Kickstarter is planning to relaunch subscriptions platform Drip.fm, which it acquired to save from closure earlier this year.
The relaunch, possibly later this year, will mark a philosophical shift for the crowdfunding service, as it moves from its historical focus on one-off projects towards offering creators a rolling connection with their audiences.
At the same time, Kickstarter is seeking to build closer connections with labels under head of music Molly Neuman, who was appointed in December 2015. This too is a change of emphasis: the desire to show that Kickstarter can be a partner for labels rather than – as some have seen it in the past – purely an alternative to them.
Neuman is the first dedicated music person at Kickstarter, which was founded in 2009. Her background – drummer in riot grrrl band Bratmobile, co-founder of Lookout! Records, stints at Rhapsody and eMusic before a senior role at US indie trade body A2IM – seems like the perfect lead-up to her new role.
“The main message we have been trying to share is that we are a resource for the entire community of music stakeholders – artists, managers, labels, publishers, distributors,” she tells Music Ally. “There are opportunities for us to be collaborating and developing things together on many different levels.”
This may not be an easy sell, initially. “Historically it was probably the perception that Kickstarter was part of a disruptive world, especially with regards to labels,” says Neuman. This is a take on Kickstarter she is working to overturn and to find ways that the platform can collaborate with music companies rather than stand as an alternative to them.
Turning the Drip back on again
A significant part of that will involve Drip.fm, the platform for artists and labels to run their own subscription services, which announced in February that it was shutting down, only to be rescued at the last minute by Kickstarter in March.
Drip had been used by independent labels like Domino and Ninja Tune, and was seen as an important new way to turn fans into subscribers to labels rather than just to digital music services. Kickstarter isn’t announcing its specific plans for Drip’s relaunch yet, but Neuman offers some hints.
“We want to have a way for our creators to connect: especially ones with large fanbases who will continue to be independent and self-releasing, but who would want to have an option and opportunity to have a digital fan-club and a direct connection to their fans on an ongoing basis,” she says.
“Because of the dynamic of a Kickstarter campaign being very focused and very time-sensitive, you could imagine an artist coming in and running a successful campaign, that could include something that was after the project. And have the opportunity for their supporters to continue to engage with them in a meaningful way around their music and updates. There are ideas in development, but we don’t have any announcements on that.”
Another crowdfunding service, Patreon, has focused on recurring revenues for creators including Amanda Palmer, who famously raised $1.2m on Kickstarter in 2012 for a new album, tour and book, but who now gets nearly $33k from her Patreon supporters per “thing” she releases.
Could Drip mark a conceptual shift in what Kickstarter is, moving from facilitating one-off projects to powering rolling campaigns?
“That makes sense.Seven years in, we have done one thing very well and we have built something that has the best brand recognition in our space and has proven itself to be a real place of developing innovation with new products and supporting an entire ecosystem in games, for example,” says Neuman.
“We have become a real opportunity for strengthening complete segments of business. We are looking at ways that we can iterate, develop and continue to grow, really strengthening that position across all our categories.”
A recent University of Pennsylvania study claimed that Kickstarter had helped create 8,800 new companies and nonprofits, although those figures apply more to the world of gadgets than music: campaigns to fund projects rather than careers.
“A lot of the projects we have had to date have been mainly solo artists who are very self-directed and DIY.It probably doesn’t fit into the same measurement that the other categories have had,” says Neumann.
“For music projects, 78% of them are raising under $20,000. That is very likely to be a solo artist with a community who is trying to make a record and is able to be successful by connecting their community and raising that amount of money. It doesn’t require that much to make an album these days. Our category [music] may not be building as many of those ancillary jobs but they are empowering creativity and empowering independents.”
Previously, artists were self-contained on Kickstarter – they did their project, Kickstarter took a 5% fee on the total raised, and they were left to their own devices after the funding campaign ended.
Another fan-funding service, PledgeMusic, has worked with its creators to market and promote albums after they are successfully funded and released, but Kickstarter has tended to be somewhat arm’s length. This too may change in the near future.
“That is something that I have my eyes on for the future. We are keen to build tools and resources that benefit the music creators,” says Neuman.
“We have conversations all the time with manufacturers, fulfilment services and distributors about how we can collaborate. Like most things, you have to focus on the current tasks at hand. We hope to build that out and have options and opportunities for Kickstarter creators that are beneficial and helpful to their long-term plans.”
That, of course, would overlap nicely with the acquisition of Drip.fm and its focus on turning fans into subscribers.
For now, there is no relaunch date for Drip, but its renaissance could play an important role in advancing the D2C efforts of not just self-releasing artists but also label partners who see Kickstarter as an ally rather than a rival.
Talking of which…
A label partner and not a label disrupter
Neuman came from both an artist and a label background and it’s only logical that she would want to apply that to what Kickstarter is doing with music.
“My view, having come from the label world, is that we can be a resource to help strengthen the entire foundation of the business, working with developing artists and helping them to not just generate financial resources but also get involved in running a campaign and connecting to a community,” she says.
