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.

Over The Shoulder

Payette_Lake_HBIt is one month today since we performed “The Territory” at Chamber Music Northwest.  A month seems like a good amount of time for a pause.  Long enough to let things settle down-not so long  that forgotten what all the fuss was about.

The “inevitable post-project letdown,” –which always catches me by surprise no matter how many years I’ve been doing this–was delayed this year.  The day after the final performance at St Mary’s Academy  I went right into solo papa mode so my wonderful wife, who had been shouldering the whole “run-our-daily-lives-while-my-partner-pursues-his-artistic-destiny” thing for far too long, could take a little restorative camping break.  Not surprisingly, my son Malcolm and I went the other way. We rolled out to Seaside and threw down at some skee-ball, bumper cars and arcade games.

After that I jumped right into The Shed, our PSU Intensive Summer Jazz Camp.   Four days of  all jazz all the time, 9 AM to 8 PM.  Did I say it was intensive?  Not that I’m complaining. We had some great young players, and it is inspiring to to be in the music with a bunch of people from sunup to sundown.  Needless to say I forgot all about post-project letdown for those four days.

No sooner did we turn out the lights on The Shed, than I got in the car and drove to  McCall, Idaho for a family vacation on the shores of beautiful Payette Lake, which I was privileged to enjoy thanks to the generosity of  my colleague Jeff Baker.  His family’s “cabin” – a euphemism that borders on the silly- right near the water is like a mountain paradise.  We chilled, we swam, we read books, we played foosball, we paddle-boarded, we sat in the sun, we ate ice cream, and then chilled some more.  And for a week I didn’t think about much of anything.

After a quick trip to Seattle the following Monday– (The Bolt Bus feels suspiciously similar to Greyhound when it is completely full, and the wi-fi conks out, as it did on both my trips) –and my “summer” was finally ready to start. And damned if the “inevitable post-project letdown” didn’t pick that exact moment to mosey up and slap me upside the head.  Surprise.

I’m happy to say it has done its dance and left the building–just in time to commemorate the one-month anniversary of “my big project.” And in the space left behind, I’m feeling  ready to look back at the endeavor so far. I’m also feeling energized to think about what is next- which is turning out to include some pretty awesome opportunities.  So it is time for mapping again. Time to sharpen the tools, check supplies, scout out new ground.

Meanwhile, here is a link to a recording of the 1st movement “Hymn to the Four Winds” from the performance at Kaul Auditorium.  Thanks to Matt Snyder for an awesome job of live recording.

http://www.instantencore.com/work/work.aspx?work=5074269

Walters Cultural Arts Center Speaker Series: “The Jazz Scene as an Ecology” – June 18th

I will be a guest speaker at the Walters Cultural Arts Center Speaker Series in Hillsboro on Tuesday, June 18th at 7:00 PM.Oregon Album cover

My topic is  “The Jazz Scene as an Ecology”.  This is a culmination of a line of inquiry I embarked on  in 2009 on music and sustainability.

Here’s a short teaser for those who might be interested.  I’ll post the whole lecture here after I present it.

A little fable about Jazz and Academia

Think of Jazz as a wild plant, a native species that grew in America.  Took root, found good soil.  But its environment grew crowded w/competitors.  It’s niche was overrun by rock & roll.  As jazz matured and spread, it was less connected to its initial purpose, the nourishment of communities.  It became famous, the property of everyone and no one. So it sought refuge in the academy

Introducing a new breed- The Jazz Educator

I’d say Dr. Billy Taylor was the proto-species of the Jazz educator.   He was the first of the evolutionary line. He possessed the ideal combination of traits that enabled him to thrive in academia.  A virtuoso with a Ph.D. degree, he was articulate and well-spoken. The “fruit” he produced-television shows, the non-profit Jazzmobile,  paved the way for other musicians like Max Roach, Archie Shepp, Willie Ruff, and eventually, me.

There were others –John Mehegan, Jerry Coker, Gunther Schuller @ NEC, who were also pioneers, They created the first jazz curricula & schools: The Schillinger School,  Berklee College of Music,  North Texas State,  These  environments and infrastructurebig bands, textbooks, play-along records  provided fertile soil for jazz to grow in academia.

Below are a couple great blog posts that get to this topic.  Two are from Dr. Jeff Todd Titon, ethnomusicologist at Brown University.  His writing has been groundbreaking in this area. He has also been an encouraging mentor to those of us interested in thinking freshly about the place of music in our culture.  His blog “Sustainable Music” is a fantastic resource for provocative and inspiring new ways to think about what we do.
http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com/2011/07/resilience.html

Titon blog on Sustainbility & Ecology

http://sustainablemusic.blogspot.com/2009/10/ecological-approach-to-cultural.html

Theses on Sustainabilit- A Primer

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5502/

There are also a number of earlier posts on this blog that explore this same topic.