Kickstarter Math is Weird

08/31/2015 at 10:32 am | Posted in 1904 | Comments Off on Kickstarter Math is Weird

or, Spreadsheets are the Best Things in the World.  (This blog post also lives at

This is a loooooong blog post for you numbers and crowdfunding nerds,* so if you’re instantly bored, just trust me, Kickstarter math is weird! This is not a walk in the park as reading goes and I’m not the best writer.

But if you are planning on crowdfunding anything anytime soon — I beg you to read this, think through your own project, and make your own spreadsheets.

Because you should do LOTS of weird Kickstarter math before you crowdfund anything.

(Here, I made you a spreadsheet to practice! It’s explained and screencapped throughout this article. For our purposes I made variables red rather than negatives, so they jump out at you.)

How Much Do I Have to Raise?

Say you want to fundraise to make a thing, and the thing you want to make is My New Album — hooray! So first you make a budget, then you set that as our Kickstarter goal, right? Easy! No.

So how much should you ask for? And how much do you really need?

I’m in the middle of this real fundraiser right now, though many of the numbers below have been changed to protect the innocent. My base budget for this album is about $35-40,000. That includes lots of musicians, studios, travel, album art, CD manufacturing, mixing/mastering, buying lunch for the band on long studio days, making music videos, and paying rent while I work on the album — albums don’t yield monthly dividends til they’re done.

My budget is based on real numbers and quotes, not guesses, down to exact airfare and realistic food estimates. Don’t ever guess on your project budget — you probably don’t have to. A little research, a few phone calls, will save you a lot of trouble.

Having done my research and adding some wiggle room for mistakes and do-overs — $40k is my ideal project budget.

But I also need to know what my minimum budget is. What is my project budget that does not include wiggle room or strings and horns or backup singers or videos? About $30,000. We can survive without those things if necessary.

And I can subtract from that $30,000 my own investment and other fundraising. I raise money in lots of ways, applying for grants, holding special concerts, and bringing in private donors. I also ante up myself — I invest as much as I personally can in my project. So let’s say I can knock $8,000-9000 off my budget through my own funding and other folks’ purchases outside of Kickstarter. Now I’m at around $22,000 — that’s the bare minimum I have to raise! Step one completed.

Step two: figure out how much you can fundraise.

How much you can raise and how much you need to raise are totally unrelated numbers, sorry to say — you might need $100,000 but if you can only raise $5000, ask for $5000, and deliver what you’re promising to those backers. Or change what you plan to make.

Crowdfunding is not a magical wishing well, it’s a community. The “crowd” that you petition is a family you build over a very long time with very hard work. If you don’t have a crowd yet, fund your work some other way. You have to know who will be supporting you (their names and faces and kids) and you have to know what they want. You have to be able to estimate how much they will pay, individually and as a group.

I have done a lot of fundraising in the past, and I know my audience pretty well. But I still need to run a few different scenarios. I mean, think through all the things that can go wrong and right during your campaign:

  • What if my fans have crowdfunding exhaustion? They absolutely do.
  • What if a couple of reliable big donors don’t turn up like I expect? Do not assume they’re in; they don’t owe you, and they don’t always show up.
  • What if they’re not as interested in this project as they were in my last one? That is absolutely possible, there are newer shinier projects out there.
  • What if I somehow go viral and have thousands more backers than I expect — can I cope with the workload? Many Kickstarters tank even in spectacular success. A surprise $2,000,000 can bankrupt a project that would have been solvent at $2000.
  • What if the news is really awful when my campaign ends/when my record launches and I can’t promote? This happened to me during Hurricane Sandy; media outlets that promised coverage were literally underwater and of course did not run stories. Some factors are totally out of your control.

You never know exactly how much you will fundraise, even if you’ve done it before. So be prepared for every scenario.

Scenarios are your friend.

To that end, I have a spreadsheet running scenarios like this on my $30,918 budget:

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 4.02.25 PMTaxes and fees will be a hefty percentage of your total earnings — so will shipping and rewards fulfillment!

Check this out: I appear to raise $30,000, the entire budget for my record, but I still lose $3,944. And that’s after I invest $8089 from other sources. Without my additional investment…

…My take-home cash to make my record is $18,884 if I raise $30,000.

But all $30k that you raised is taxable. It’s taxable at the federal, state, and local level. And you might have to pay sales tax, too, on behalf of some of your backers (always collect the zip codes of your backers, even for digital goods!). You can write off of your expenses if you are a business, so ask yourself: are you a business? If you are, do you have a city and state business license, and relevant insurance — and do you need them? This is your job to find out.

If you are selling an item, including a digital item, you probably need a business license in your state. They’re easy to get for most business owners, and you should have one. You should probably also have a bank account separate from your personal account to keep track of your funds. Expect a 1099-K from Kickstarter or your crowdfunding site. Even if you fundraise on your own, without a platform, Paypal or Square (or whoever processes your payments) will send you a 1099-K or another statement. And in January, send 1099-MISC forms to everyone that you paid, even friends and bandmates.

Once you use a crowdfunding platform your days of under-the-table business are behind you. This is real income, you have to report it, and you have to pay taxes on it. In some states you can’t write off business expenses, so you may owe state income taxes on the entire amount. You should know things like this before finalizing your budget. Taxes are not the end of the world, but they *are* a variable you need to build into your budget so that you raise the right amount. Know what your tax burden will be, and you won’t get bit!

In the end, though, your crowdfunding goal should be determined by the amount your crowdfunding community can cheerfully bear. No begging and pleading, no desperation or self-flagellation should enter into it — they want to see themselves climbing this mountain together in a spirit of fun and enthusiasm. Don’t set an amount higher than the spirit of the crowd can joyfully conquer. If you need more, you have to come up with the rest on your own.

In the end I’m not totally confident I *can* raise $30k, if something goes wrong or I fail to get momentum. I decide $25,000 is my public Kickstarter goal — that’s my minimum confidence goal. If I only earn $25k, leaving me a balance of -$8010, I have a plan. I will do a spring fundraiser on a smaller scale, I know roughly how much I can raise with that, though it’s tons of extra work. And I will scrimp and save and fight and make the record right.

So I ask for $25,000 with a plan in place if I barely make it — even though I need and I expect a lot more money than that. This is smarter than asking for $40,000 and missing my goal entirely.

Try setting your budget and funding goals at home! Mess with the budget, the goal number, and taxes.

Your Rewards Are Underpriced

I can say this with confidence because almost everyone’s rewards are underpriced. Especially CD’s and DVD’s. You can’t sell a CD during a Kickstarter for the same amount as in the store (if there were still any stores that carried CD’s). Let’s do some spreadsheet action on our reward levels.

You have to choose reward levels that make sense for your backers — how much will they want to spend on you? How can you incentivize them to spend a little more instead of automatically opting in at the minimum level? But you also have to choose reward levels that make sense for yourScreen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.02.53 PM fundraising. I ran my numbers over and over and decided $42 was the lowest tier that allows shipping. I had to repeatedly raise a lot of the reward levels to stay out of the red.

After a lot of thought, these are my rewards. Lots of cheap affordable stuff, but plenty of higher tier stuff too. I asked my fans many times what they want, and their answers informed what I plan to make. Shiny!

A word on shipping:

As Kickstarter raises your grand total, that exciting big number on your project page, it includes what people are paying for shipping. So you have to include that in your costs.

