Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jump on into the Ball Pit with Paul and Storm!

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  

Today’s interview starts off with a funny story about my guests Paul and Storm.  For those of you who haven’t heard of these fine fellow before, they’re a pair of comedic singer/songwriters that have been entertaining folks at numerous conventions such as PAX, PAX East, DragonCon and Emerald City ComicCon. They're also co-founders of w00tstock (along with Wil Wheaton and Adam Savage), and we co-produce the annual Jonathan Coulton fan cruise JoCo Cruise Crazy. I’ve enjoyed their irreverent brand of music for a few years now and back in July of this year I heard they were preparing for a Kickstarter, so of course I sent them an interview request the moment I found out.

In July.  Four months ago.

After a week or so with no response, I figured my email had been “filed” into the circular bin and moved on with other interviews.  So imagine my surprise when I opened my email this weekend and discovered an email from Paul! Since I was at work when I read the email lets just say my coworkers were a little surprised by my response.  

Now without further interference by me here is Paul and Storm here to talk about their first Kickstarter campaign for the Big Launch for Paul and Storm’s New Album, BALL PIT. Thank you both for joining me today.

[Storm is in orange] Thanks for having us.

[Paul is in green] Yes, thanks.

Let me start off by congratulating you two on hitting your goal so quickly!  Well done! Would you be so kind as to tell us about Ball Pit and what you have in store for us with this campaign?

Ball Pit’s our newest album, our fifth as Paul and Storm. Usually we just sorta release the album for sale and that’s that. But with Kickstarter we’re hoping to give Ball Pit a much splashier launch, in addition to helping with the production costs.

What kind of shenanigans can we expect from this campaign now that you’re into stretch goal territory?  You’ve already blown past your first three stretch goals and fast approaching the fourth, are you surprised at the reception of your campaign?

We basically collected up all the fun (and pricey) ideas we’ve been wanting to do for years, then added a few more. Everything from music videos, to cover songs recorded with friends, to an RPG soundboard app, and art by artists we admire. And if it goes stupid-well, we’ll buy an ice cream truck, stock it with ice cream and guacamole, and go on tour in it.

We’d never done a Kickstarter before, and really didn’t know what to expect. But we were definitely surprised by how quickly we blew through the initial goal--it took less than 24 hours! In hindsight we probably should have set the initial goal higher, but decided it’d be better to make certain that we at least covered the most essential elements.

Yeah; there’s nothing more sad than an overconfident Kickstarter. While we know we have a pretty good (and loyal) fan base, there’s not really any way to judge these things, especially your first time out of the gate. So we erred on the conservative side.

We’re really hoping to get funded enough to do the RPG soundboard app, which at this point is around $10K away.

Besides just completing Ball Pit, you are also planning to shoot a music video for “This Song,” how much planning have you completed for this part of the project?  Can we expect to see some of the other musicians from Extra Balls or your friends from w00tstock in the video? Will there be at least one Shamwow joke?  

We’ve already shot some of the footage for “This Song”; our professional filmmaking friends had enough faith in us to get the process rolling early.

Plus, we had enough faith that we’d reach our initial funding goal to take a risk and spend a bit of it up front.

It’s basically going to be a visual satire of the crap you always see in commercials. We won’t be referencing any specific products, but our hope is that as people watch the video they’ll say “yeah, they do that in commercials ALL THE TIME, but it’s much more entertaining like this.” And this video won’t be stuffed with w00tstockers, but there will of course be some faces that will be familiar to those who’ve seen our other projects.

One of the stretch goals I like is the proposed soundboard app to collect all the fun RPG songlets you’re creating into one simple and portable place.  It’ll be like gaming live on stage at PAX without the audience, or the stage, or the professional dungeon master. Do you have a developer/programer in mind for this as you are already two-thirds of the way to this goal?  How many platforms are you hoping to release it on?   

We do have a couple of developer options lined up, though we won’t know the full scope of the app until the campaign ends. If the campaign continues to go well, there are additional features we’d love to add to the app, but which would cost a lot more than just doing a basic soundboard.

At a minimum we want to make the app available for iOS and Android. But if there’s enough enthusiasm for the app, and if funding stays strong, we’ll include more platforms in future stretch goals (especially tablet compatibility).

