"...a weird and awkward relationship with crowd funding..."
It’s a profoundly meta experience running a campaign as an artist to fund a project which is about being an artist and funding projects.
While it’s much more stressful than I had anticipated - weird, given I’ve done it before! - the great part is that I’m documenting the experience in the hope that I can channel it into the book itself.
One of the things I’m reflecting on is the discomfort that you need to push past to put your stuff out into the world. Case in point… da da da… this campaign! To get it out there means pushing past:
a) The discomfort of it quite possibly failing… publicly;
b) The discomfort of the possibility of criticism from others;
c) The discomfort of asking people for support; and
d) The discomfort of hearing “no.”
There are plenty more of course. Yesterday I wrote a blog post about coping with b), but today, I’d like to hone in on c) and touching on d).
Today I received this email from a good mate, whom I’d emailed asking if he’d be willing to share the project on social media. Again, I’m sharing with his permission, which I HUGELY appreciate. I think there’s a lot to be learned by listening to each other! Anyway, here’s the email:
Sorry I've missed the 24hr window. I have a weird and awkward relationship with crowd funding. For a while my social circle was so flooded with people promoting their thing (some great ideas, some 'pay for me to go to europe and see shows', some 'I've developed magic powers and if you give me money I'll tell you how to get magic powers too') that I kind of bailed on the whole idea and stopped supporting anyone. Now it's calmed down a bit but I feel like if I start promoting something there's going to be other people thinking 'why'd he ignore my thing'? And the true answer would be 'because Jenny emailed me directly and made me feel more awkward about not doing it.' Which doesn't seem like a good reason.
So anyways, I hope you understand. I think it's a rad thing and I hope it gets up but I have very confused feelings around the whole crowd funding thingo.
I’m sure he’s not the only person out there with a “weird and awkward relationship with crowd funding.” It’s still a relatively new thing in the world and I think as a creative community, we’re all still working out how it works best, how it raises questions about what it is to create things you get paid for, and yes, it creates some very conflicting feelings.
ART! YAY! MONEY! YIKES! SPRUIKING ON OTHER’S BEHALF! ??????
As a side note, if you are really keen, I highly recommend Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking.” She also did a Ted Talk about the crowdfunding model which is worth checking out.
Anyway, to address my mate’s points bit by bit (this isn’t a rebuttal, just me processing his point of view and clarifying where I stand):
The Overwhelm of Requests for Support:
Oh boy oh boy YES. I totally get this. I’m sure you do too. I absolutely experience overwhelm at the sheer volume of “support this!” requests, probably especially magnified for those of us who move in creative social circles.
I guess where my mate and I differ is in what this means for how we respond.
His line in the sand is to stop supporting anyone. And it’s a perfectly valid line. I get it, I really do.
Mine is different.
And my friend really inspired me to reflect on WHY this is.
You see, I too get overwhelmed by calls for support, but that’s not just by crowdfunding campaigns. I also receive multiple “please come see my show!” requests EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
Sharing People’s Projects:
Let’s start with supporting by sharing. Now, in terms of these calls for support - crowdfunding and shows alike (using the shows example as it’s the one that is my most frequently encountered): I cannot possibly share them all on social media. I mean, I suppose I could, but it would
a) be a full-time occupation and b) I’d just be flooding my friends and Facebook audience with theatrical spam; and c) therefore nothing I shared would seem particularly special.
But does this mean I share none? No. I share the ones that really resonate with me, or the ones that I wish I could go to but can’t, or… I don’t know, maybe it’s just I happen to see somebody’s post at a particular time when I’m inspired to click “share” without thinking too much about it!
My mate’s response to the overwhelm - which is totally valid - is to stop supporting anybody. That way, nobody’s feelings get hurt over who got a shout out and who didn’t.
My approach is to support what I can, when I can. Are feelings hurt? I hope not. I honestly don’t know. Maybe. I guess mine are a tiny bit when somebody doesn’t share my stuff, but I quickly shake it off and remind myself that they’re as barraged as I am and it’s not a personal slight. But in terms of my possibly upsetting those whose work I don’t share… I guess I’m not willing to let that stop me supporting what I can, when I can, how I can.
