled up her sleeves and pushed.  The thing she decided was that our public spaces would be enhanced if people had the means to fill them with music.   I happen to agree with this. I believe that providing the means for music to return to the commons  make all our lives better. 

She is also my hero because this was not an idea she pursued in order to enrich herself.  She wasn’t looking to busk for cash. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that occupation.  She was after something more elusive.  She was providing the means for music to be given away.  She was planting something. Some people plant trees.  Megan plants pianos.   And once she planted a few, she mobilized her community of musicians-professional, student, amateur to join her in showing the rest of us what could be done with this new resource.

Megan is my hero because she is finding a way to bring a voice to the commons.  She reminds me of how engaging with music, not recorded, but actual, real-time music was part of the rhythm of daily life. for all people- youngest to oldest. trained artist or novice, professional or amateur.  Music was usI

I did a show today called Piano-Rama in part to draw attention to the work of Megan and Piano, Push Play, to try to spread her story a bit further. 

Tnanks Megan.

About “Step By Step”-The Ruby Bridges Suite

We premiered my latest project “Step By Step.” a suite inspired by the story of civil rights icon Ruby Bridges. at Kaul Auditorium last night.

Since we did not have a concert program, I thought this blog would be a good place to provide information for those who are interested in finding out more about the piece and it’s background.

The suite  has nine musical numbers, which are interspersed with a narrative that tells the story of Ruby’s experience as the first negro grade school child to attend a white school in New Orleans.

I hoped to tell her story in with instrumental music, songs and spoken word drawn from poetry, oratory and passages from her autobiography entitled “Through My Eyes.”

The songs are:

1. Prelude

2. Step by Step

3. Why have you Forsaken Us

4. Summer 1959

5.  Tell You This (Jim Crow’s Song)

6.  Hold My Hand

7. The Cheerleaders

8.   Come In

9.  We Rise

The instrumental pieces: Prelude, Summer 1959 and The Cheerleaders each portray particular times or incidents in Ruby’s story.

Some of the source material for the narration (wonderfully done by actor/director Kevin Jones) include:

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

The Supreme court ruling from the landmark desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education

Excerpts from:

Speech to Niagara Movement by W.E.B. Dubois from 1906

“Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom” by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  from May 4, 1966

and Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise”

I also benefited from two very enlightening websites

Civil Rights Movement Timeline

Who was Jim Crow

Here is a link to the Oregonian A & E preview of the piece.

Here is a link to Ruby  Bridges’ website for those who want more information

I hope we can move forward to develop this piece and that it will be performed again soon.

Darrell

The Way Forward

Alan Levine

I heard an interview that struck home on NPR this morning with French-Algerian guitarist Camel Zekri.

When I think about the kind of musician I want to be and the kind of musicians I want to encourage my students to be, his story resonates with me.  Both his thoughts about musical categories:

“Jazz is a word — it’s not the music,” he says. “Why not salsa? Why not bossa nova? Reggae? You can’t say this is not jazz. It’s an encounter of people who have given us music. It’s not one person who has given us this music. It’s a meeting of different people and cultures.”

Even moreso, his desire to connect with people through music.

That’s what interests Zekri — human encounters. Like so many children of immigrant families, he found it hard to bridge the cultural divisions within himself until his own guitar taught him how. He set aside classical technique. He changed the placement of his hands. He expanded the scale to encompass Arabic, Berber and African sounds.

To me its the model of the musician’s role. To quest after mastery,  to resist definitions, to courageously seek a personal vision, and to embrace the power of music to connect.

This is the way forward.

I recently came across an organization in my town called Colored Pencils that is seeking to create these kinds of encounters through art in our community

You can read and listen to the rest of the interview and see more videoclips of Zekri here.