This means you need to know what every reward tier will cost to pack and ship **for real** in advance. You can’t guess, you have to know. Look at actual shipping supply prices — you might be surprised how much CD mailers cost even in bulk, and extra bubble wrap isn’t cheap. If you’re shipping something flat that needs to arrive in good shape, handwritten lyrics or letters, you can’t just put it in a manila envelope; you need a protective sleeve, heavy backing, and a protective mailer *at minimum.* That costs plenty per unit.

Triple-check your postage charges too (international shipping is always more than you think). High-level backers getting irreplaceable or exclusive items deserve tracking, maybe insurance and priority service.

And remember how many days it might take you to package the goods themselves once they’re done. If you’re having friends over to help, think about how much pizza you’ll have to buy. What will all that cost? You get to set the shipping costs to the backer — so know exactly what the costs will be. And don’t lowball shipping, it can undermine your budget.Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.03.28 PM

To the right are my reward tiers listed again, this time including what my average backer has paid for shipping (about 1 in 10 are international backers so I round up a bit). Again, as my kickstarter funding goes up, allllll those postage charges are making my total look really high when I haven’t reached any of my funding goals yet. If most of my backers chose the $42 level, for example, roughly 10% of the funds in the pot would be shipping money, not project money. You can’t imagine that you have it to spend. Spreadsheet to the rescue!

Now calculate the cost of the rewards themselves.

I’ve made mistakes with rewards many times — I’ve had reward tiers that hardly contributed to my project budget at all, I made things that can’t be replaced or re-mailed if lost, I didn’t get exact cost estimates in advance, I didn’t plan for wild success and limit my rewards, and worst of all I didn’t pay myself for the months it would take to fulfill everything.

So. Calculate how much each of your reward levels will cost you — include your time as well as your money, because time *is* money. No one will pay your rent for you while you fulfill Kickstarter rewards, and if you keep halting reward fulfillment to do other work, you’ll deliver very very late.

Here is my “optimistic” fulfillment costs estimate table (numbers are inaccurate btw, these are old). See the right columns:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.35.56 PMHere is the same scenario with more pessimistic costs, which I keep just a few rows down from my “medium costs” scenario:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 4.36.23 PM“Profit margin” in the last column is a misnomer here. I’m not really profiting — the “profit” is just leftover money that goes to pay for Kickstarter fees, taxes, and the project budget. And the project budget is ALSO a cost of fulfillment, it just amortizes differently. Everything I raise here goes to reward fulfillment, even the part that buys my band burgers and gets the engineer coffee.

For this Kickstarter I specifically chose only rewards that have a really high so-called “profit margin” and ship easily. I rejected things like T-shirts, vinyl, posters, USB sticks, trinkets, and anything that ships in a tube. The most labor- and cost-intensive item will probably be the Apocrypha, a chapbook of poetry, but I have it half-finished and I know what it will cost to print and ship. Like I said, I learned a lot about choosing rewards last time.

Know exactly what your rewards at each level will cost you. And allow for overruns.

Ask yourself what could go wrong with rewards fulfillment or the project itself, and how much it would cost you to do it over. Think through potential mistakes in detail and know how you would deal with them. If your CD’s arrive all wrong and you have to pay to reprint, will you go bankrupt & lose months of your life? Or will you take a hit but be OK? Build space into your budget and schedule t0 do things over (you will probably have to do some things over).

As you calculate the cost of goods per reward tier, remember that not all goods can be calculated “per unit” since you have to buy more than you need — CD’s are $1-5 per unit, right, but you have to order 1000 at a time. Any costs that do not depend on the number of backers should go in your project budget, not in your reward tier costs.

Fulfilling CD’s will not cost you $1-5 plus shipping per backer, it will cost you $1000-5000 no matter how many backers you have. So, again: put it in your project budget, NOT your reward tier costs. I made this budgeting mistake early on in this Kickstarter and had to recalibrate pronto.

And remember that your full digital download or cheapest physical version is likely to be your most popular reward. I often see musicians and filmmakers selling their CD or DVD for $15-20 — which means most of their fans will back at that level & no higher, which means the artists will have a REALLY hard time making the actual project. Maybe it feels like a lot to ask for more than $15-20, but people aren’t just buying a CD — they are bringing a CD into existence out of thin air, and that is harder to do.

Again, try this at home!

How Will Your Crowdfunders Crowd, or

Will It Fund?

Kickstarter says the most common pledge is $25, and they have great data on what crowds typically do.

But what will YOUR crowd do?

All your backers are individual people making individual choices about what they want and what they can afford. And often they surprise you.

There’s another scenario we need to run: what happens if your backers crowd or ignore certain reward tiers?

This happened to me last time — I was shocked when my average backer donation was over $70, absurdly high, because my USB stick reward level sparked people’s imagination (thankfully I set it at $125 and not lower). I wound up in the hole compared to my projections; the USB sticks cost far more than I planned, and it took me over a month to load each USB stick one at a time on my laptop. I delivered late and I delivered broke.

So now I run all sorts of different backer scenarios, and you should too.

Run scenarios where everyone backs a specific tier, especially a tier you don’t expect. If you have a reward that is expensive to fulfill (for me, $125) and everyone flocks to it, will you still have enough for the main project budget?

You have to be solvent if people hit your highest rewards harder than you expect, but also if NOBODY takes your top rewards. Run your scenario with almost everyone backing at $50 or less, and then with most backing at $50 or more.

Try to break your funding, until you are sure your funding always works no matter what the crowd does.

Scenario 1, getting over $40k:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.11.21 PMScenario 2, different crowd spread, getting over 40k:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.05.16 PMThe most important variable in the sheet above is the very last cell on the lower right, “Fulfillment cost as percentage of total funding.” This ratio is EVERYTHING. Let’s call it fc/tf.

We plug that fc/tf ratio back into your overall Kickstarter funding plan, just like taxes and Kickstarter fees (the highlighted cells below). You can see the difference between a .13 and a .20 fc/tf ratio:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.24.55 PMCheck this out, what if I only fundraise $25k with a 0.1 ratio vs. a 0.2 ratio:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 5.28.11 PMThat difference is immense for an independent artist!!!!

You can change that little crucial ratio yourself by altering your reward tiers and the reward costs before you launch, but your crowd can also change the ratio for you after you launch, and they don’t always change it for the better.

If the crowd chooses these rewards more than those ones, you can fulfill your public goal, stay on budget, and still wind up in the hole.

Many project creators don’t even know when this is happening to them, and they have trouble identifying *later* that it happened at all. They’re just over budget in the end and not sure why, since all costs worked out just like they anticipated. You can pass a dozen awesome stretch goals, you can get all your cost estimates right, but you still might not be solvent if your backers hit your high-cost tiers more than your low-cost ones.

So I kept changing my reward tiers and my costs and even the items I was offering until I could constrain my fc/tf ratio to between .09 and .16. I tested with every imaginable backer configuration before I launched.

And with 4 days left on my Kickstarter, I’m still keeping a close eye on it. To that end, I update my spreadsheet with the real numbers of backers day by day, so I know what my ratio is for real right now. And I’m still running my three different reward-fulfillment-cost scenarios — one pessimistic, one optimistic, and one in the middle. So I have some real-time assurance that even if my rewards fulfillment costs more than I expect, my project budget is safe.

That’s how I know when I can do stretch goals.

Stretch Responsibly

So if I need $40,000 to make the record — but a bunch of that money goes to taxes, shipping, Kickstarter fees, and rewards — how much exactly do I have to raise to hit my budget?

The answer: your budget is a moving target.

The more you raise, the more your budget goes up.

Some expenses go up just because art projects are expensive, and there are usually budgetary surprises. Plane tickets spiked for one of my recording trips, so I added that to my budget after this Kickstarter began. Mastering wasn’t included in the mixing quote I got — add that. Studio time at Studio X costs more than it did last year, add that. Better to know about overruns early.

