When the Tree Ring went looking for seed money to produce their debut CD Generous Shadows, they turned to Kickstarter, a global web platform where self-starting artists can carry out donation drives. When they launched a drive in September, Tree Ring members set a goal of $5000. By the November 7 deadline, contributions had reached $6236 from 225 donors.
“The money,” says the Tree Ring’s Joel West, “was to pay the engineer [Chris Hobson], to pay Biggi [short for Birgir Jon Birgirson, who mixed the record], to pay for the mastering, and to produce the physical records.”
Generous Shadows was recorded in an Idyllwild cabin and mixed in Iceland by West and Birgirson at Sundlangin Studios.
The Tree Ring’s Kickstarter page offers a short video, some band history, and CDs for $10 each. “We filmed a piece of one of the new songs,” says violinist Kelly Bennett, “and we explained what we were trying to do. We named Biggi and some of the other producers we were considering.”
The page also offers different pledge options like those used by public radio stations for their funding drives. For example, for $40 a donor could get a signed screen print, a digital download, 12-inch vinyl, a Tree Ring T-shirt, and a 7-inch single.
“It’s kind of NPR-style brackets,” agrees West during band practice in his Golden Hill home with members Darla Hawn, Doug Welcome, and Bennett. “A lot of bands will give you a free guitar lesson or put your name on the album. But we just chose to do it like capitalists, like a presale.”
Why not go direct and cut out middleman Kickstarter, which keeps 5 percent of the artists’ haul? Bennett says the answer to that lies in the concept of legitimacy.
“It’s a little bit of an assurance [to the donors] that the project is going to get done, as opposed to if we each just started collecting 20 bucks from our moms or something.”
As of this writing, West says the band is still waiting for the Kickstarter money. He explains that on November 7 donors’ credit cards were charged and deposited into the Tree Ring’s Amazon account, but that some charges didn’t process correctly. “Most people with any issues resolved the problem, but there are a number who have not done so yet.”