There is a hint of exhaustion in Adam Turla’s voice when he talks about Kickstarter. “It didn’t occur to me how many people would be emailing questions,” says the vocalist/guitarist of Bloomington, Indiana, band Murder By Death. “Every person who spends $4,000 or $5,000, they wanna know that they’re gonna get exactly what they want. There were also a lot of people trying to wheel and deal.”
Last summer, he and the band got some attention for their Kickstarter project to fund the release of their new album, Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. What made the project truly unique was the band’s creative and personalized rewards to backers. In total, it raised $187,047, making it the fourth most successful music project in Kickstarter history.
It’s easy to see why they might have underestimated the endeavor. On the surface, Kickstarter seems like a surefire way for bands to make some easy, fast money. Step 1: Make a Kickstarter page. Step 2: Tweet out the link to your adoring fans. Step 3: Sit back and let that sweet pledge money roll in. But as Murder By Death learned firsthand, after the pledging smoke clears, there’s a lot of cleanup to be done afterward.
“I’d say I was working about 100 hours a week on just the Kickstarter,” says Turla. “We were on tour, and I would wake up in the morning and work through breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would work until we were going onstage. Then, I would walk away from the computer, play the show, walk right back to the computer and deal with all the stuff.”
And now, almost nine months since the campaign wrapped up, Murder By Death are slowly getting back to normal life. They took a moment to reflect on the progress of some of the offbeat pledge options they offered:
Murder By Death will perform in your living room, basement, etc. in the U.S. ($4,000 or more)
“I’ll tell you honestly, I’ll be very relieved when the shows are done,” says Turla. “Just because it’s the most stressful part of this whole thing, trying to not double up on dates. And it’s like, I can’t cancel on someone’s wedding, you know?”
Turla and cellist Sarah Balliet played their first of seven private gigs, a wedding in the Catskills, last September. “Everyone I’ve talked to in a band who does a Kickstarter thinks they’re gonna get some freak who’s obsessed with them and so far, my experiences have not been that at all,” says Turla. “These people made it so easy on us. Sarah and I flew in, they welcomed us, made us feel comfortable right away, and we surprised the bride. She didn’t know we were doing it. We serenaded her for three songs and then we partied with them at their wedding until two in the morning. It was a breeze; I just got drunk.”
The bride, Katie Hald, saw the Kickstarter campaign and tried to book the band for her wedding but got a response that they were unavailable that day. It turned out, her fiancé, Eric, had beaten her to it. “After our ceremony in the woods, Eric and I were walking to our cocktail hour in the barn,” she remembers. “And Sarah and Adam were standing in front of the barn. I think I started laughing and crying at the same time.”
The band have also played a 40th birthday party and are scheduled to play two more weddings, a living-room show, an antique shop and a BBQ cookoff featuring a feats of strength contest.
MBD will fly you and a friend to Cedar Point amusement park and ride roller coasters all day with you. ($4,001 or more)
This deal was made in person. At a show in Austin, Texas, a few people from Oklahoma approached the band about it and bartered for a lower price. Over a few drinks, they made a deal and not long after, they were all riding roller coasters. They went all out, buying the park’s fast pass, the souvenir photos and all the add-ons the park offered. “We are roller coaster enthusiasts in our group and general purveyors of good times,” beams Turla. Although they all had a great time, financially, this was not an incredibly profitable venture for the band.
MBD covers any song you request. ($1,000 or more)
Also not a particularly profitable aspect of their campaign, Murder By Death agreed to cover a song of your choice for $1,000. The result was a 15-song covers album called As You Wish, which included songs by everyone from Misfits to INXS to Wilson Phillips. The album is still available for download, but the band had to remove the streaming option from Bandcamp. “We took it down because basically, we lost money on that whole thing,” says Turla. “We have to pay each artist each time something streams—and we did not realize that.”
MBD Whiskey Crew ($100 or more)
Murder By Death were vague about this one on their Kickstarter page. “Get a sweet-ass MBD gang patch. If you show up wearing your colors at an MBD show, you will be pleased to see the perks you will receive at the merch table,” the page read. “Plus look fuckin’ rad.”
“This wasn’t a particularly expensive prize but people really seem to be getting into it,” says bassist Matt Armstrong. “Whiskey Crew members all over the country have found each other and become friends. There's a group on Facebook and you can find it as a tag on Instagram and Twitter. People really are treating it like an actual club, and I think that's really cool. They meet up at shows and plan road trips and stuff like that.”
Our drummer Dagan will get a tattoo of anything you want. ($750 or more)
This photo (left) speaks for itself. The pledger’s other idea was a tattoo in Dagan’s least favorite font that said, “Some guy in Ohio made me get this dumb tattoo.”
MBD Kentucky Bourbon Trail Blowout ($6,500 or more)
The most expensive option on the Kickstarter and the only domestic one that went unfunded. The band promised to escort pledgers around the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in a limo. “If people only knew how decadent that was gonna be,” says Turla, laughing. “I thought someone would buy that as a wedding present or have 20 friends pitch in.”
One-year subscription to the MBD Book Club ($350 or more)
A very personalized item, the band promised to send backers a different book every month with a personalized inscription on why they love it. This ate up a lot of time as the band had to call distributors for wholesale prices, search Amazon and eBay and scour bookstores.
Last summer, Turla had all the Kickstarter rewards (vinyl, CDs, shirts, posters) shipped to his house. 1,200 pounds arrived—and that was just the shipping boxes. All in all, he says 32,000 pounds of merchandise showed up on 20 pallets. “It was enough to fill every room of my house with just enough room to walk to the bathroom and to my bed. It was insane.”
The band and their friends spent 12 hours a day, six days a week, for a straight month packing orders while watching movies. “We watched something like 50 movies,” he says. “Everything from They Live to Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”
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