Since you’ve already cleared the Holiday Special goal line have you started narrowing down what Holiday you’re going to make the special for?  Will it be something fun like Arbor Day or April Fool’s day; or will it be a more common holiday like Christmas or Canada Day?

Honestly, we’re not sure yet. Heck, we might even create a new holiday (in the spirit of Festivus or Life Day). The decision will be influenced by whether or not we fund well enough to make it an animated holiday special.

Either way, the plan is to come up with lots of crazy crap. We’ve also budgeted to bring in some Real Voice Actors to help make it come to life, whichever final form the special takes.

I live in New Mexico, so an Ice Cream truck with Guacamole isn’t that odd, now one without Green Chilis but with Guacamole is.  Is it true there will be no green chilis on your ice cream truck?  Where would you like to take it on tour?  

Truth be told we haven’t put a ton of thought into the ice cream truck tour yet--it’s still just a crazy dream at this point. But in that dream, we’d like to do a loop of the country, making lots stops along the way, and making a video project out of it.

Stocking location-specific food in the truck is a definite possibility. In fact, we were recently in New Mexico, and got a few heapin’ helpin’s of green chile while we were there, so that makes it a strong contender. We’re definitely a band that’s guided by its collective stomach.

How did you two meet up and get started entertaining the masses?  

Our professional music careers started with the a cappella band Da Vinci’s Notebook, though the two of us met after joining a previous a cappella group. After DVN broke up in the mid-2000’s, the two of us decided we wanted to have a go at being an acoustic duo, and we’ve been plugging away at it ever since.

One of the things I love about Kickstarter are the rewards far above my pay grade.  With a pair like yourselves I was expecting some pretty over the top, high end rewards and you delivered.  I think the one that catches my eye has to be the [Singer-Songwriters for Hire] level.  It specifically mentions that it can’t be used for commercial purposes, why is that?  Would that preclude use as say, a podcast intro/outro song or youtube channel theme?  

We put the non-commercial exception in the reward because we sometimes do write commercial jingles, and $2,500 would be an absolute steal for, say, a jingle for a major national ad campaign. And there wasn’t really a good way to word it to allow for smaller enterprises to take advantage of the reward without putting us at risk. But if there is a podcast or YouTube channel interested in the reward, there are ways we could work it out.

I’ve noticed you have decided to do add-ons which have become a more popular way of getting around Kickstarter’s inflexible backer level system.  The one that caught my eye was the $80 USB drive full of pretty much everything you guys have done to date (Including Ball Pit) were you planning on creating one in some wacky shape or will it be a pretty standard USB key just with your logo/faces on it?

Yeah, the Kickstarter reward system is a bit cumbersome, but it wasn’t really designed to be a merch store so much as a system for collecting pledges, kinda like public radio. Right now we’re looking into third-party services that would make the add-on process more intuitive for us and our backers.

And yes, the Ball Pit USB key will be completely custom and limited edition (only for our backers), based on the album art (which is currently in-process). We’re not against wacky shapes, but we’ll be mindful not to get TOO wacky; because there’s nothing more frustrating than a USB drive that’s too wide to fit next to any others in your computer.

Let me thank you for having an explanation of your budget, while it’s not the most formal one I’ve seen you do create a nice list explaining what the money is for and where it’s going.  One thing I didn’t see mentioned was the cost of producing the physical items in this campaign.  Are you planning on using the money of the campaign to create a set amount of CD’s or are you only producing enough CD’s to fulfill your Kickstarter orders?  How prepared is your budget for “feature creep” when it comes to fulfillment, especially for fun things like international shipping which is beyond your control?  

In the case of the CD’s, we’ll print many more than the number needed to fulfill the Kickstarter orders, since we’re going to make it available for purchase by the general public (after our backers get theirs first, of course). Ordering in larger quantities can also reduce the per-unit costs considerably.

Behind this Kickstarter is a very extensive system of spreadsheets. We’re acutely aware of fulfillment horror stories, and of creative enterprises that now lie in ruins due to incomplete planning. So we tried to set our goals and rewards realistically. Thankfully, we’ve been in the business a long time, and understand the ins and outs of production and distribution--and all the hidden costs that can crop up.