But expenses also go up as you get more backers, because you have to make more stuff.

As I approach more than 500 CD preorders, it looks like I’ll have to manufacture 2000 CD’s instead of 1000 to have enough for the release. So I add an extra $2000-3000 to the budget. Getting 15 new backers can sometimes require you to make 1000 backers’ worth of stuff, your cost increases aren’t always proportional to the money you’re bringing in.

So expect your project budget to evolve. Track all the rewards that you will have to re-order if your numbers keep going up. Watch out for rewards that will take weeks of labor to fulfill if you get too many of them (limit the number available!).

But when you reeeeeally pass your project budget, when you’re finally in the green, it’s time for stretch goals right? RIGHT! STRETCH! EVERYONE LOVES STRETCH GOALS!

Think before you stretch. Stretch goals get sooooo many people in trouble.

They got me in trouble. They were fun and I don’t regret them for a moment, they came out great. But … damn, my stretch goals were difficult and public and embarrassing and impoverishing by the end. I wish I had done them *smarter.* Sigh.

My current Kickstarter funding goal was $25,000 but I knew I needed up to $40,000 to make the record and accompanying music videos. Here’s what my spreadsheet says about that, with a middling fc/tf ratio:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.12.26 PMSo I needed a loooooot of stretch goals just to get to the point of true solvency. And that’s with $9000 of outside fundraising and my own money helping out!

Obviously my stretch goals up to $50k must be either stuff I can do for free, with zero production and delivery costs — or else stuff I already had in my project budget, things I hoped to do anyway that I can pass along as stretches.

My stretch goals were to budget for strings/horns/backup singers on the album, plus some music videos. All of these were already in my ideal project budget, but optional.

So as we hit stretch goals my budget rose from bare minimum to ideal, and this is essentially what was happening (budget increments are not really accurate):

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.38.23 PMThe project budget rises to meet each stretch goal, but I stay in the red overall for a good long while. I was prepared for the numbers to look like this.

(You have to be careful announcing stretch goals like these that you *might do even if they don’t fund.* I’m not gonna leave strings off a studio album if it really needs strings. But if a project or stretch goal doesn’t fund and you do the thing anyway, there can be backlash. I mindfully chose to go public with these instrumentation/video stretch goals on day 2 of my Kickstarter, but only because it seemed certain by then that we could reach $40k. If funding had been slower, I would have chosen different stretch goals, keeping mum about how many instruments I wanted on the record.)

As we get closer to the fun optional stretch goals, things look better, but the project budget still has to go up for all the fun things — like a keyboard, prepping for a vinyl run, and new original songs:

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 8.44.52 PMSee how my total funding is going up by $5000 increments, but my budget can barely handle $2000-3000 of added expenses in the same interval? That’s the space you have to accomplish stretch goals — including shipping/rewards fulfillment if your stretch goal needs to be fulfilled or shipped.

And notice again how $60,000 in funding with a .12 fc/tf ratio means you only take home $40,168 to make all your things.

Some people lay out all their stretch goals right from the start; I don’t think that’s wise.  The Unfunded Kickstarter Graveyard is strewn with projects that listed stretch goals for $100,000 though they barely broke $2000.  So many unhatched chickens carefully counted.

Instead of that approach, try calculating in real time how much funding you will have as you approach each new milestone — plug in your backers, see how much fulfillment may cost, see whether you’re truly in the black — THEN determine what you can spend on your next stretch goal.  Keep a long list of stretch goal options in your back pocket, free and expensive alike — let the numbers tell you when you can actually manage your goals.

Don’t sink your own ship with stretch goals.  They should help you fly, not weigh you down!

Let Me Sum Up

A few last recommendations, from the combined wisdom of my crowdfunding friends, my fans, and my own experience:

  • Early bird rewards and late additions to the rewards just frustrate people.
  • Anything that feels like a bait-and-switch frustrates people.
  • A million Kickstarter updates will frustrate people.
  • Asking all your backers to create a different account and begging them to buy extra stuff at checkout? The ultimate in frustration. YMMV if your fans very much want the bonus items. But if you want to sell something, sell it separately, you’ll earn far more off a crowdfunding platform.
  • I recommend crowdfunding for your project after you have a good chunk of the work done, not at the very beginning. Show you’re invested already. Get skin in the game.
  • Plan on spending tons of time monitoring your Kickstarter while it runs, it’s like a second job. Answer backer/potential backer emails quickly.
  • It can be beneficial to fulfill very large rewards, $500-plus, outside of your crowdfunding platform — it can save you around 10%, which matters more at high levels. If you have dedicated fans open to this private arrangement, it’s wise, go for it, ideally before you launch your public campaign. Just be sure you track and fulfill that person’s order with the rest of your backers, and be sure you report the income appropriately.
  • Only partner with another person for a crowdfunding project if you have a history of working with them. You have to be able to trust them completely — as in, you have many many years’ acquaintance and you’ve done previous projects. Even then, write up a simple contract between you and be clear on responsibilities. Good contracts make good friends.
  • Get a separate checking and savings account for your Kickstarter money if it will take you more than a month to pay all the bills. Pay yourself from that account (whatever you’ve budgeted for your labor) and then try not to touch the money again except to fulfill your project.
  • Send off your taxes to the IRS immediately if you can. Don’t let it get frittered away in budget overruns. Try to spend your project budget in the same calendar year as much as possible if you can write off business expenses. And for heaven’s sakes, know what you owe in state and municipal taxes, as per this important cautionary tale by my friend Glenn Fleishman.
  • If you have friends who are willing to help with fulfillment and things, get organized for them. Have a system and supplies ready before they show up. And feed them. Say thank you a lot. Help them move.
  • If someone is doing more work for you than just a day of envelope-stuffing, pay them. And budget to pay them. Pay for your artwork, pay for your photos, pay for the music on your Kickstarter video — use crowdfunding as an excuse to pay other people who do stuff like what you are doing.
  • If you sell hundreds of a physical thing, bring in help — have Amazon or some other company do fulfillment for you; there are many many companies that specialize in making it easier/cheaper/more accurate than you can.
  • You will receive tons of spam from people and companies promising to promote or fulfill your campaign. Ignore them all. Anyone whose help you truly want will not contact you, you’ll have to contact them.
  • If you expect to be backed, back. If you expect people to pledge, pledge. If you expect strangers to stumble across your work and support it, fumble around the internet and support things you like. Lift up other folks in your creative community and do everything you expect the people supporting you to do.


Now I’m four days from the end of my own Kickstarter and I’m a little melancholy, perhaps because I’ll have to start seriously kicking ass once it’s done.  I’m almost mourning that I won’t get to play with my spreadsheet every day — the coming work is much harder and scarier.  My spreadsheet been a comforting little digital friend.

Patrick Race is the smartest and best, and he forced me to start this spreadsheet many months ago.  He made me run lots of scenarios, and he hit on the importance of the the critical Fulfillment Costs as Percentage of Total Funding ratio.  I evolved the spreadsheet lots from there, but he started it, and I’m glad I have him to make me do a budget when I just want to Rhyme All The Things.

If you read this because you’re curious, thanks!  If you read because you plan to crowdfund, good luck, and be thorough.  Do your homework, and you’ll feel good throughout the process.

It’s an amazing time we live in, that thousands of impossible imaginary projects can be attempted and actualized through tiny communities everywhere.  What a glorious day this is.  I love it.

