Local band, author use ‘crowdfunding’ sites

Asking fans for a hand to help finance projects

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When the local band Chris Margolin & The Dregs were planning their new album, members knew they’d need help coming up with the money for studio rentals, as well as mixing and mastering.

So they turned to their fans, using Kickstarter to raise $2,113 from 41 backers this summer. Some were people they knew, and others were unknown patrons who just believed in their music and wanted to help make a follow-up to the 2008 EP “Fallen Leaf” happen.

“It’s really exciting to see there are people who enjoy what you do enough to have faith that you’re going to put out a good project,” said frontman Chris Margolin of Vancouver, a 29-year-old English and creative writing teacher at Evergreen High School.

Now the album is recorded, and Chris Margolin & The Dregs are hoping for a late February or early March release. It wouldn’t have been possible without the people who gave through Kickstarter, Margolin said.

Kickstarter is an online fundraising platform for people like Margolin and his bandmates who need help making their passion projects a reality. It’s geared toward those in creative fields such as filmmaking, music, art and writing. More than $20 million has been pledged through the New York City-based company since it launched in April 2009, and more than 3,000 projects have been funded.

Kickstarter pledges are not loans or investments. The creators of the projects funded through Kickstarter maintain full ownership. Nor is Kickstarter like FirstGiving or other sites that raise money for charitable causes. Most of the projects are not affiliated with nonprofits, and therefore the pledges are not tax deductible.

Multitude of options

Kickstarter is one of several “crowdfunding” sites, where people pool their resources to finance projects. Others include San Francisco-based IndieGoGo, which helps people raise money for creative, cause-related and entrepreneurial projects; New York City-based RocketHub, geared toward people in creative fields ranging from dance to fashion to film; and Pledge Music, a London-based site which caters to musicians.

All four sites take a cut for facilitating fundraising. IndieGoGo takes 4 percent and, if the funds are distributed through a third party such as Amazon Payments or PayPal, an additional service fee of about 3 percent applies. RocketHub charges a flat 8 percent. Pledge Music charges 15 percent.

Kickstarter takes 5 percent. So when Chris Margolin & The Dregs raised $2,113, Kickstarter made about $106. There’s also a service fee of about 3 percent from Amazon Payments, which processes all Kickstarter pledges.

With most of these sites, project organizers set a fundraising goal and a time limit in which to meet it (typically one to 90 or one to 120 days). Then it’s up to backers to come forward with pledges.

In the case of Kickstarter, project supporters make a pledge and provide their credit card information through Amazon Payments. Supporters’ cards are only charged if the project’s fundraising goal is met within the allotted time period.

RocketHub and Pledge Music also take an all-or-nothing approach to funding, while IndieGoGo allows people to keep pledge dollars even if their fundraising goals aren’t met (but the fees jump from 4 percent to 9 percent on campaigns with unmet fundraising goals).

Unexpected benefits

Even if project organizers don’t reach their financial targets, there can be benefits to using crowdfunding sites.

Ridgefield cookbook author Rick Browne did not meet his Kickstarter goal, but the three people who pledged sent him checks anyway — and for more money than he expected.

Browne, host of the Public Broadcasting Service show “Barbecue America” and former Columbian photo editor, is working on a book exploring 100 of America’s oldest restaurants, as well as a companion TV show.

He is traveling the country visiting 100 restaurants between 100 and 300 years old. So far he’s been to 62 eateries, but 38 remain, primarily in the middle of the country, as well as in New York City and New Orleans.

To help cover the high costs of airfare, gas and car rentals, Browne set out to raise $6,800 through Kickstarter. But by the time his allotted time period expired last month, only three backers had come forward, pledging a total of $795.

“It didn’t catch fire with the right people,” said Browne, 63. “It’s probably the worst time in the past 10 years to be looking for funding because of the economy. People are just really watching their dollars.”

Because he didn’t meet his fundraising goal, Browne’s backers were under no obligation to follow through with financial support. However, all three sent checks totalling more than $2,200.

Browne already has a publisher for his book, “A Century of Restaurants,” and was given an advance that’s allowing him to go forward with the project. But for those without that luxury, Kickstarter and similar sites are a great way to raise seed money, he said.

And people who pledge money through Kickstarter and similar crowdfunding sites get something besides good karma. Project coordinators reward backers, usually in ways tied to the effort they’re helping to fund.

Browne promised those who pledged $10 or more to his Kickstarter campaign that he would list their names on a special thank-you page in his book, which is expected out next fall. He offered those who pledged $60 or more an autographed copy of the book, plus acknowledgement in the book and online. The rewards continued to mount as pledge amounts increased. Although he ultimately received donations from individuals directly, not through Kickstarter, he still plans to make good on promised incentives.

Chris Margolin & The Dregs promised a downloadable version of their new album ahead of its release, and a physical copy of the new CD, to supporters who pledged $15. The CD would normally sell for $10, so it’s kind of like pre-ordering, Margolin said.

That’s exactly how one Chris Margolin & The Dregs backer felt.

“I’m going to buy that CD anyway,” said Michelle Papineau of Vancouver, a fan who pledged money through Kickstarter to help the band. “If my little $20 helps them get another CD out and helps them get radio play, that’s great.”

Papineau first discovered Chris Margolin & The Dregs at a concert about a year ago when they opened for another local group she follows. Papineau loves to support small bands on the rise, and thinks that Kickstarter is a good vehicle for that.

“This is my little way of saying, ‘Hey guys, I love ya, I support ya, go make a CD,’” she said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.