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Creative idea? Kickstarter connects artists with online funding.

Kickstarter.com points online patrons toward worthy projects they didn't know existed.

By James TurnerCorrespondent / December 15, 2010

Kickstarter helps artists find patrons.

Marcellus Hall

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Like many people, Aaron Dunn has a dream. Mr. Dunn wants to see all of the world's great classical music available free of charge, unencumbered by copyrights, for anyone to do with as they wish.

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But when Musopen, Dunn's nonprofit organization, was ready to move on from collecting public domain music and begin commissioning new recordings of the great works, the group ran up against a serious cash crunch. Hiring a world-class orchestra is not cheap.

Musopen set a goal of raising $11,000, enough by their calculations to record the complete symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky. Dunn first tried raising money through his group's website.

"I began to have ideas that required funds and so started adding donation buttons to the site," writes Dunn in an e-mail. "I also experimented with a bid system [that] ended up not working out well."

The next step for an artistic project such as Musopen might have been to seek a grant or corporate backing, but instead the group turned to Kickstarter, one example of how the Web is turning traditional financing on its head. In just a month, Musopen had surpassed its goal of $11,000, and pulled in nearly $70,000 from online patrons.

At its heart, Kickstarter's model is simple. Groups begin by working out a budget and creating a video that explains their project. Kickstarter publishes the proposals online free of charge. Donors may pledge as little or as much as they want, but credit cards will only be charged if the project reaches the full amount of its requested budget. By using this all-or-nothing method, Kickstarter wants to reduce the danger that a project will go underfinanced and therefore fail.

"A lot of transparency and creativity is required," Dunn says. "Unlike a donate button on a Web page somewhere, it's very clear what is expected if people donate on a Kickstarter project. If someone doesn't deliver, it's also very clear who will be upset and [that] these problems will be raised in a very public forum."

Kickstarter cofounder Perry Chen says that the model connects patrons to projects that they never knew existed. Still, the website works best when entrepreneurs start off with a little momentum from existing friends and fans. By providing early support, they can help a Kickstarter project stand out from the crowd and give the venture some credibility.

"In the end," Mr. Chen says, "these are the people who are going to keep you honest. You know you have to come through, or at least try your best."

One year in, Kickstarter has already raised between $15 million and $20 million for projects, according to Chen. The recipients range from the prosaic (start-up costs to product a camera mount for iPhones) to the semiabsurd (funding a life-sized "Mouse Trap" game on a tour across the United States).

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