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The (Current) Limits of Kickstarter

The founders of the Mountain Man Music Festival have 16 days to raise almost $60,000. If they fail to do it, their music festival may not happen at all.

Despite getting shout-outs and dap from everybody from Brooklyn Vegan to The Saratogian, the would-be festival founded by recent college grads Shane Frasier and Gabriel Stinson is having trouble raising the money required to bring 13 well-known indie bands to Saratoga City Center in late July.

Granted, a lot can happen in 16 days, especially since they’re probably just one major sponsor away from making this all happen. But because we like worrying over these kinds of things, we have to ask: What went wrong?

Is it us? Is it them?

Let’s begin with what they got right, because Frasier and Stinson have gotten a couple things taken care of already. They have one sponsor, Underwater Peoples Records, that’s pledged to help with the logistics and which is already going to be doing a ton of promotion for the event; three of the bands on Mountain Man’s bill are signed to the label.

They’ve got a good location, Saratoga Springs, which is close to several colleges and, if their project’s commenters are to be believed, not much else when it comes to indie music presenters.

But as an idea, Mountain Man has two major problems that will probably* serve to make the whole thing a cautionary tale rather than a semi-historic indie success story.

First, the donation size. Frasier and Stinson seem intent on making most of their money through ticket sales, which are going for $35. Stinson sees the ticket price as “a steal,” but when you consider the fact that a one-day ticket to the Pitchfork Music Festival, which features twice as many bands playing a much wider variety of music (not  to mention some significantly bigger names), costs $40, it starts to look a lot less like a steal.

It’s fair to point out that Pitchfork is sponsored like crazy, and that Stinson is currently going door-to-door in Saratoga Springs looking for sponsorship opportunities. But that disparity also underlines the second point, which is that Stinson and Frasier, by trying to harness a community-oriented tool to produce a mass market experience, are trying to have it both ways.

At this point in its existence, Kickstarter is best suited to funding small,  community-oriented projects. It’s why bands can get money together to  fund records from their fans. These projects rally one group of people around creating a product or experience that they will all draw a similar kind of satisfaction from, and experience in a similar way.

Summer music festivals, by contrast, are faceless, impersonal experiences. In spite of all the pleasure its attendees experience, they experience it for different reasons, often in small clusters: one group is at Festival X to see the first headliner, and doesn’t really care about the rest of the lineup; another group is there to see a bunch of the openers, and is considering sticking around for the headliner if they’re not too tired. These groups have no interest in one another. They have been brought together more by necessity than by some larger communal feeling of belonging or togetherness.

People who pledge on Kickstarter do it because they believe in the worthiness of the project and the people involved; people who buy tickets to music festivals do it for the value. They <em>expect</em> summer music festivals to be clusterfucks of sponsorship and promotion. It’s how they, the audience, can see $400 worth of live music for $120, and why they don’t mind standing around in giant, sweaty, sun-baked pens for hours to see it.

There’s always a chance that some sponsor will swoop in at the eleventh hour and make Mountain Man happen. But until Kickstarter goes mainstream, community-sponsored festivals may have to actually revolve around specific communities.

*Commencing reverse jinx…NOW!

This article was originally posted on We All Make Music, a site dedicated to helping musicians thrive in a post-label world.

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