Musicians: Start Your Kickstarter Planning With This Crucial Step to Avoid Epic Failure


Be damn careful… when estimating your Circle of Influence.

Maxwell Hughes is a seriously legit musician.  Watch his Kickstarter video because it’s awesome and funny AND check out a little from his other video posts.  This boy can play!

But unfortunately, his recently ended Kickstarter was unsuccessful.

Using him as an example, let’s talk about how to avoid epic failure by estimating your Circle of Influence and determining your funding goal, BEFORE launching.

[box type=”info” style=”rounded” border=”full”] VIEW PROJECT  |  GOAL $20,000  |  30 DAYS  |  EMAILS 0  |  FB 400  [/box]

Estimating Your Circle of Influence

Before the Video, Before the Project Description, Before the Rewards…

Sit down and think very, very carefully about your true Circle of Influence.

This step should include listing out your friends and family, possibly tightly knit groups of coworkers both present and past.  It may be safe to assume that you can get up to half of them to pledge as long as you have a solid Purpose Worth Backing and are clear about your needs with a good Call To Action.

Also, how many people are on your email list and how many social media fans do you have?

You will get a much smaller proportion of backers from these circles, like maybe 5% (or less) of your email list and even less of your Facebook fans, but you do want to consider as, obviously, they will get some marketing attention.

An Assumption You Should NOT Make

…is that another band’s mailing list can help you out significantly. Yes, it sometimes can help a lot, but don’t hedge your success on it.

Back to Maxwell.

This guy is a KILLER musician.  Especially if you are into badass, fingerpickin’ guitar players.

He was also in The Lumineers for a few years as a touring member and cowriter.  These guys probably have a substantial email list and they have a couple hundred thousand Facebook fans.

But most of their social reach is not interested in Maxwell.

This is absolutely key to understand.

When it comes down to it, when you are on your own, you are on your own, unless you have a strong personal connection with someone else’s fans (you were a founding member or a key member of the band, for example).

So you have to really honestly attempt an accurate estimation of your Circle of Influence.

Regardless of his past experiences, Maxwell’s Circle of Influence is not nearly big enough to support a $20,000 goal.  His Facebook fan page has just over 400 likes.  He mentioned by email that he is just getting organized and does not yet have an email list….

Determining Your Official Funding Goal

Your official goal should be an achievable amount based on your Circle of Influence and your minimum viable project budget (the absolute minimum it would take to make the project a reality) should reflect this.

If you have larger aspirations and are unsure of whether your Circle of Influence matches up, use a flex goal strategy.  Be extremely upfront and clear about what your unofficial (higher) goal is and what that will help you accomplish.

So, back to determining your goal…

You can fairly safely assume between $50 and $70 per backer depending on how your Circle views your project and how you present it.  For example, if you frame it as a pre-order you’ll most likely have a lower average pledge per backer than if you frame your project around a fundraiser, where you’ll be asking a higher-than-real-world price for your staple items ($20 to $35 for a CD, for example).

This number will, of course, be influenced by your project including your Purpose, Call To Action, overall project design/quality, and rewards package design…  But for now, we are just planning and need a number to base on.

A Rough Estimate

Any estimate will naturally be very dependent on you and your specific situation.

But just for shits and giggles, let’s bang out a number of an example scenario that is probably similar to Maxwell’s case.

Let’s use a conservative figure of $50 per backer.

Let’s say you have a personal circle of 200 family and close friends.

And assume that you have an email list of a couple hundred as well as a social media following of a couple hundred.

If you can get up to half of your personal circle to commit and 3% to 5% of your social media fans to commit, you are probably looking at just over 100 backers.  For planning, be conservative and assume 100.

Apply our $/backer and your project goal = 100 backers * $50 / backer = $5,000 Kickstarter goal.

Look at Maxwell’s unsuccessful Kickstarter.  He garnered just over $5000 in support!  If his official goal had been in line with our conservative estimate, he could have used an unofficial, higher flex goal and likely managed to hit $8,000-$10,000.


It is critical to make an honest, realistic attempt at assessing your Circle of Influence.  You must develop an official Kickstarter goal that has some relation to the real world!

When doing this, actually make a list of friends and family!

Then, assume that your social media reach isn’t nearly as big as you think it is.

Develop your estimate.