Backing People’s Projects
Now let’s talk about forking over dollars to support creatives. Let me take the “come to my show” requests as an example again.
Here’s the truth of it: even if I could afford to buy tickets for every single one of them, I simply do not have the time to see them all. It’s just never ever going to happen. (Having said that, I have bought tickets to support shows and then ended up giving them away!)
So… does that mean I don’t go see anything?
I go see the stuff that really connects with me and/or that a really dear friend is in but probably what trumps all of that is: that I can physically make it to amongst the logistics of the rest of my life. It’s honestly the truth of the matter.
Yeah, okay Jen, I hear you say. Boo-hoo, you can’t go to every show. What the heck does this have to do with backing people’s projects?
Well, you see, to me, paying to go see somebody’s show is no different than backing somebody’s crowdfunding campaign.
Can I back them all? Of course not.
And I totally hear my mate’s cynicism over some of these projects you can get asked to support. I do not blame him one bit for just throwing his hands in the air and making a blanket policy of “no thanks!”
And you know what? If I see a project that’s “pay for me to go to Europe and see shows out of the goodness of your heart”, it’s very, very unlikely that I’m going to support that. And I’m not going to feel even the tiniest bit guilty about it.
But therein lies the biggest misunderstanding about crowdfunding, I think. At its best, it’s NOT asking for favours, or donations, or charity. It’s offering an EXCHANGE of something that each other needs or wants.
If I see a project that’s “pay for me to go to Europe and see shows and in return I’ll give you x, y and z”, and I happen to want x, y and z, then heck yes, I’ll support it!
Crowdfunding for specific creative projects is - or should be, I think - transactional.
I don’t see it as any different from paying for a ticket for a show, other than that the show itself (or the product or whatever) isn’t going to be available right away.
I’ve backed a bunch of crowd-funded artist projects. Have I contributed to every single one that I’ve been asked to? Of course not. Even ones that I’ve wanted to. I just haven’t had the money, or I’d already supported other stuff, or I meant to but just forgot… but just like I haven’t gone to each and every show I’ve been asked to see… supporting everything and everybody is just not possible.
But for me, that doesn’t translate into supporting none.
On Feeling Awkward:
It is freaking awkward asking people to support you. I honestly hate it. When it came time to send out emails to my creative friends who I thought could be keen and would know others who might also, I felt sick to my stomach.
BUT… you know what made me sicker? The thought of never knowing if this project could have happened.
So I pushed past those feelings and sucked it up.
Of course, then getting an email back like this, brought all those feelings up again. It seems insane. He’s feeling awkward, I’m feeling awkward, we’re putting the FUN in CrowdFUNding! (Side note: this guy is awesome, I love him dearly and it’s all fine.)
But… of course he has every right to say no. It’s not a personal offence against me. As I tell my kids, “If you’re going to ask the question, you have to be willing for the answer to be ‘no’.” (They love this as they’re the best adjusted humans on the planet.)
So yeah. It IS awkward. And uncomfortable. But for me it feels worse not to try.
I love wrapping up things with “in conclusion.” It makes me feel about 3% academic.
I think Crowdfunding is an incredible tool for artists that can be used for good.
When it comes to bizarre requests to “donate” to dream world trips and the like, I think it’s really unfortunate that it’s created a misunderstanding of what Crowdfunding should be.
It’s not a way to ask people to throw money at you for nothing.
It’s not a way to turn yourself into a charity case.
It’s not a manifestation of entitlement. (The world owes us nothing.)
What it is, what it can be, is a way for creatives to gauge support for projects BEFORE putting all the time, money and effort into making them.*
And it’s a way for people to get their hands on things, whether it’s show tickets, albums, or yes, an e-book; things that they find genuinely valuable… in advance.
That’s how I see it, though obviously I’m biased at this point in time!
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
*There’s still a LOT of effort involved in getting a project to this stage - but you’ll have to read The DIY Performer to find out more… ;)