All my best,

Marian Call

Marian’s first Kickstarter:

Marian’s current (at this writing) Kickstarter:

*Various disclaimers:  1) I’m sure I’ll have cause to update this a few times and it’s probably not perfect — just a jumping off point for your own use.  2) These numbers aren’t quite real, so you can’t use them to reverse engineer my budget, sorry.  Use them to make your own budget instead!  3) If you have loads of corrections and Actuallys, that’s nice, but I don’t have time to individually answer or argue all the details — and I don’t really care to.  Instead, propose your own best crowdfunding practices in your own webspace!  I gots to focus on my campaign.  To the work.


A Concert for Colorado

09/16/2013 at 8:57 pm | Posted in How to this-or-that, News & Explanations | 5 Comments

Update: you can watch the fundraiser concert here anytime: Thanks to you who watched it live together, we raised over $2500!!!

Whenever you see this concert, wherever you are, take a moment to share some dollars or tweets or good word of mouth for a charity/organization actively helping people recover from disaster. I promise, there will never be a time when your help is not needed somewhere in the world.


Dear Boulder, CO and Everybody Else:

My show in you was cancelled last week, and I owe you some music.  Here it comes, this Tuesday Wednesday night.

I’m having one more Colorado concert, a short casual house concert in Denver, and then broadcasting it online around the world:

Colorado Flood Relief Concert – 9/17-18/2013

To attend in person:  Sept. 17th.  RSVP to to attend a casual house concert in Denver, CO, 6:45pm-8pm.  The event will run about an hour, and will be recorded to view online anytime.

To attend online:  Sept. 17th Sept. 18th.  Join Marian’s Google Hangout on Air.  Video and hangout will be broadcast approximately 9:30pm Mountain Time (11:30pm EDT, 8:30pm PDT).  Gather at this G+ event:  Or on Facebook:  URL to view the concert: Details and chat will also be happening on Twitter and the Google Hangout.  Twitter hashtag is #MCCOrelief.

Participate ANYTIME by giving directly to the Red Cross or other recommended charities (no donations will be accepted at the concert or at  Give online, or text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate to Disaster Relief efforts.  To see how much we’ve raised collectively, enter your donation amount anonymously here in this Google Doc!

Want to help?  Just Facebook and Tweet up a storm about this Wednesday night.  Tell a friend.  And come watch!

This week I was supposed to be in Boulder.  I planned to stay there all week with friends, planned to record and work hard and enjoy a little relative stability on tour.  But that definitely didn’t happen.

What happened is this: we arrived in Boulder during torrential rain on Thursday, after dodging and weaving around road closures to get into town.  My show was cancelled, but I was unworried. Until things started getting scary.  Roads began closing, smaller mountain towns began receiving appalling news, I watched the National Guard roll into town, the grocery store was stripped of bottled water, the power went out, and suddenly we were surrounded by spontaneous rivers that seemed way too deep and scary — feeling very hemmed in.  So we split.  We made for Denver so I could play the rest of my concerts, and we continued to watch the flood unfold from there, glued to the news.

The hashtags #boulderflood #coflood say it all, and I hope you have seen some of the scary.  I hope you have seen it because outside of the affected counties, life just goes on — it’s so easy to forget a disaster even a few miles away.  But the whole thing has been ringing in my mind all week.  All over the state, small towns and large, really devastated.  I keep thinking about the fact that I am just passing through, I get to drive away, I get to leave all this behind, but everybody here has to stay and start the slow work of recovering.

I don’t have a thousand dollars to help out.  And I have to drive out to Kansas on Wednesday.  I wish I could do more right here.

But I can make a concert, and invite you to use the concert as an excuse, a reminder to give a couple dollars to the Red Cross at (or another organization of your choice).  Heck, even if you have no interest in the concert, use these words that you’re reading as a reminder:  drop some dollars or time where they can do some good.  You know where.  Do it now, don’t put it off.


I’ve always been a little wary of fundraiser concerts for disaster relief;  I sometimes wonder whether the cost of putting them on eats up a lot of resources that could have gone to charity, and my mouth makes weird twisty shapes when I try to resolve the Good of the Cause with constantly being asked to work for free For Good Causes.  Seeing giant posters for charity concerts makes me feel all complicated and confused inside, and I really have to consider them on a case-by-case basis.

But now that I’m sitting here in Colorado refreshing the local tweets over and over, hoping the missing will be found, I get why these events have to happen.  And I’m clear on how to move forward.

I can’t really think of much besides the flooding.  I have to do this.  I have to do something.  I’m right here.

I don’t have much to offer, but what I can do is create an event — a gathering place — a reminder.  I can help focus attention for a few minutes on giving $10 to help out.  And the power of dozens or hundreds of gathered people tweeting, Facebooking, and giving $10 apiece is formidable indeed.

I know there are disasters everywhere and worthy causes all over the place; this is the one I’m in the middle of now.  And I hope you will support the many thousands of displaced folks in Colorado.  But if another cause has your heart, don’t belittle this cause, use this reminder to prompt a gift where you feel moved.  Just do it.


A word on tech stuff:

I’m trying something this time that I have been wanting to try for awhile.  I love live streaming shows, but I find there are nearly always technical issues at the beginning, the audio and video stream is not always great for everyone, and I can’t chat with folks or interact during the event.  My attention is divided at best, I’m totally distracted and off my game at worst.

So this time I’m going to host a live event, record it with very high-quality audio, upload it, and broadcast it an hour or so after the live event.  Here’s why:

  • Better video and audio.  You’ll be able to hear the concert the way you ought to be able to, and you can buffer the video.
  • We can still experience it all at once;  it will be a real-time event for folks who watch during the Hangout.
  • Folks who join a few minutes late, or weeks late, can still start at the beginning if they choose.
  • I don’t have a tech team to set this up here — it’s just me.  I’ll play a much better show if I’m not also trying to run the computer.
  • We’ll skip all the mucking around at the beginning as we try to figure out how to make everything work, and the inevitable errors in the middle.
  • I can really be there with you.  I can be tweeting, talking, answering, responding, joking.  At a livestreaming event I often feel like I’m “not really” in either place, not fully in the live show, but not fully participating in the online fun.  I’m interested in whether this will be a different experience.

In other words, it’s just like a livestream, but skipping the parts of a livestream that make it less fun than it could be.  I’ll be reporting back on whether the format change works!

**Update:  Well, it almost works. I’ve learned to host the internet event the day after the live event!  But the live event was MUCH better and much easier without trying to smash the livestream into it.  The video and audio are far superior too.  So it’s a win for the tech, a fail for the scheduling, and I’ve learned something important.**

Thanks all. Now to go work my butt off to make this happen.  Go Go Gadget 24-Hour Concert Coordinator.



***Update, 9:17, 10:30pm:

The house concert was a success!  We got fabulous video and audio!  We will view it as a group online soon on YouTube!

Unfortunately we are having difficulties with incredibly slow internet.  Estimated upload time: 380 minutes. That is a big surprise after our internet speed testing last night.  I’m very sorry, we have to reschedule.

JOIN US WEDNESDAY, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!  The Google Hangout will go live 9:30pm Mountain Time on Wednesday, and the video will be viewable at!  All other info below applies!

BUT how awesome is this — we have already raised over $1300, and the event hasn’t even begun yet!  Make a donation now, and add yourself to the total — let’s blow the roof off this thing and make some NOISE about it Wednesday night!!!***

Salt Lake City Memories

09/08/2013 at 12:01 am | Posted in General Nerdery, Just for Fun, Stories from the Road | Leave a comment

Tonight I’m in Cheyenne (and soon in Laramie), looking ahead to SALT LAKE CITY on Sunday night!  One of the prettiest places there is. If you’ve never flown in over the Wasatch and the colored lake at sunrise with a Supermoon on your starboard side, I can’t explain it.

