Don’t Suck, Don’t Give Up – How The Hacking Of Kickstarter Strengthened My Resolve

Jim Tramontana writes for Bleeding Cool:

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On Saturday, February 15, 2014, CEO Yancey Strickler sent out an email reporting that Kickstarter was hacked.  According to the email, the popular crowdfunding website had been infiltrated by hackers on Wednesday, February 12 and data including “usernames, email addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers and encrypted passwords” were stolen.

My immediate response to learning this news was, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”

I had just spent the better part of three months preparing and launching my first Kickstarter campaign. Now, overnight, I was watching all that work go straight to hell in real time.  First, chatter began on Twitter and Facebook. Then, major news sites and blogs ran the story, and in the span of 24 hours my campaign, which had been steadily tracking upward towards its funding goal, took a steep nosedive. To make things worse, the more I thought about it, I realized that it’s actually closer to two years worth of work down the drain. Yet, after the initial shock wore off, I paused and realize that I wasn’t angry or upset about it in the least.

A Little Background

In 2012, my band,Red Hot Rebellion, released our debut album with a tie-in comic book.  Each page of the comic coincides with a song on the album, telling the story of a beat-down work-a-day slob who becomes a bone a fide rock ‘n’ roll monster thanks to a handy deal with the devil. We pressed the album on red, transparent vinyl and compact disc, packaged in the comic book, and hit the road playing crappy bars all over the Midwestern United States. We were building a regional fan base, slugging it out in the seedy underbelly of the underground rock scene, sometimes playing to just 10 people (most of whom were in the other bands on the bill that night). It’s a common story that you’ve heard a million times, the small band paying its dues blah, blah, blah. But then something magical happened. We started attending comic conventions.

Instead of spending our evenings shouting over detuned guitars at half-inebriated, would-be fans (whom we love by the way – we always say the drunker you are, the better we sound), we were able to have real, in-depth conversations with fans of art and storytelling in an environment where you can cut the excitement with bloody adamantium claws. Additionally, there’s one important thing that sets comic con attendees apart: They are there to buy! At our first convention, we sold double the amount of merchandise than we usually sell at a bar show and we didn’t have to stay out until 4 AM to do it. What a concept! Needless to say, we were hooked.

Nukes, Aliens, and Pints. Oh My!

Fast forward to spring of 2013 where I find myself sitting at an airport bar, waiting for a flight on a business trip for my day job (yes, we still need to work day jobs – we’re not the Foo Fighters and I sure ain’t Steve Niles). As I wiled away the time, slowing draining a pint of Guinness, I watched the bar TV report on some flavor-of-the-week indie fluff band. I began lamenting the current state of popular music and how weak it was.  After a few pints, it hit me.  What if aliens from the other side of the galaxy have been listening to our music this whole time and are just as appalled as I am? What if they consider balls-out rock ‘n’ roll to be the highest form of musical expression and the one thing that separates lesser species from the more evolved? What if a thriving rock scene was a prerequisite to joining a great Galactic Union of advanced worlds? What would those aliens do to steer us back on path? Why, they would send a band to Earth to set things right, that’s what!

Around this time Red Hot Rebellion was working on a song called “Melt The Sky.” The initial inspiration for the song was Operation Starfish Prime, the Cold War military exercise in which the U.S. conducted high-altitude nuclear bomb testing. A few researchers were concerned that detonating a nuclear bomb on the edge of outer space could ignite the ozone layer and essentially melt the entire sky. To which the military said, “Meh. It’ll be one helluva show. Let’s see what happens anyway.” OK. That’s not a direct quote, but it’s definitely within the spirit of their attitude at the time.

This struck me as such an insanely ballsy move and my imagination was reeling from it. Red Hot Rebellion’s music has always been a throwback of sorts. We take classic metal, punk, and garage rock and add in modern intensity and production.  Exactly the kind of sound that would be made by a band of aliens who were sent to Earth to put on “one helluva show.”

From these ideas (and several pints of Guinness) I spent my flight feverishly scribbling down a story that would drive our lyrical and artistic content for the next several months.  In the story, Red Hot Rebellion would be that band sent to Earth to assume human identities and slug it out in the broken music scene in order to steer humanity back on its righteous path to glory. “Melt The Sky” was both a battle cry and a mission statement.  This was a perfect opportunity to expand what we did with the first album (one song, one page) into an elaborate multi-page story that would have the most kickass soundtrack we could muster.

In August 2013, we released a five-song EP entitled…you guessed it, “Melt The Sky.” The idea being that this would serve to tease the next full-length album and keep people interested.

Fun With Comic Artists & PR Campaigns

After two false starts with comic artists (one was hospitalized after a knife fight and the other was offered the job of a lifetime designing posters for his favorite band – not Red Hot Rebellion) we partnered with Studio Akumakaze, a comic art studio based in our hometown who had already achieved moderate success with their own titles Scrap and Seven Sisters.  I presented them a script and to my amazement artist Chris Martin began sketching characters and scenes that very day. Now these were real pros!  We had a comic studio on board to create the comic book, we were writing and recording new songs that all tied in with the alien story, we had just released a 5-song EP to keep our rabid fans frothing at the mouth, and we dumped a large sum of money into a PR campaign to promote the whole shebang.

