One donation at a time, Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites are making a difference in music and culture on the Gulf Coast. Large and small contributions multiplied together fund projects and dreams that could not happen without outside financial support.
The first and biggest Kickstarter campaign in Mobile was The Crescent Theater’s “Keep the Crescent.” In November 2012, the campaign raised $84,736, 112 percent of its $75,598 goal, to purchase a digital projector. “The studios gave us a year or two to convert from 35 mm film to digital projection,” says Max Morey, owner of the theater. “We are a broke, single-screen theater and $75,000 was the death sentence for us. Will Fawcett, our assistant manager, suggested we raise the money through Kickstarter. I didn’t know what Kickstarter was or why anyone would give us that much money, but we had nothing to lose. Backers donated $75,000 in 11 days. Kickstarter even called to ask us what was going on and told us we need to thank our community. The theater wouldn’t be open today without that community support. I still take backers upstairs to show them their projector.”
“Keep the Crescent” had 848 backers and donations from several states and countries. People now contact Morey for advice about Kickstarter campaigns, including the Capri Theatre in Montgomery that was saved through its own Kickstarter campaign.
“I learned that when people donate to a cause, the gifts aren’t necessary, they just want to donate and help,” says Morey. “Mobile is a special community.
Local musicians are also turning to Kickstarter campaigns to help fund recording, production, and promotion of albums that independent musicians without a record label typically can’t afford to do on their own.
In August 2013, Will Kimbrough’s “Sideshow Love” campaign raised $30,431, 304% of his $10,000 goal, to publicize his album Sideshow Love to a wider audience and promote it on radio. His album received positive reviews in many publications and was in the top 10 on the Americana Radio Chart in March 2014.
“This is my seventh album, but it is the first time I have released an album in the black on the day of release,” says Kimbrough. “I also got to know who my fans are and what kinds of things they would be interested in from me. It is hard to get into the mentality and understand crowd funding. You are not asking people for a donation; you are offering them a new album plus bonuses if they want them. Crowdfunding does not make the release of the new album, writing a novel, or making a film easier, but it is a great school for artists who have to do their own business. It is the way to learn the nuts and bolts and details of a project in a business way.”
In April 2014, “Lisa Mills RECLAIMS I’m Changing, Her First Studio Album” campaign raised $31, 626, 105% of her $30,000 goal, to remix and reclaim the songs from her I’m Changing album that she recorded in 2005. The original album didn’t turn out the way she planned, but she couldn’t leave it in the past. “I had vocal problems while I recorded I’m Changing, and it was incomplete and unfinished,” says Mills. “It could be a damn good album and I couldn’t let it go and move on until it sounded the way I envisioned. I had to go back into the studio to make it better and put it out again.”
Mills is currently on a two-month tour in Europe. A European publicist hired with Kickstarter funds has opened the doors to better shows and venues across Europe that Mills has not had the chance to play before.
Eric Erdman launched his “Eric Erdman’s New Songs Need Some Muscle Shoals On Em” campaign on June 17. His goal is $15,000 to record his next album in Muscle Shoals. He was at almost 40 percent of his goal within the first 24 hours.
“I have been fortunate to have supportive friends and family, but this Kickstarter campaign has been a validation and shows that people care and support what I am trying to do,” says Erdman. “I am so appreciative of the people who have joined me and I am shocked by how fast it has happened so far. I would have figured out a way to make this album without Kickstarter, but it may have taken a year and a half to do it and even then it would have been a lower quality. This lets me work at the pace that fits my creativity and put out an album that will be better than the others.”
The Mulligan Brothers are launching a Kickstater campaign in July to help fund the production of their second album. Chris Helton’s “Music in the Round: Live From the Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm” was fully funded last fall to create a DVD of some of the performances at The Frog Pond at Blue Moon Farm.
In Kickstarter campaigns, donations are exchanged for rewards that are often personal and creative without taking too much of the budget or time. Mills gave bronze and wood sculptures that she made in college. Kimbrough gave the vintage western shirts that he wore on the Conan O’Brien and David Letterman television shows when he was touring with Todd Snider. Erdman is giving the hat that he has worn every day for years and several guitars, including the guitar he used when forming the band the Ugli Stick and on the first Ugli Stick album.
The campaign must include a dollar goal and a date for the campaign to end. If the campaign is not fully funded, the project gets nothing. Successful projects spread with shares on social media as friends share the campaign and ask others for support and help to do the project right.
“The standard complaint has been that music and art on the coast is underappreciated, but these Kickstarter campaigns show that there is wide support for art and music on the coast,” says Erdman. “Our musicians like Lisa and Will are going out and making great music and receiving international acclaim. They are making us look good. All of this gives me hope in the future of music here.”