Then we roll on to Colorado, which has been deserving my attention for far too long.  Colorado, I love you.  I’m sorry.  I hope you haven’t forgotten me.  I’ll be back through again next year.  Let’s be friends?

Marian Call Utah Trivia: SLC is the first place not-on-the-west-coast that I ever remember going in my young life. And it’s a short, funny story.

In middle school, I was so obsessed with Les Misérables that I wrote a script suitable for middle schoolers to perform, and in seventh grade we performed it (I was Enjolras).*  You should have seen my rewrites of “Master of the House” and “Lovely Ladies.” It was spectacularly Waiting for Guffman, I’m sure, but my classmates and I were dead serious about our production. It was heartfelt.

The real Les Misérables wasn’t coming anywhere near Seattle that year, so I convinced my dad we should organize a trip of school classmates over the summer to go see it in the closest city — that was Salt Lake.

We couldn’t afford it alone really, but I told my Dad we should coordinate a trip for a bunch of my classmates and chaperones, and have them pay a little extra for our very much legwork.  The extra bit of money would make it possible for me and my dad to lead the trip (he was the director of our school play, I wrote the script).

And that, boys and girls, is how I invented crowdfunding in the seventh grade. And how I visited Salt Lake City for the first time!

Loving the Mountain States, eating a peach and tomatoes from a Montana farmer’s market, attempting not to die from exhaustion because the drives are so long.  Love to all.



*My dialogue for the script, written in sixth grade, was based on the unabridged novel, not the musical. That’s a young nerd in the making.

Analog Blog: on Reading the Seasons

07/31/2013 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Analog Blog, Stories from the Road | 2 Comments

I have trouble finding time to blog.  Yet on airplanes I always have time to journal.  So here’s a blog I wrote on my flight home yesterday:

Just the paper and the pen and me.

This will probably turn into a longer, more comprehensive post about the nature of Kickstarter, crowdfunding, and fandom.  But not until every last shred of my Kickstarter is done.  For now, this is what I’ve learned this year.

It’s a good year.  I’ve had incredible shows.  Great audience turnout, great venues, not a regret.  But I plan to learn to be a better listener to the subtle signals in myself.  That is the beginning of health, I think.

Love to each,


AFP-style signoff photo

SDCC: What Marian Is Doing!

07/14/2013 at 1:23 am | Posted in General Nerdery, How to this-or-that, News & Explanations | Leave a comment

BOOTH 1320 BOOTH 1320 BOOTH 1320

Why, whatever will Marian be doing at SDCC?  Well I’ll tell you!

I am having a big concert on Friday night, like I do every year, sponsored by the San Diego Space Society.  But this year Molly and the Doubleclicks will join me!  It will be big and awesome!  Details are here or else here on Facebook.

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 10.09.43 AM

NINJA GIG:  I will also be findable singing and signing (NINJA SINGING) at the CA Browncoat Booth (A7/A8), Saturday at noon.  There will be singing until they shut us down.  Bring your Jayne hats!

BOOTH TIMES:  My stuff and I live at booth 1320.  My new live CD and Something Fierce and everything!

BOOTH 1320

So remember that number!  I’ll be there Thursday from noon to 4pm, Friday from 11 to 3pm, and Saturday from 12pm to close 4pm [updated]!  No hours Sunday, sorry, I will be back in Seattle!  Hopefully those signing times will stay the same, but if they change, I’ll change them here and at

NEW STUFFS:  My new Live Album will be at my booth with me!!!  And I will be continuing The Postcard Tour by writing a bunch of postcards for a bunch of you!  We’ve had a bunch of these cute postcards printed, and you can buy them, or you can get one free with a CD purchase, and if I’m there, I’ll not only sign it, I’ll write you a whole postcard from me!  I like doing that.  So come by the booth!  1320 1320 1320 1320

Postcard SDCC preview

I also have a giveaway for the first person who comes to the booth and specifically asks me for it:  the last available necklaces IN EXISTENCE from the MCEAQ fundraiser.  That is, unless someone else is selling theirs on eBay.  So come to 1320, ask for the goodie, and you’ll be the recipient!  (Not available preview night.  Open floor hours only.)

A bunch of you have asked for NEW POSTERS, so I’ve printed my great Postcard Tour Posters made by Patrick Race from Alaska Robotics!  They will be available for $10 at the booth.  I am also happy to ship them to folks on the Internetz who want them, but I might wait to do that until after SDCC when things have calmed down a tiny bit.  And I’m happy to sign and personalize them and draw a little doodle or something for you during my booth hours!

So come and visit — I’ll see you guys on the Con Floor, feet aching, exhausted, tweeting up a storm. Can’t wait!

The new poster, with a bunch of room for signing and writing something nice:

Postcard Poster sm

The Postcard Tour!!!

06/06/2013 at 7:15 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, News & Explanations, Stories from the Road | 5 Comments

Update!  Postcards I receive are now being Tumbl’d at!

I’m gonna sit write down and write you all a letter…

I have been sending a lot of handwritten notes lately.  They are good for the soul.  They are good for the everything.  Since I am going on tour now — for several months, all across the continent and possibly farther — I thought I would invite you to join me.

Will you send a friendly postcard to a stranger?  Because I will carry it to them for you!

by Patrick Race,

by Patrick Race -

This tour was actually rather difficult to name.  The Pony Express?  The Air Drop?  The Mail Bag tour?  The Mail Service tour?  Frankly when you say anything with the word “Mail” in it out loud, everybody giggles.  Particularly the words “Mail” and “Bag.” I am blushing even now.  #fünke

(I was entreated by some to call it the Postal Service Tour, which would have briefly boosted ticket sales and then surely backfired.)

So it is with great joy that I announce the POSTCARD TOUR!  I have new songs about sharks and dragons and Benedict Cumberbatch and railroad barons and TSA and lightning and power outages!  I am excited to come sing them for you!!!!!

I am driving all across the west, and later the east, for singing but also for carrying postcards from you and from me.  I hope you will bring some postcards to the show from the places you live or places you have been!*  I have hand-stitched a special Mail Bag (teehee) to carry them all from place to place, and I hope you will let me take your postcards to another town.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come to a show — and bring a postcard, or use one of the many I have on hand.  If you can’t come to a show, you can mail me some!*
  2. I will supply the crayons and pens and stickers and gold stars.  Leave the postage and address areas blank, but feel free to cover the rest of the postcard, front and back, with anything you like.  Write a happy note to a stranger about where you live, what you like, how the show went, anything really.
  3. If you’re stumped about what to write, just draw a picture, write a poem, share a quote you like, leave a recipe or a book recommendation — anything.  Make contact with someone you don’t know.  Brighten their day one iota.  We can all use more of that.
  4. Leave your postcard in the basket before you go.  And if you put a postcard in — you will get to draw a postcard out of the bag from someone else!

At the moment the cards are mostly from Alaska and Texas, since those were my “seed” concerts to fill the Mail Bag (chortle).  But soon there will be cards from all over.  They’re already starting to come to my PO Box from other places.*

by everybody

So where will I be?

Today: Dallas.  This weekend: Austin and Houston.  Then Albuquerque, Tucson, Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, the Bay Area, Southern California, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Gig Harbor, SDCC, then much more of the West Coast, Alaska, all the Mountain States, a number of the Midwestern states I missed last year, and then a spin up and down the Eastern Seaboard in autumn.  The Southeast U.S. in spring.  And maybe more, as my body and my time allow.

