Crowdfunding can be beautiful

I’ve seen some interesting kickstarter-style campaigns; it’s always nice to see what kinds of goodies someone will come up with to enroll people in their projects. These kinds of pre-funding drives are an opportunity to get people excited about a project and put on display one’s passion. A dry investment prospectus might get the big backing, but one really has to have a compelling and accessible idea in order to get a lot of people to throw in $10 or $20.

I enjoyed thinking about pledging to SkyCube and wondering what kinds of photographs I could get from low orbit for $20. That was an opportunity to directly benefit from the project at a pretty low entry point.

The more expensive levels had some good things too, like a SpaceX Falcon 9 model rocket but the coolness of having a $30 model rocket kit didn’t really bring $600 worth of value—not the way that $20 seems like a bargain for the chance to take a few snapshots from space. I know the point of the swag is to give a little thanks for supporting the project; you wouldn’t put $600 into a project like that just for the swag.

But this one really impressed me. Niyaz is one of my favorite musical groups. Azam Ali is a downright phenomenal vocalist (though I should not neglect to praise her for her hammer dulcimer playing;) Loga Ramin Torkian a masterful instrumentalist with a wide range of instruments including those of his own design. Carmen Rizzo has retired from the group but as a producer and programmer was critical to forming the sound, and there are too many awesome collaborators who have worked with the band at various points to list here. Niyaz’s bridging of cultures goes far beyond what usually passes for «world music» or other kinds of cultural appropriation fusion music. It’s one thing to incorporate elements of another culture’s traditions into one’s music; it’s quite another to be authentically and deeply part of multiple cultures and to bring those traditions—and innovations—together. Niyaz is the rare exemplar of the latter.

For their upcoming album The Fourth Light Niyaz has started a Pledgemusic campaign to raise funds for the launch of the album and tour. The range of pledge levels is quite broad, especially for an album launch. So too is the range of offerings in return for pledges.

Of course, the offerings start out with typical fare: pre-release-date downloads, copies of the CD with or without signatures, t-shirts, t-shirt-and-CD combination packages and so on. But then they get creative and offer things which I’ve never seen musical artists offer before; unique items which would have real value to a lover of their music. Examples:

  • Handwritten and signed lyric sheet, in English or Farsi ($50, this one is tempting!)
  • Custom made essential oil perfume ($85)
  • Private music lesson via Skype ($200)
  • Hand-painted frame drum ($600)
  • Lafta (Turkish instrument similar to an oud) from Loga’s collection ($650)
  • Private concert anywhere in the US or Canada ($15,000)

There are of course other offerings, but this is illustrative of the kind of thoughtful imagination that went in to the campaign. These are things you couldn’t get anywhere else. Things you might not care about unless you are a lover of the music. The offerings are personal, meaningful, engaging.

It’s gratifying to see this kind of attention and care put in to the campaign. The creativity of the artists shines through, and even as they are asking for support they are offering value. The band isn’t going begging; this is a smart and vital marketing. Not marketing in the sense of manipulation, but true marketing. It’s the business of creative productivity where those terms are not mutually exclusive.

Too often «business» is used to describe a kind of cutthroat divorce of human value from the pursuit of wealth. Too often the word is described by the people who operate in that way. That’s not what markets are supposed to be, and that’s not what marketing is supposed to be. Free association and voluntary trade means people get to use their economic power—whatever means they have—to get the things that they value in proportion to how much they value those things, and provide reward to the people who create what others value. Sadly, creative people often avoid business, having had the word tainted by common usage.

This is a digression though. I’m not writing to get on a soapbox about open markets or free trade. I’m writing to express my appreciation for a campaign to support a creative project that I’m looking forward to. I’ll be pre-ordering the CD at the least, and I’m considering adding something extra. If I get that something extra, I’ll be glad to help the project but also glad about what I’ll receive in return.