August 2, 2016
The daughter of a Washington, DC, media strategist, Molly Neuman started her music career as a 20-year-old drummer for the punk riot grrrl groups Bratmobile, The Frumpies and the PeeChees. Her first record label job was with the Berkeley, CA-based Lookout Records label, known as the original home for Green Day before they signed to Warner Bros., and then spent time as VP/Label Relations for eMusic. Neuman worked for the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) and became interim President when Rich Bengloff stepped down and joined Kickstarter last January, where she works as Head of Music in the company's Greenpoint, Brooklyn, headquarters.
Did you ever throw your own hat in the ring for the top job at A2IM?
I did but then I withdrew when this opportunity came up. I was looking at what the A2IM role required from one's life, and though I still feel passionately about the independent label community, I wanted to be able to spend quality time with my two-year-old daughter. I wanted a career I could be proud of, and do interesting things, but I also wanted to be present for her. My husband and I both work full-time, so that was going to be difficult. Though it's not like this job is a cakewalk ... There are some great challenges and opportunities here. I was very supportive of Richard [James Burgess]' candidacy, though. He was the Chairman of the Board when I was interim President, so the transition was pretty smooth.
What was it that attracted you to the job at Kickstarter and made it a good fit for your skill set?
The biggest thing was it involved working with creatives, helping musicians achieve their artistic vision and generate the resources to do that. I started as a musician, then worked on the label side, did artist management. Over the past 10 years, I've been more on the business, distribution and advocacy side. The opportunity to work with artists again was exciting. I believe Kickstarter can be part of the solution for our business. We can give those passionate, emotional decisions that are sometimes made for and by artists, turning those instincts into a real foundation with legs. By helping artists generate resources, it puts them in a stronger position if they want to go to a record company, showing there's a supportive community, an audience connection, which provides an income. The era of the demo deal appears to be over. Might Kickstarter be an option for modernizing artist development?
There have been some real music success stories on Kickstarter.
De La Soul raised $600,000, which certainly makes it one of the most prominent music success stories and it shows the potential of our platform. And it allows them to work out favorable deals with their distribution partners. We have a chance to play a role of benefit for all the different stake-holders in our industry. And that's what was exciting to me. Being part of a larger company - able to pull support from other departments to support our initiator - is nice. Our CEO, Yancey Stickler, is a dear friend of mine, someone I worked with at eMusic. I'm also proud of the fact this is a public benefits corporation, which means positive impact on society is part of our legally defined goals. Kickstarter supports a more creative and equitable world in part by donating 5% of or profits towards arts and music education, and to organizations fighting to end systemic inequality. To have your values enforced in the place where you work is pretty awesome. We're focused on investing in creativity; we're not looking to be acquired.
Can Kickstarter Music also help new bands?
One of the things we do well for bands is helping them involve their fan base in their creative objectives. Earlier this year, we had an artist, Too Many Zooz, who are subway buskers here in New York City. They became YouTube phenomena and decided to run a Kickstarter campaign. They had a monetary goal which was pretty high -- $100,000 -- but weren't really concerned about not reaching it. With about three days left, they had raised about half of it, and we helped them use their existing Kickstarter backer base to generate the other $50 grand at the deadline. Which, to me, that's a powerful example of the possibilities of the platform, combined with the artists, of course. We want to be seen as a resource for artist development on a community activation and financial resources level.
What is the thinking behind the "all-or-nothing" notion of reaching your financial goal?
We're confident about that part of our offer. We feel it's motivating when your audience sees your goal and help you cross the line. It's an important aspect of what we do. It also reduces the risk to the people who are supporting you, if you're unable to accomplish that goal.
Do Kickstarter campaigns offer a way for bands to prove their economic viability to other interested parties like record labels, publishing companies or management?
It's an artist development opportunity in an area where the industry isn't making that kind of investment. That's a role where we can play.
Is a Kickstarter label a possibility for the future?
Not really. The way that the company has been set up is about the campaign and the project, helping creators realizes their goals. We'd love to build resources for our creators to have access to partnerships with third party services. We're associate members of A2IM, so we can be a strong conduit, especially with my contacts, but a full-service record label is not part of our plans.
Is it your job to attract bands to start Kickstarter campaigns?
Music is one of our 15 categories here, so I'm responsible for that. How many projects are being launched, how successful they are ... Developing those partner relationships, making sure our team is here to help the creators set up their campaigns to ensure their success. I'm also doing A&R, going out and trying to find new artists who would benefit from our platform.
How does Kickstarter make its money?
We get 5% from everything that's raised from successful projects. The creators cover the credit card fees for the amounts pledged.
How do you distinguish Kickstarter from your main competition like Pledge Music and Patreon?
We're much more project and shorter-campaign driven and our community of 11 million backers/patrons of the arts is larger than any other creative community of its kind, which means greater opportunity for discovery.
We also have the benefit of non-musical projects ... books, films, music documentaries, product design, games, technology that sometimes cross over into music. The eclectic nature of our platform is unique. In March, we acquired the subscription platform Drip, which has been used by many significant labels and artists to engage with their fans in an ongoing basis. More on that in the future.
Does this kind of patronage model represent the wave of the future in terms of band financing?
It's all about trying to be part of a healthier music ecosystem. How can we help companies and individuals make better decisions informed by actual experience? A Kickstarter campaign tells you exactly how committed your audience is to pulling the trigger, how much money you can raise. And that hasn't been the way this business has generally done things, and it's time we do. We're trying to build another level of community and discovery for music that can also take something away from the success of our other categories.
What have you found makes for a successful Kickstarter campaign?
People respond to the story, the video, the imagery, the music. That's the key. Evaluating your audience, and have that line up with the goal you have in mind. Nothing comes out of thin air. You need a foundation of fans to start with, which we can help amplify. There are a significant number of people who don't necessarily care about rewards; they just want to support the artist. Getting access to the updates you offer throughout the campaign is sometimes enough. That's really key.
You started out as a musician. At one point did you decide to work behind the scenes?
I was in a punk band, so commercial success wasn't really on my radar. I didn't have that instinct that performing or writing would be my career. I had other interests. I liked the business. When the opportunity came to work at a label, I took it at Lookout Records in 1994. I was there after "Dookie" came out on Warner Bros., so I was brought on to help with the needs of the catalog and work in marketing, publicity and promotion for all the artists that were active at the time.
How are you doing six months in?
I'm enjoying it. There's a lot of opportunity here. It's great to be in a place with resources and a dedication to creative pursuit. And there are so many people with musical backgrounds who work here, including two of the founders. It's really refreshing to work at a technology company in a different way. I'm pretty optimistic about building something is helpful in developing artists in a meaningful way. I just wish I had these tools when I first started a band at 20 years old. It's nice to be able to generate resources from your 20,000 fans. Maybe my career would have been entirely different.
How are you balancing work and motherhood?
I think we're doing pretty well. Our days are long, but we still get to spend quality time with our daughter. I think it's working for us.