If your estimate isn’t what you want your project to be, think about whether or not you can get a project done that you’d be happy with at that amount and then use a kick-ass flex goal approach to reach for your ultimate goal simultaneous to improving your chances at success with a lower, official goal.

Then, work like a DOG to prove yourself wrong and turn your Circle into fundraising backers left and right!


Want to Know EXACTLY What To Do And When To Do It?

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  1. C says

    So, if we are being “brutally honest”/realistic… we have a circle of influence of around 25-30 but the problem is that of those 25-30 folks, 99% of them are just a broke as we are… so does this mean we really don’t have what we need for a crowdfunding campaign?
    would greatly appreciate an answer, even privately, if possible.

    • Ian Anderson says

      I am surprised at that low of a number and would love to hear more about your circumstances. Also, I want to check and be sure that your number of 25-30 isn’t your estimate of who you think would actually back you. At this point, you just need to make as complete of a list as possible without guessing as to who would do what.

      It is possible that extenuating circumstances such as your entire inner circle being broke would negatively affect your ability to fundraise. But you need to be sure that you’ve thought through everybody – friends, family, coworkers, fans… anyone who may have an interest.

      Finally, there are more ways than one to promote your crowdfunding campaign. Check out this post and this post.

  2. says

    Hello Ian,

    How happy to read your very timely, valuable information as I am soon to create my 2nd kickstarter campaign. My first was a success. The goal was $3200.00 The cost of this new project is climbing much higher. (I am in mid-project). I was planning to ask about $10k. (which would cover about 50% of my estimated costs)
    Now that I’ve read this tale of fail… I’m uncertain/concerned with this amount succeeding.
    I like my odds of the flex goal approach and good to know how to approach that. I have been working since the release of the last CD 2011, to build more fans etc on FB, (about 550) live shows, mailing list (900+) etc. I am stunned that only “3-5%” of my fans and SM grps will want to contribute. I’m sure your research is accurate, but it’s disappointing. (welcome learning curve!) My circle of influence is not that large, so if my GOAL should be based on this, it’s not a pretty picture. Am I missing something that should make me feel a little better than I do about my prospects? This almost feels like I should go with one of the other CF programs that let you take whatever funds you pull in. Thank you for your input. jean

    • Ian Anderson says

      hey jean, glad you asked… you can imagine that not every fan base is created equal. some artists have super supportive fan bases while some are less so. how many backers you ultimately get from your fanbase depends mostly on you and how deep your relationship is with them. if you are really tight with your fans and you spend a lot of time interacting, then you will have better luck getting them to back.

      another thing to keep in mind is that this low number of 3-5% is basically for your “average” fans. turbo fans who are flat out gungho supporters are much more likely to back you.

      i am glad you are looking into this now. and, without knowing much else, your instinct to go with a platform that let’s you keep your $$ regardless may be an appropriate idea. the alternative would be to lower your official goal amount if that’s something you are comfortable with. good luck!

  3. Kyle says

    Hello Ian, thank you for this, it is extremely helpful. Im going to be starting my kickstarter in the next few weeks, and I had a question for you. The person that is recording and producing my project is a famous musician that heard my stuff and became interested. Do you think that if i posted on his bands pages and contacted his fans that they would be into backing the project bc that certain musician is producing it? have you ever had experience with something like this? thanks for your time, I appreciate it.

    • Ian Anderson says

      hey kyle! this is a 2 part answer.

      1) DON’T COUNT ON THEIR SUPPORT! As you design your campaign especially including goal amounts and marketing plans, just assume that the producer’s fans will not care. To be honest, this will by and large be true buuuut…

      2) TRY TO CAPITALIZE ON THIS RELATIONSHIP by getting the producer to tweet, email, FB or whatever else about your project to his fans. If this is a possibility, it could result in some good results. Just be sure to not be cheesy and try to highlight where their enthusiasm for the producer’s band intersects with your own project.

      go check out the fundability calculator BEFORE you launch. (

      after that, be sure to watch your email b/c we’ll be sending you an offer to take the first module of our Music Crowdfunding Course for Intelligent Musicians.

      In order to connect to the producer’s fans in any way, shape or form, you need to DO THIS MODULE and nail it in your campaign.

      (I know, shameless self promo, but I am dead serious. It is the secret sauce for engaging new viewers.)

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