In hindsight, we should not have dumped a large sum of money into a PR campaign to promote the whole shebang because it:

1.       Got us exactly five posts on blogs — something we could’ve done ourselves

2.       Depleted most of our funds, leaving the album and comic project in serious jeopardy

Enter Kickstarter

I had backed exactly one Kickstarter campaign, Blur Studio’s campaign to create a proof of concept reel for a movie of Eric Powell’s The Goon, and was familiar with the basics. However, in order to run one myself, I needed more information. I absorbed all I could on Kickstarter’s own Kickstarter School, watched YouTube videos, read blogs, checked out Kickstarter For Dummies from my local library and reached out to a mutual friend who had run two successful campaigns.  I watched countless Kickstarter project videos, noting what worked, what didn’t, what annoyed me etc. I analyzed backer rewards, created several, ran them by friends and trusted sources, and edited them down.  I decided that even though this project was a comic book and an album, we would list it under the Comics category of Kickstarter. There are about one-tenth the amount of comic projects than music projects on Kickstarter, so this was a strategic choice for more visibility.

Next, I wrote a script for our very own Kickstarter video, created a storyboard, shot the video with my super talented bandmates — we each took turns playing the roles of onscreen talent, lighting tech, videographer and sound engineer.  I edited the video myself (having spent the past several months dabbling with Adobe Premier to the point where I was now competent) and began amassing lists of bloggers, friends, family, and acquaintances. I uploaded the video to YouTube as a private video and solicited feedback from my inner circle. Changes we made. After we were satisfied with the video, I began building the Kickstarter campaign page and also reached out to comic and music bloggers.  Connections were made. Friendships established.  Excitement was building and people were ready to spread the word the moment we launched.

All of this research and prep took months, working a little each day, until it was all ready.  I had learned that, in general, shorter campaigns are more successful because of the immediacy of it all and we decided that February, being the shortest month, would be the perfect time to launch.  Also, February 1 just happen to coincide with the Independent Creators Expo, a new convention for indie creators of all kinds (comics, film, art, music) that was being hosted by our partners at Studio Akumakaze.

The Launch, The Climb and The Hackers

Within three days of launching, we had posts on more than 30 different blogs, our campaign video had thousands of views across several different sites, we got hundreds of shares and tweets on Facebook and Twitter and were 20% funded. The next week we climbed to 39% funded. Then progress slowed. We were prepared for this to happen, as conventional wisdom said that most campaigns experience a slowdown in middle. However, on February 15, the slowdown turned into a complete halt.  And since then we’ve remained completely stalled. That’s when Kickstarter announce they’d been hacked and all the bad press undermined two years of work in the course of 24 hours. I’ve since heard from several people who’ve said they would’ve backed our campaign, but are now afraid to use Kickstarter.

My response to learning this news is, “Who cares?”

You’d think I feel defeated and ready to throw in the towel. You’d think that if you didn’t know the mantra I repeat to myself almost every day, “Don’t suck. Don’t give up.”

See, here’s the thing. This comic book and album are going to get made no matter what. We are still playing shows and attending comic conventions. We’re still employed at our day jobs and we’re still writing and recording. It’s just going to take us a little longer to make this new album and comic.

No, we’re not defeated by what’s happened with Kickstarter, we’re empowered. Because it proved to me that we have a loyal and generous fan base that cares enough to contribute their hard-earned money to help us create the art we love.  I’ve made tons of new friends and met other creators that have sowed the seeds for future creative endeavors.  I’ve conducted a successful PR campaign myself and drove a ton of traffic to our website and our Facebook page. All these are giant successes.

So, we’ll let this Kickstarter campaign ride out until the end (February 28, 2014). Which, will most likely result in not meeting our funding foal. Who cares if we don’t meet goal? We’ll take what we’ve learned, build on it and try again. Either with another, more tightly focused Kickstarter campaign, or by using one of the other crowdfunding platforms out there. Or we can just do it ourselves through a pre-order campaign on our own website. We have a fully-functional ecommerce website tied directly to a PayPal account. Why make our fans give money to some code-jockeys in Brooklyn when they can go straight to us?

I’ve basically spent the last several months over-complicating something that is super simple.  Which kind of sucks, because one of the three rules we have in Red Hot Rebellion is “keep it simple.” The other two are “stay hydrated” and “never play acoustic.” Honestly, we’re not that complicated. And I just made this project super, super complicated. Whoops. But hey, at least I’ve realized it now and I’m ready to say, yet again, “Don’t suck and don’t give up.”

If you’d like to kick our Kickstarter out of its death throes, have at it. Here’s a link.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/solidjim/red-hot-rebellion-ii-comic-book-and-concept-album

If you’d like to stay in the loop on the progress of this project, you can join our mailing list at http://www.redhotrebellion.com or follow us on Twitter (@redhotrebellion) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RedHotRebellion).