Even with that planning, we’ll be surprised if even 10% of what we collect flows down into our own pockets. Given how much work this is going to be (and how much it’s already been), that’s not a lot. But our hope is that the creative output from the goals will help cast our net wider, bring us new fans, and ultimately allow us to continue creating crazy and interesting stuff for a living.

Plus, let’s be honest: we will have gotten paid (by the backers) to make several new CDs and projects, rather than the usual independent artist method of making the project and hoping folks will buy it and/or it will lead to more exposure and revenue somehow. So we’re certainly not complaining.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

A lot of our friends have run successful Kickstaters, and we’d been considering running one for a long while before coming up with a project we felt was right. Mostly we didn’t want people to say “Oh, Paul and Storm are cashing in on this money-grabber thing, too?” But once we realized how many cool projects we could only do if we had outside funding, it came together quickly.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

We’re still working on that. Frankly it’s the part of the process that makes us a little uncomfortable, despite how comfortable we are engaging on the socials medias in general.

We want to keep awareness up, but we don’t want to annoy everyone and constantly bang the drum and get all up in their faces. That way lies madness. (and cancelled orders)

But we’ll find the right balance. For now it’s still new enough that it’s easy--we’re still trying to reach our wider fanbase about the campaign for the first time.

We’ve posted a few updates so far (mostly lots of “THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU” and info about new rewards, add-ons, and such). A little further in, we’ll likely post some new videos--especially as we develop newer and more ambitious stretch goals--to try to keep people interested and motivated to spread the word. And, of course, to entertain everyone.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

At this point we haven’t really seen much media attention, but if things stay strong they’re bound to catch on! A large part of the project’s appeal for us is getting to work with friends who are professional creators, including many well-known musicians, visual artists, actors, and authors. And we think that when media outlets and aggregators realize how many awesome people are joining in on the fun, it’ll raise some eyebrows.

Twitter is easily our biggest platform, with Facebook a distant second. We also posted it on our website, and sent a notice to our good old-fashioned email list. But that’s pretty much the extent of our direct marketing.

We have been using Kicktraq, mostly because we enjoy looking at cool graphs. It’s only been a curiosity to us so far, but we’re sure it’ll become more useful as we go along. Basically it seems like there isn’t enough data yet to make solid determinations.
Have you gotten Wil, Adam, Scott, Jerry, and/or Mike to give you a shout out to their fans or are you depending solely on your fanbase?

Our feeling is that it’s always nice to get a shout out about our projects from our Friends With Followers, but we never want it to seem like an obligation. Our approach is to let them know it’s happening, and if they’re able to give us a signal boost, great!

That said, quite a few of our friends have indeed helped us put the word out; usually it just depends on timing--these are all really busy people we’re talking about. For example, Wil happened to be online when we first launched, and he was nice enough to give it a boost pretty early on day one.

And these days there’s a tremendous amount of overlap among fanbases--it’s really a golden age for nerdy fandom--so it’s a bit hard to say exactly what the boundaries of our fanbase is!

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Planning, planning, planning. Come up with clearly-defined goals, and know what they’ll cost to execute, down to the penny if possible. Same with the rewards. And it’s just as important (maybe even more important) to think about the best-case scenario as it would be for the worst--dream bigger than you think possible, and you won’t make bad stretch goal decisions. The last thing you need is to be a victim of your own success.

What he said. Even after you’ve planned, then plan to allow some cushion for the unexpected, because the unexpected is inevitable. It certainly happened to us, and because we’ve allowed for it, it hasn’t ruined us. Also, when planning our campaign, we worried for a while about “overcharging” for some items. (Because we have to build in things like postage & handling, order fulfilment, and such) “Why would we ask someone to pledge $25 for a CD they’d normally pay $15 for?”  But when it came down to it, we realized that Kickstarter is not a store; it’s a way for people to invest in artists and projects that they like and want to see more of. It’s like PBS or NPR: nobody pays $75 for a tote bag, they just happen to get a tote bag for their $75 pledge. So don’t be too afraid of those sorts of issues.

Thank you for spending your time with us!   I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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