Rather than be an alternative to labels, Kickstarter wants to be part of the A&R and marketing plans of a label, helping test out fan demand for a new album (or other project) and, in so doing, help mitigate risk.
“In the area of artist development, there are so many gambles for labels to find acts and invest in them,” says Neuman. “There are so many scenarios and stories about signing acts and believing in acts and spending money but nothing happened. There are so many reasons why that could be the case, but I think using Kickstarter and running a campaign can be a strong way to explore that and do market research.”
For evidence of this dynamic at work, she says you merely have to look at how the technology and VC sectors have used Kickstarter as a testbed before they fully commit to a product.
“It happens all the time within the categories here at Kickstarter, especially on more robust ones like design and technology where there are investors who have seen a prototype for a new product idea and are looking at the opportunities,” she suggests.
“They will tell them to run their Kickstarter campaign and raise their first round of funding as well as get their community excited about the product idea and then, if it’s a success, they can do a number of things such as match that and become the second round of investment or help them bring it to market and grow the market opportunities. That scenario for labels should very much be a consideration.”
Equally, while Kickstarter has had major names like Amanda Palmer and, just recently, De La Soul use it to independently fund and release new projects, Neuman wants new more new artists to use it. They can, she says, use it as the start of their road to independence but equally it can be seen as a proof of concept if they want to approach labels and sign a standard record deal.
“This gives you a position of strength for whatever your long-term goal is.If you aim to be signed to a label, I think you have a much stronger position and evidence of a work ethic that gives a label a lot more confidence in your abilities,” she says.
“For the artists, they have a position of their own value that can be used when they are negotiating terms. That is how I am hoping we can develop some partnerships and a flow of work with different record companies and artists that is mutually beneficial to the whole ecosystem.”
It’s not all Amanda Palmer and Pono
Apart from Pebble, two of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in its history were music-centic ones. Amanda Palmer raised $1.2m in 2012 (with an initial target of $100,000) for her Theatre Is Evil album/book/tour while Neil Young’s Pono audio player campaign raised a staggering $6.2m in 2014.
While they are obviously successes that Kickstarter can be proud of, Neuman is keen to suggest they are outliers rather than templates for others to follow.
“Amanda is such a unique artist,” she says. “She has her fans and her community so she was outside of industry channels. She has been through her relationship with her label and was doubling down on being in her own Amanda Palmer ecosystem. Her project has so many other aspects to it like a book and a film as well as touring and the album which gave it a bigger dimension.”
As for Neil Young? “Pono was a design project,” she says, suggesting it should not be seen as a music project per se but one that blurs the lines between several of the different categories that make up the Kickstarter ecosystem that can work together depending on the campaign.
“Because we have 15 different categories, we have different communities to pull support from.If, for example, the project is not a straight album campaign but rather something around a film or a book or a product design like Pono, there is a different part of the community that can be involved,” says Neuman.
“There are regularly technology projects that are music-focused [like wearables]. There is a breadth of possibility that probably a little bit different than some of the other platforms.”
Music, however, more than punches above its weight here.
“Music on Kickstarter is one of the most successful categories for projects in terms of 120,000+ projects that have been successfully funded. Music accounts for around 24,000. We have a pretty good evidence of success,” says Neuman.
She adds that the average site-wide pledge to successful projects is $83, whereas the average pledge to successful music projects is $70 (noting that the average spend on music in the US is $48 per year per consumer).
Which leads into how she, in her role as head of music, wants to expand that success and draw in more artists and labels to use it.
Neuman was quoted earlier in the year as saying she wanted to get the Kickstarter cause out to a “higher calibre of talent” – words that some construed as a slight against some of the active artists on the platform. Music Ally asks her to clarify what that statement was intended to convey.
“What I meant by that is that because we haven’t been active pursuing working with different kinds of artists. We have been more about responding to the people who use the platform and find it on their own; we want to help the projects that are coming organically set themselves up for success,” she says.
“It’s about making sure their campaigns are robust in their story as well as the images and music they include. It’s also about being present in creative communities so we can work with artists that are doing interesting things to help them set up campaigns and help them have a stronger foundation and generate the resources that are both financial and supportive.”
Building in the US and the UK
Kickstarter has 140 staff and is based in New York. The plan, however, is to expand its presence in the US this year and then move into the UK next year. Key to this will be building partnerships with the ‘traditional’ music business.
“Historically we haven’t pursued relationships with labels or trade associations,” she says. “We are positioning ourselves as something that is not here to eliminate the need for labels but is here to help strengthen the whole community. That is part of my main mission and the basis of a lot of the conversations I have been having – and will continue to have. We are hoping to speak to as many people as possible – with management, lawyers, publishers and so on.”
Neuman concludes: “We can be a place to help strengthen the foundations of those kinds of artists and then create a steadier path for them to engage with labels and be a place of discovery for record companies to find artists. That strengthened position just gives everyone a better place to start from.”