Show info will be listed at or will come to you automatically if you sign up at (include your zip code!).  Facebook ( is a less reliable way to get announcements, but a good place to find event invitations.

I have been working on this for awhile, but I didn’t want to announce it until I had my awesome tour poster from Patrick Race.  Also I needed to fill my hand-stitched recycled Costa Rican burlap coffee sack with cards from friendly people.  Now I have told you all about it, and I will drive my cards all over the place in my Subaru.  See?

Photos by Marian and also childish stitching   Burlap is not so easy to work with.

Thanks to Heritage Coffee for the coffee sacks.  I picked the prettiest one and made a smaller sack out of the huge pieces of burlap that brought my coffee beans to me at home in Juneau.  I stitched on it all around Anchorage, Kodiak, Juneau, and Talkeetna.


Once upon a time, long long ago when I toured all fifty states (and most of Canada) in one year, I offered on Twitter to send a free handwritten postcard to anyone who wanted.  Trouble is, people want postcards a lot more than I thought they would.  Well over five hundred people signed up on my Google form — and I got to nearly two hundred by 2011 — and then I just had to let it go.  I had this job thing to do to make money to live.

This photo was hard to take.But I have not forgotten my postcard promise, and even though it’s been awhile I intend to fulfill it.  The original folks who signed up in 2010-11 will all ultimately get sent a postcard from me — hopefully most will find their owners.**  And I was thinking, you know, everyone could use a nice postcard, and I want to give everyone a love note, and maybe if I helped everyone give each other a love note, they might start to see themselves the way I do when I’m on tour — new town, new people, vastly different backgrounds and ideas, but all in need of a pretty picture and some scratches in pen and ink.  Or crayon.  Or just stickers.

So call me sentimental!  Cuz I am.  Come to the show, bring me or mail me a postcard to give to a stranger, and accept a love note from somebody else somewhere. I will read a lot of them and post photos of some of the interesting ones I find along the way.

I hope you will come say hello!  And hear my dragon song!  I have missed you guys.  Especially the Southwest and Mountain states.  It’s been much too long.

(I tried to take a photo in the mirror but as I have had very little practice with the Myspace angle all the photos made me look cross-eyed.  Still, I am too excited about my postcards tonight to contain myself.)

Now to sleep a little, wake up and answer all your questions and tweets, and then drive to Dallas for a show at one of my favorite venues.  Then Austin, Houston, Albuquerque, and Arizona.  *yawn* I’m having trouble with this Central Time thing.

Miscellaneous closing business:

*If you can’t make it to a show, you may send me postcards at Marian Call, PO Box 21781, Juneau AK 99802.  Fill them out, write a note to a stranger!  And leave the postage/address areas blank.  Mine is a small PO Box, so do not send a package — only regular-sized envelopes — or they may be returned.  I will not get the next batch until July.  But I would love to receive your postcards and add them to the party!

**If you signed up for a postcard so long ago but never received one, and your address has changed, send me your change of address at  I will try to mail you one from me by the end of the tour!

If you want to help the tour plug along, paying some postage for the Marian Call Postal Express as it were, I am always very grateful.  If you feel moved to tip $5, tip $10, tip $25, or pledge at the Nerd Solidarity Level ($42), that’s the only way I keep rolling; I am deeply thankful for the help.  Or pick up some songs at Bandcamp for yourself or for a friend.  Because those are the kinds of postcards I truly specialize in sending.

Tour dates

More info on house concerts

Q&A about concert attendance

You can contact Marian at  She might be slow at answering since travel is about to get really face-meltingly intense.

Thank you!

End of May Hike

DJ Marian: set list from KRNN show May 8th

05/12/2013 at 3:29 am | Posted in 1904 | 1 Comment

I promised to give this playlist a permanent home, so here it is!

This public document has a record of the songs I played on May 8th 2013 when I got to be DJ for a day at KRNN, during the 7-9pm Wednesday Friends and Neighbors show.  KRNN is my local NPR affiliate that plays sweet sweet music.  When I first created the playlist I had 9 hours of music I wanted to share — it got trimmed down to a little less than two.  Mike Sakarias ran the board for me and I was oh so happy to share my favorite songs.

Juneau is lucky in that we have three stations, even for a tiny populace — KTOO is mostly talk and some Classical and Jazz, KRNN is acoustic/pop and hosts tons of guest DJ’s across many genres, and KXLL is one of those amazing tastemaker stations that plays all sorts of crazy music in EVERY genre and always happens upon things first.

I had so much fun playing the songs — and chatting with you guys on Facebook and Twitter while they played — that I am seriously considering doing a LOT more of that this winter.  It felt so fun and connected to you.  I can’t even do that during a live streaming concert, because I’m busy singing, so I can’t really interact with you!  This was wonderful.

Finding out now re. whether we can get audio of the full two hours posted online somewhere.  If we can, I’ll link it here.

There is so much music out there that you don’t yet know you can’t live without.  You know that record, the one so powerful you can’t remember your life before you had it?  Go find another one!  It’s on the list!


Some amazing people.

01/10/2013 at 12:57 pm | Posted in Music, News & Explanations | 1 Comment

Broadcasting from Juneau AK, in my home, with tea and oranges and honey.  I have a short thing to say that I’ve been meaning to say. Just sharing some love.

As an aside, I’ve been moving over the past couple of weeks, and now I have a home.  Like a Home home.  This is kinda big for me, because I have been living in I would consider “other people’s space” since mid-2008.  I’ve been pretty happy and perky about it, but it’s been strenuous, and I can’t say what a revelation it is, to have a place to live that’s mine.  I can leave shampoo in the shower — I can play the music I want, when I want it — I can buy food at Costco because I’ll be here long enough to eat it — I can invite people over and cook dinner.  It’s stirring up crazy emotions, this nesting after years of perching.  But I’m a fan.  Home is nice, however long I get to have it.

Since I’m nestled in here, recording and editing music and making tons of things for you guys (and sleeping), I am Not On Tour.  Sorry.  A girl’s gotta stop sometime.  I’ll be here in Juneau for a couple of months, trying to forget how to drive.  I’ll hit the road again in late spring/early summer.

For now I think it’s way past time I pointed you toward some of the incredible people it’s been my pleasure to work and play with.  THEY are on tour.  THEY are also making new music.  You should know about them.  In no particular order:

–> Scott Barkan will be touring NC, PA, NY, and NJ very soon, and you are likely to catch him a lot more in the Northeast over the next few months.  I recommend you hunt him down and listen to him play.  Join his e-mail list, especially if you’re in the NE sector of the U.S.  His guitar work will leave you breathless.  Don’t take my word for it; see this video of his performance of “I Got No Reason” at CERN — yes, that CERN — cuz Switzerland will be talking about it for years.  The audio is not perfect but I will never forget how it felt to hear him on this particular night.

His most recent album is called “Little Days,” and it’s wonderful.  Scott also plays with kickass costumed comedy/rock supergroup Fortress of Attitude.  They are brave enough to let Scott play electric guitar.  I am still afraid he will blind the audience with rainbow lasers shooting out of his hands if we try that on my tours.

–> Seth Boyer somehow got loose in the Lower 48 unsupervised, and he’s tweeting up some chaos down there.  On his way back north he’ll play with me in Juneau, but he does his own thing too, and lots of it, mostly in Alaska and sometimes Outside.

