Earlier this summer I stepped onto a trolley near my house and was sonically transfixed. I absolutely loved how rattley and creaky everything sounded, and I made up my mind that I was going to record this thing properly.
The trolley is free to ride, so I jumped onboard with my PCM D50 and recorded a quick walkthrough. The next day I contacted the McKinney Ave Transit Authority to inquire about chartering a car for the purposes of recording it. After being quoted a decent price I decided on kickstarter as opposed to self-funding in order to make this happen.
This series of blog posts will be about my Kickstarter experience.
I’ll begin here with the main lessons I learned and in the next parts I’ll get further into the details of each step.
I think that kickstarter IS:
an excellent way to raise funds for specific projects
I wanted to record the trolley and I didn’t want to pay for it personally. Kickstarter got that done and then some. I was truly humbled by the fact that my project fully backed in under 5 hours and funded over 500% of the initial goal.
an excellent way to collaborate on projects
I was amazed and the quantity and quality of people that took on the highest level of backing. Getting feedback and advice in a public forum made this an interesting and collaborative project. Getting further feedback in the future will only make this experience that much better.
very well designed and professional looking and feeling
There aren’t any font or formatting options on any of the communications or on the page because the KS website really just takes control of all of that and dictates the look. In the end that works out well, as the kickstarter communications all conform to a clean and consistent look that identifies with the KS brand and tends to lend credibility. All movies, photos and sounds uploaded as parts of updates or the main page are re-encoded and formatted by the KS website and embedded into its own proprietary player. Fortunately that player is very functional and works well on mobile devices.
an interesting and strange social experiement
It is the strangest thing ever to have that goal and that money line up there as the primary visual on the home page. Once you cross that goal line everyone and their dog starts spending the money you’re raising with no knowledge of ongoing expenses needed to execute the project. There are other social strangenesses that happen, but that big number is the primary driver.
relatively time-intensive, even for smaller projects
The amount of time it takes to execute a successful kickstarter is not trivial. I spent many hours scouting and prepping for the record, booking the trolleys and gear, creating the kickstarter website content, answering emails and following up on questions, doing KS updates to keep the backers in the loop, coordinating help, recording the trolleys, dumping and consolidating the data, editing the audio, metadata tagging, creating and testing the different versions of deliverables for the different backer levels, and posting and testing all of the final deliverables to the different levels with different logins.
This was a pretty straightforward recording session, but the time investment was pretty thick when all is considered.
I think that kickstarter IS NOT:
a way to make a living
As noted above the time investment is not insignificant and if I divided the “profit” taken from the final number delivered by the number of hours spent doing the work it wouldn’t add up to a very good rate.
Kickstarter takes 5% off the top of all money earned. Then amazon takes another 5% for payment processing. This means that all backer funds come into your operations account at a 10% premium. This is a pretty significant chunk.
The caveats I’d offer to anyone planning on doing a sfx recording kickstarter are to recognize that the term “Kickstarter” is kind of a misnomer. This service is really more for dragging you across the finish line than it is for putting an idea in motion.
You have to have done your homework, prep work, and all due dilligence before launching your kickstarter if you hope to be successful.
Fundamentally, this means that you have to be able to deliver before asking backers for money. There is a lot of front end work involved in getting a project to that state. In my case that meant making sure I had clearance from the MATA people to charter a trolley for the specific purpose of mounting a bunch of mics to it and recording it, making sure that I had the equipment available, and getting reasonable assurances from the people who would help me that they were available.
It also meant that I had to have my backer levels, fundraising target, timeline and rewards all planned out and ready to go before making the pitch. Once those specific things are set and you launch the project, you can’t take it back so each is a big decision worthy of spending a little time getting right.
I greatly appreciate everyone who backed this project and I hope to hear the sounds we caught in some interesting places. If you backed this project and would like to talk about some interesting uses you’ve had for the sounds, please comment on this post. I’d love to hear it!