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2 Lessons Serj Tankian Can Teach Bands About Kickstarter


Serj Tankian, best known for fronting System of a Down, has fully indulged in his own artistic endeavors since System went on hiatus in 2006.  His solo projects have ranged from releasing his second poetry book to an orchestral performance of his critically acclaimed debut solo rock album Elect The Dead.

Now Serj is planning to record his first 4 act symphony called ORCA with The Das Karussell Orchestra at Brucknerhaus in Linz, Austria on October 28th, 2012.

To pay for this project, Serj has personally launched a Kickstarter project for ORCA.


The dude is ranked 26th in the Hit Parader’s Top 100 Metal Vocalists of All Time.  He’s sold bazillians of records in his career.  Why the heck can’t he just write a $25,000 check to cover the costs of this project?

Answer: This Kickstarter project serves a much larger purpose for Serj than just raising funds, more on that later.

At, we’ve interviewed nearly 70 bands who’ve launched Kickstarter projects.  When asked what the hardest part of launching is, the most common answer is “I feel really uncomfortable asking people for money.”

When I asked Serj about this common fear in an email exchange, here’s what he said:

Serj Tankian- ”I would advise new artists not to feel bad at all because you are giving something back that is more valuable than just a record or any product, you’re allowing them to give you a helping hand and be collaborators in launching something special – an experience if you will.”


Don’t worry about asking for money, worry about creating an experience for your backers. This is for them just as much as it’s for you.

Here’s how Serj uses his Kickstarter to create an exclusive experience rather than just focusing on raising funds:

  • He immediately articulates how this is a special project that’s near and dear to his heart. “ORCA is my first real classical symphony, ORCA is my opus, something I’ve been working on for a long time.”  This gives backers a tangible mission to align with.
  • All packages ($1 to $10,000) include “an email thank you from Serj directly.”  Serj values personal connection and clearly he’s aware of how much his fans value the opportunity to connect with him on a personal level.


Be real. Get personal.

The second biggest fear or difficulty is making a Kickstarter video.  Sometimes the technical side of making a video is a hang up, but most often bands find it very hard to talk to the camera without looking or feeling douchy.  This feeling is echoed by Aury Moore, a Seattle based rock artist who just raised $20,852 to record her second album.

Aury Moore - “We initially started out like most of the videos I see on Kickstarter. Myself and the drummer sitting in front of the camera asking for help. Problem with this was I did not come off very well. My drummer did great but when I get in front of a camera I turn into DJ girl talking in that phoney voice you hear on the radio. The thing that makes me successful as an artist is that when people see me on stage an honesty comes out of me. On stage I am fully exposed to my crowd. In front of a camera I become fake. We re-recorded this 3 times!”

Here’s what Serj does:

  • Serj opens the kimono and lets backers see him as an actual person.  You almost feel like he’d accept an invite for coffee by the way he comfortably and sincerely addresses you through the lens of the camera.  As a fan of Serj, you’re already getting a special experience without even pledging.
  • He’s got the resources to make a world class, highly produced video, but instead, he keeps it raw and real.  No fancy lights, make up, or scripts.  Just Serj talking to you passionately about his project.


Serj Tankian- ”I find Kickstarter to be a phenomenal way to get people involved in a project from before day 1, connect more intimately and have people feel ownership with a project, especially one as diverse as Orca.”

ORCA is an extremely diverse project when you consider that Serj’s fans are rock music lovers and ORCA is a symphony.  If he were doing a Kickstarter project for another solo rock record, Serj would have already surpassed Amanda Palmer’s record for the all-time most funded music project. Instead, with 16 days to go, he’s only raised $15k of the $25k goal for ORCA.

This Kickstarter project serves a much larger purpose for Serj than just raising funds. He’s pursuing a genre that most of his 15 million online fans (his personal Facebook and Twitter following plus that of System of a Down’s following) would be uninterested in.

For him to get the most artistic fulfillment out of ORCA, he wants as many fans as possible to enjoy the experience and process along side him.  This Kickstarter project is the vehicle for that to happen.

Serj has had a lifetime of world tours & major media interviews, so he’s clearly got an advantage, but if artists can find a headspace that allows them to talk to the camera as if they’re talking to a friend or well known fan, they’ll be more able to tap into the power of transparency and intimate connection that fuels the full potential of what the Kickstarter model offers.


Levi James is a Kickstarter Jockey, Launch Artist, renegade filmmaker, champion of passionate artists on a mission and founder of Launch & Release, a start-up dedicated to the study of Kickstarter for music and the art and techniques of releasing albums.

Follow him @launchrelease for more Kickstarter how-to advice for bands.

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