Seth sings the songs that inspire the angels to have three too many shots of whiskey and weep.  From his bio, and it’s true:  “Seth’s music has been described as having the enthusiasm of Josh Ritter if the knife that killed Elliott Smith had stabbed it in the chest. At once heartbreaking and optimistic, bourbon and anti-psychotics fuel its unflinching candor.” I love it.

“Lie to Me” is one of my favorite songs by anyone ever.

Seth’s one of those guys who exposes the limits of the dumb categories we assign people, because he’s everything;  he is Alaskan flannel shirts and Viking beard through and through, he loves sportsball, he listens to All The Podcasts (and he makes some), he knows everything about nerd lore and films — seriously, Seth’s brain is a ridiculous filing cabinet of facts protected by spiky opinions sharpened with wit.  He’s a wit porcupine.  You should get his album and you should catch him at a show, especially a show in a quiet room where you can hear his pretty voice.

–> Molly Lewis and the Doubleclicks are the people I wish I could play with way more than I do.  I miss them.  They are an inspiration to me and I loved playing a few shows as a superpowered girl group — even though all our acts are very different.  They are CURRENTLY IN THE BAY AREA and heading down to L.A.  Catch them in the next few days if you’re there!  They are often in the Northwest and occasionally in other parts of the country.  They are a perfect joint girl power tour, like pears and brandy or spicy pickles and stout (it’s true, try it!).

The Doubleclicks sort of write songs in haiku.  I mean, they’re not haiku, but they are short and nicely self-contained like tiny very funny presents with bows. Once I gave them thirty minutes to perform, and I think they got through ten songs.  Here are some favorites of mine at w00tstock 4.0 with awesome sound:

Molly Lewis’s stuff is heady in the way I like heady, and her rhymes are those of a badass verbal contortionist.  I love the topics of her songs, from Peeps to Abraham Lincoln to bioluminescence.  She makes great songs and they are smart and sometimes very moving.  You can find her stuff on sale here, and her solo tour dates there.  She is also big on the Youtubes.

This is my favorite song by Molly because I prefer beards so very very much and because the Doubleclicks let me play their keyboard cat this one time.

–> Bryan Ray played a bunch of the 49>50 Tour with me and met bunches of you guys.  But he is smarter than me, so he decided to stay in one place more, and now he lives in Austin TX.  He still mixes and masters studio work for me sometimes, because that is his particular genuis.  And I hope we can do my next project together, whatever that may be.

I’m excited that Bryan is now doing the kind of studio work he told me he wanted to do back in 2010 — thrilled in fact.  But his solo work, when he has time to make some, is really gorgeous and otherworldly, and worth a listen.  He’s releasing tracks under the name Lonely Child.  Bryan has created rich, layered tone poems about childhood and growing up.  They’re stream of consciousness sound journeys, showcasing his personal tastes and production prowess.  I completely love this film he made with Timmer O’Phelan.

–> Jordan Shindle holds down the fort back in Anchorage.  He has been playing with me since he was in high school.  We’ve toured a bit, but mostly he takes care of my Alaska hometown needs and protects Anchorage from boredom.  He’s too Rock Star for me anyhow.

Jordan’s latest project is a new band called Giants Make Way.  Yup, it’s metal, and it totally fits him — he finally gets to use All The Pedals that I seldom let him break out.  He’s pushing himself to new heights technically, the band’s music is getting popular at home in Anchortown, and they just released a new EP (it’s en route to iTunes, you can listen to it now here).  I don’t know squat about metal.  But this is better than a heckuva lot of the metal I’ve heard.  I love young excited bands, and I really love it when they push themselves to technical excellence, not just increasing decibels.  So rock on, guys — I hope this year’s a good one for you.

SO GO CHECK OUT one or more of these good folks.  Drop a dollar on a track.  Go to a show or get on a single mailing list so we can find you when we ARE playing near you.

Or, heck, go hear whoever you can hear near you.  Live music can really change your life, and I mean that.  It flips your whole perspective around — sometimes for a couple minutes, sometimes for months.  Do it.

I support and wish luck to TONS of other musicians I love and folks I’ve worked with — these are the people I’ve toured with the most extensively, but there are tons more I could mention who have played with me.  People like Joel Hermansen (who co-wrote Love & Harmony with me), Johnny Giedosh, Vixy & Tony, Colter Lemons, Eric Rodgers, Nathan Levine, and more and more and more.  If they get back to me with links I’ll add them.

But now it’s time to sleep in my house.  Where I live.  Where I get to stay tomorrow and the next night and the next night and my suitcases are all finally unpacked.  My best to all of you, especially you on the road —


It isn’t DIY

10/15/2012 at 9:18 am | Posted in Music | 10 Comments
Tags: , , , , ,

I leave for my first Europe tour (as a singer-songwriter) in a matter of hours. I cannot believe it.  It still stuns me when I come up with a crazy idea and somehow it works and then here I am doing it.  There is one million more work before me, for the plane I suppose, but I’ll call it quits now and sleep.  It’s just mountains beyond mountains.  I’ll see you tomorrow, Boston and Reykjavik and Amsterdam.

But before I collapse, I just stumbled on this little poem-ish treatise I wrote last year in a late-night fever dream for the digital liner notes of Something Fierce (which comes out on November 13th, 2012). I never posted these thoughts here on the blog, and I very much need to.  Because fresh off an incredible exhilarating singalong all-request concert at Tommy Doyle’s, bound for a bigger scarier tour than I’ve attempted before, these are the thoughts pounding in my head, begging to be let out at 5am:

Photos by Brian Adams,

A lot of people refer to my music, and to the music of other such unsigned new media upstarts, as D.I.Y.  …Do It Yourself.
And there’s comfort in that description — it’s a security blanket — it explains the haphazard website, the production and logistics flaws, the little transparent studio mistakes, the off notes.
But D.I.Y. is a misnomer. I have never been more reliant on people than I am today.  When the audience buys directly from the artist, we are as interconnected as we can possibly be.
I have never been so acutely aware that I could not do this myself.
Every person who decides to listen, to buy, to attend, to say good or bad things about the art to their friends — my career is all tied up in them, for better and for worse.
Mostly for better in my case because I want to learn to live in gratitude.

It’s not as if listeners own artists — it’s just that we’re entangled now.  [We can’t help it.]
The once-formidable middle men are reduced to mere 1’s and 0’s, and we are no longer insulated from our interdependence.

SO we need a term for our new reliance, our new leaning on each other.
Some clever acronym or sound bite.

I don’t know how to name it, but I know we need to.
Because this is not D.I.Y.; it’s quite the opposite.

It’s a barn-raising and a fire brigade and a potluck with extra desserts.
This is not art by committee,
This is art through community.

I don’t have unmitigated good feelings about the artist relying completely on the audience like I do.  It can be exhausting, and it has the potential to water down the art. Really the fact is that doing art for a living is hard, and it has always been hard for some reason, and it probably always will be.  And this is the new landscape and the modern challenge.

But let’s not frame it as a question of independence, of “indie”-ness (not in the “social media musician” sphere anyway).  The questions now are about how to cope with our interdependence — how to still make arresting, interesting art when our all-important audience might react badly — how to ask for funds when everyone else we ever knew is also asking for funds — how to find genuine honest community, even as the word “community” is losing its meaning through corporate buzzword overuse.  These are the issues I’m confronting as I make art and as I consume it.

I love the new frontier.  I love the future of music.  I loved the crowd at my concert tonight more than words can say, and I felt very free during the show.  But it’s not a solo sprint and it never was.  It’s truly a barn-raising, complete with splinters and strong personalities and barnyard smells.  Going it alone is not the new world.  Learning how we work together is.

