Interview: Jim Cosgrove (Mr. Stinky Feet) on Crowdfunding

Suitcase_Cosgrove.jpgA couple days ago, Jim "Mr. Stinky Feet" Cosgrove sent out his latest newsletter with a most interesting proposition -- please help fund his next CD:

As some of you may know, the landscape of the music industry has changed dramatically over the past five years. As the giant labels have faltered or collapsed with the rapid decline of retail album sales, independent artists have emerged as the leaders of the changing tide. Where some see a shriveled industry on life support, I see opportunity and challenge. And I love challenges.

So, I'm asking you to join me as we embark on an adventure into new territory. I have a goal of raising enough money to pay for outstanding musicians, promotion, production, and a Grammy-nominated producer for my new record. Please help me make this dream a reality. You've already been a big part of my success, so please consider taking part in the production of this project. You'd buy the new CD anyway, right? So, consider this a pre-purchase plan.

His specific funding levels start at $20 (get an autographed copy of the album), move up to $50 (autographed CD, t-shirt, and bonus CD), and go up from there -- my favorite title is the $150 "Now You're Just Showing Off". (Go here for the complete list and/or to make a contribution.)

While this sort of "crowdfunding" has been around for awhile (I wasn't the only one for whom Kickstarter came immediately to mind), it's the first time it's been explicitly used in the kids music scene. (The closest Kickstarter project was this successful project which sought funding to make a soundtrack by a tween indie rock band to accompany a tween indie rock novel.)

So when I got the newsletter I immediately shot off some questions to Jim, whose answers I think are pretty much required reading for artists (and probably family music fans in general), regardless of whether or not they want to follow Cosgrove on this particular path.

Zooglobble: Aside from the general upheaval in the music industry, what specifically led you to crowdfund your next CD?
Jim Cosgrove: Challenging times call for creative solutions. So, rather than putting the whole thing on credit, we looked at other models and found that many bands in other genres have been successful in getting their fans directly involved.

I meet parents all the time who thank me for my music and for the fun we bring to families, and they ask me if there is anything they can do to help. Now, I'm calling in those offers. And I really think people want to help and like to help and want to be part of something that is fun and positive.

Is there a particular dollar amount you have in mind?
Our goal is $8,000, which is less than half the cost of the production, promotion, and distribution. If we raise more, great! Regardless of the response, we're going forward with the project.

Is there any particular reason you chose not to use Kickstarter for this project?
Main reason...I'd never heard of Kickstarter until [yesterday]. However, I am aware of similar sites like Pledge Music, and whereas they could potentially bring in new fans, they have limitations. And we wanted to make this a very personal appeal directly to our fans, many of whom we have come to know very well. So we've used our data base and Facebook and Twitter.

Is there a time limit for you to get the money?
Our goal is to raise funds in 60 days. In the first 24 hours, we're off to a great start!

You spent some time having your releases distributed by a major label -- what are the advantages and disadvantages of this new model from your perspective?
Warning: You've opened a can of worms... Indeed, we had a major label experience, and we learned a whole lot about business and life in general. We only feel foolish and a bit embarrassed to have given up so much control and received so little in return, but we are grateful for the lessons (and we made some good friends out of the deal -- so all is well.)

Indie production and distribution is it -- it's where we all need to be. No turning back. And no need to. The major label model is so painfully outdated -- it's never coming back. Quite literally their business is based on a 1950s model: We produce your record, we grease some radio stations with some payola, people hear the music, love it, go down to the corner record store and buy it. That's it. And we all know what's missing in that picture. NO RECORD STORES! Also, the artist in this model gets 12-15% of revenue after their "loan" is paid off. Hmmm... let's see... sell my soul for 15% or maintain integrity and keep 100%. No contest.

We all are trying to figure out how to make a living with the reality of the changing landscape. We are the agents of that change -- don't look to the labels for answers. They're too busy trying to stop their hemorrhaging. Fortunately for us in the family music genre, parents are still buying CDs. How long that will last is the million dollar question. And you and I view a CD differently than a kid. For us, a CD is a form of media that stores information. Now it's easier and cheaper (and more eco-friendly) to get our information (songs, movies, data) directly from the digital source on line. No need for CDs. But for a child, that CD is not just a medium; it's a toy. They want to feel it, look at it, play with it, study it, chew on it, and ultimately listen to it. And you've satisfied all of their learning needs -- visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. As long as they need those toys, we'll still produce them.

I think it's important to add that the best way for most of us to sell records is to perform as often as possible. Barring a TV show deal with Disney (which by no means guarantees anything), we've got to get ourselves in front of live audiences -- even more so than radio audiences. (A great example is some friends of mine who had a #1 song on XM Kids for several weeks in a row and it didn't affect their record sales even a smidge or result in any live bookings.) People want to feel a connection with a human and they will buy the product to retain that connection -- to relive the show! About 90% of our sales are at live shows. For more than a decade, we've been averaging about 230-260 shows a year -- and as I get older, it doesn't get physically easier, but I love what I do.

And don't be afraid to give your music away! We just played a show in Texas that came from a woman who contacted us after becoming a fan when she bid on and won a package of my CDs at a fundraising auction. We donate to nearly every organization that asks -- more than 85 of them last year. You never know into whose hands those CDs will land.