10 Things Kickstarter Creators Can Learn from Street Performers

29 May 2017

Recently I’ve been fascinated by a series of “day in the life” videos from a street performing/YouTuber magician named Steven Bridges. In each 9-minute video, he takes the audience through the experience of busking (street performing) in the UK.

As I watched the fourth video in this series (all four are highly recommended viewing, though I’d suggest starting with the first), I realized that there are startling commonalities between busking and crowdfunding. You’ll recognize some of these lessons from my blog, but there are also some fresh perspectives here.

  1. Tell people in advance when you’re starting the show. Steven has 5 minutes to set up his show. The first thing he does is turn on his speakers to tell people that a show will soon begin. This helps build anticipation and lets people know when they should tune in.
  2. Build the crowd in advance. Part of the advance notice is that Steven is trying to draw at least a small crowd before the show begins. He’s found that he’s much more likely to end up with a big crowd if he starts with a few people there, just like day one of a Kickstarter project. It’s pretty amazing to see Steven start a show with 3 people, and by the end of a performance there are hundreds gathered around him.
  3. Connect with individual people. Steven starts his show by walking over to one onlooker, handing them a prop, and learning their name. This is a powerful moment, as it breaks down the wall between the creator and the audience and sets a precedent for engagement. In Steven’s performances, he’s constantly engaging the crowd, making them feel invested in the show.
  4. Provide good sound quality. This is a logistical thing, but it has a huge impact. Steven and other successful buskers have high quality speakers to project their voices to the crowd. For Kickstarter videos, the audio is more important than the visual elements.
  5. Be respectful and aware of other creators. In Leicester Square, where Steven performs, the buskers have a daily sign-up sheet to ensure that they’re not shouting over each other. This was the intent of the start/end date Google Doc I created a while ago for my fellow tabletop game creators.
  6. The crowd responds best when you make it about them. There’s a certain energy when a crowd applauds, and Steven does something cool to generate that energy: He frequently asks his audience to applaud random volunteers. This is so much more effective than him saying, “Clap for me!”
  7. If you’re going to have an emotional breakdown, wait until after the show. A fellow street performer gives this advice to Steven during one of the videos. It may seem obvious, but I really like the idea that we’re all human and we’re going to have huge moments of vulnerability, especially when we’re exposing our passions to the world. But sometimes being able to control those emotions when everything is at stake can make or break a campaign.
  8. Draw a clear line for participation. In some of Steven’s shows, he places a rope on the ground in a semicircle about 20 feet away from him. This sets a clear division between the audience and him, as he says that if people don’t understand the boundary between performer and audience member, it can ruin the show for everyone. I think crowdfunders can do the same thing in making it clear that certain elements of the product/project are up for discussion, while others are set in stone.
  9. Practice makes perfect: Steven has been performing the same show for about a year now, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. He recently announced that he’ll soon start testing a new show, and he fully expects it to not go well for a while. How can a crowdfunder practice? Create content, engage people online, playtest your game, pitch your product to different people…look at all the skills you’ll need during a Kickstarter campaign and work on them before it matters most.
  10. Ask for what you want. At the end of a 20-minute show, Steven asks people to pay for the entertainment they just received. He isn’t pushy about it–he says it once and leaves it at that. A specific call to action like this can be quite powerful.

What’s the most memorable street performance you’ve ever seen? Is there anything you experienced from it that applies to Kickstarter creators?

9 Comments on “10 Things Kickstarter Creators Can Learn from Street Performers

  1. Jamey,

    That was outstanding ~ I’ll have Kat (my daughter) add this to her repertoire of videos, as she’s going into the performing arts and there’s much to be learned from this magician’s video series. As to how mit applies to Kickstarter creators, you’re spot-on at the beginning of the list in terms of growing the community, be they members of an audience or potential, future Backers…get them interested and invested early. We’re seeing it now, as we have more than 2,500 comments for our game and thanks to our incredible Backers we’ve spent a significant amount of time on Kicktraq’s Top 10 List (out of 4,000+ entries) which among many other variables include funding (but certainly not that alone), it takes into account a strong presence on the Comments section. It starts with the crowd…

    Cheers,
    Joe

  2. Very interesting perspective on this blog post Jamey, It’s all good info! I was visiting Boulder Colorado one time and went to the famous long main street covered in cobblestone and full of fun shops. Lots of performers were there every night it seemed. One performer I watched was juggling. He was very impressive and seemed to do things almost impossible by juggling things on fire. After myself and the audience seemed impressed for a while, he then took it up another level. He pulled out a tall single rail ladder and climbed to the top, just balancing up in the air in the middle of the street. It was impressive enough that he could balance without falling over, yet he started juggling up there on the top while hobbling along making the ladder take a few steps forward then a few steps back. When he climbed down he then asked for a few volunteers for a magic trick. He asked them if they had a $5 or $10 bill. They gladly handed the cash over and then he did some obscure disappearing trick and the money was gone! Everyone just started laughing. I was like, What! Seriously! But the people did not seem to care that he took their money, I guess they just thought of it as a payment for his great show. And more people came up and gave some money.

    A couple golden nuggets about this memory. One is that this performer knew where to be. He did not go to the next town over that had no tourists in it and try to build a show there. He knew where his target audience was. And I am assuming he probably came there often where people started to know him and when he would come out they were thinking “oh boy, we are in for a lucky night!” He was building a community of people in a way and in a fun place. Repeat visitors, always knowing they are going to get a good show. So for Kickstarter I can assume that being where the gaming community is would be a huge point. I heard one instructor say “you can’t just blow in, blow up, and blow out!” You need to be consistent and keep being with the people for them to build a relationship and trust.

    Secondly is that he had a good show, but he did not pull out everything all at once from the beginning. He gradually showed new things and it kept people watching and engaged. I think anyone could do one thing that makes people amazed. But he wanted more, he wanted people to be talking about his show and thinking about how amazing it was afterwards. Some of the best games that I had backed on Kickstarter this year, the creators kept things rolling. They pulled out new stretch goals, or showed some new behind the scenes things that were cool to see in the updates, or whatever it was. Things just kept coming it seemed like. There can be a snowball effect that keeps the excitement going!

  3. One more thing about the street performer I was talking about…
    He seemed to be passionate about what he was doing. You can tell he did this a lot and he enjoyed doing it, he enjoyed thrilling people and also making them laugh. It did not seem just like some stranger trying to hustle you for a quick buck. And I think this is why more people gave money to him at the end of his performance to show their thanks for the time and effort he put into the show. You need to be excited about what you are doing or no one else will!

  4. “How can a crowdfunder practice? Create content, engage people online, playtest your game, pitch your product to different people…look at all the skills you’ll need during a Kickstarter campaign and work on them before it matters most.”

    That feels like it could be a full blog post. I spent most of my time designing and improving games and only a small portion running Kickstarters. While there are things in the playtesting cycle that are practice, I don’t think I’ve ever dedicated time to say “Now I shall practice for the Kickstarter.” Perhaps I should.

  5. Titles/subject lines/headlines are important. “10 Things Kickstarter Creators Can Learn from Street Performers” is great title. Not a bad post either!

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