Return of the Something Fierce, or, November 13th 2012

09/26/2012 at 6:57 am | Posted in How to this-or-that, Music, News & Explanations | 12 Comments
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November 13th, 2012 #somethingfierce

This blog is for those of you who are already fans of mine, as we’ll go behind the scenes a bit:

Gather ’round, O Best Beloved, because I have something very important to tell you.  This is kind big news in the Marian Callisphere, and it involves both a game and a party.

So!  Last October I self-published a double album called Something Fierce. I worked on it for years, and I’m proud of it and it’s awesome.  And because it’s sort of my magnum opus to date, I decided to push it out of the nest.

We’re gonna try for some bigger press now thru November.  You guys have said for years: “Get on All Songs Considered Marian!  Get on World Cafe!  Get on Mountain Stage!  Get in Paste and Spin!”  This is how we try, and you are all the gatekeeper and the keymaster.

Something Fierce has a new global RELEASE DATE.*

November 13th, 2012 #somethingfierce

And you’re invited.  We’ve already put out two singles.  Here’s where you come in, O Most Beloved.

You guys ask me all the time how we can get to NPR-Paste-etc.  We now have a way.  And it really ALOTALOT depends on you.  I’ve told the press that you, the fans, are super engaged, and now I need you to prove me truthy and not lieful.**  When a music publication, big or small, posts about an artist, how do we tell them we want more of this artist in the press?


I mean comments, mostly, and referring to articles in other articles.  Say you’re a little music blog, and you post a song by an unknown artist every day, and mostly you get a few hundred hits, but suddenly hordes of people visit & comment on & share an artist’s page for a day.  How would you think about that post and that artist?  You’d think you struck gold.  And what would other music bloggers think?  That they’d better not miss the bandwagon and be late.  And what will big media outlets think when that artist crosses their desk and they’re deciding who to review?

Let’s make them think it.  Let’s DO THIS!

I am going Adventure Questing in Europe next month, but wherever you are in the world, I invite you to go Adventure Questing with me.  No money required; these are riddles and puzzles to solve, small tasks to complete, a little Golden Fleece journey for you that will hopefully create a little buzz.

November 13th, 2012 #somethingfierce

  • is when my album drops again. This just became a list, poof.
  • Starting November 1st, I will be issuing you one task per day for 13 days on Twitter and at***
  • Your task might be to post a comment on an article in haiku, or to draw a doodle of a lyric and post it hashtagged on Twitter, or to write a comment where each word starts with the letters of the last word in the before you (remember our limerick contest guys? Peter Sagal announced the results).  They will be small internet tasks, little 2-minute treasure chests and dungeon crawls, and will involve lots of Us Guys rewarding media outlets that feature the record.****
  • If you complete every Adventure Quest task by November 13th and send me screencaps by email, you will be entered to win some sincerely excellent and very real prizes, digital and physical, with shipping anywhere in the world.
  • Yes, you can do them all on the last day if you want, Procrastinatey McJones.  It doesn’t matter if you’re right on the nose with your dates.  Just finish before midnight on the 13th Hawaii time to be part of the crew.

November 13th, 2012 #somethingfierce

Is the date sticking for you yet?  I will spend my morning in Amsterdam and my afternoon/evening in Dublin, and guys, we are going to HAVE A PARRTY!  By which I mean GOOGLE HANGOUT AND TWITTER PARTY!  I’d like to invite you to have brunch with me in Amsterdam, then pub fare and Guinness or Killian’s or Harper with me in Dublin, no matter what your time zone.  When I’m not flying, I will be online several times through the day talking with you guys, answering any and every question, doing goofy things on camera, potentially drinking a little too much, and celebrating this awesome record that ate several years of my life.  I will try to get some special guests to join our Hangout and say hi, I will draw prize winners, and I will definitely sing for you in public places which will probably be embarrassing.

You guys, American Songwriter has already agreed to feature the album on their site all day on NOVEMBER 13TH, and so has AOL/Spinner.  OMG OMG OMG.  We released two singles to the media to promote, and for some reason “Dear Mister Darcy” is taking off at over 3000 downloads; we can’t even figure out why.  We will get more media on the hook if we can only deliver the audience.  With building momentum World Cafe and Paste and NPR might be someday be within reach. THIS IS BIG.

But only you can make it happen.  So join me Adventure Questing if you wish!  For all those times you guys have told me to get on NPR, now you have the power to Make It So!

November 13th, 2012 #somethingfierce

Do you want to do something now?  Here are further action items if you want them.  But only if you want them.  I don’t expect this sort of involvement, I’m grateful for you guys beyond belief;  but I do want to focus those of you who have asked to help.

  • Go download a track here and leave a comment: They’re free on purpose.  If you already have the music, send the track to a friend — surprise them.  Send the link to this article to a local radio station or DJ.
  • Here are some articles that need some love. Comment or share real quick, and I dare you to do it in Subtle Haiku (no line breaks, but a clear haiku structure that other readers will recognize): post 1 post 2 post 3 post 4. Tweet me links or send me screencaps if you want to show off your handiwork!
  • If you have a blog, write a teeny review of your favorite song or concert experience.  Include a link to the blog above, or some other blog, since that really helps.  If you don’t know what to say, just post lyrics and then tell a nice story that seems tangentially related, like this.
  • If you posted a blog about me ages ago, circulate the link one more time now, or post a follow-up, gloating that you were in on the ground floor of something awesome.  Tell everyone you were right.
  • Comment on iTunes or Amazon or listen on Spotify, which shows up on Facebook. (Note that my preferred listening/purchase link to actually benefit me is Bandcamp.)
  • If you are allowed to play music where you work, spin the album a couple times before November 13th. Tell people you are cool enough to have gotten this record before the global release because you’re that hip to new music.  You don’t need it with you, you can just listen online. (Don’t annoy anyone please.)
  • Pester your local DJ — most can play the music from the web now, so bother them with the link and say the album’s coming out soon.  And hey, pester your local weekly paper’s music reviewer, and your local NPR affiliate too, along with the national tastemaker stations (KUT, KEXP, KCRW, WGBH, WBUR, WHYY, WNYC and more).  If you need a press release for singles 1 and 2 or a bio, we have them.
  • I could use a little web help November 1st-14th, because obviously I will be running around Europe when I need to be posting stuff and answering questions.  If you’re interested, e-mail with the subject line “Adventure Quest-keteer.”

Any volunteer work that you feel like doing, I will equip you for.  Any questions you have, I will answer.  A few answers from the asterisks above are below.

I owe all of this to you guys, and that’s why I work so hard and run so fast.  I want to do my best for you, and I want to do the most for you.  I am excited to see all of you I can see in the Northeast of the US, the Southeast of Canada, and Europe.  And I’m super super super excited to raise a Guinness to all of you on — what date?

NOVEMBER 13TH 2012!!!




*Why release your album again? This is very normal for indie albums actually, in part because media outlets have almost no interest in reviewing an artist unless a Big Album Release is coming up.  So I have an awesome publicist, and they’re trying to get some media attention, so the Big Album Release is coming up!

**We are pitching me to media outlets as a social media musician with an engaged fanbase. So woe is me if my fanbase stays silent when Paste finally gives me an article. We have to prove that my press releases are true!  Mostly I don’t post articles about me (it’s rude) but for the next little while I’ll need to, and I’ll be hoping and wishing you guys will show them you’re listening.

***That site is not ready yet. Sorry. I was getting this site ready. November 13th.

****I promised you once, after my first Shortys encounter, and I’d like to reaffirm my promise:  I will never ever ask you to “vote for me” in any sort of internet competition. I have some dignity at least.

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