Kicking Kickstarter Up A Notch

By Brendan Lai-Tong

Crowd sourced funding seems to be all the rage recently! By turning to this method of fundraising, amazingly creative individuals are able to enlist the help of the community to make their dreams come true. Musicians, in particular, have been following suit in order to fund musical projects that wouldn’t have become a reality otherwise.

One example of this is film director and cellist Ty Kim. Ty is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and award-winning television producer.  Some of his accolades include six Los Angeles area Emmys, the National Edward R. Murrow Award, nine Golden Mikes, and the Associated Press Award for California.

Director Ty Kim with childhood idol, Muhammad Ali

Director Ty Kim with childhood idol, Muhammad Ali

Ty has played the cello since the age of four and was a student of Francesca Church.  At Stanford University, Ty continued his cello studies with Stephen Harrison and later formed a piano forte trio with two fellow students that were coached by Andor Toth.  More recently, Ty played two seasons in the cello section of the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. He currently coaches his two young children in bass, piano and cello.

Director Ty Kim with  Actor Wes Studi who starred in "Dances With Wolves" and "Avatar."

Director Ty Kim with Actor Wes Studi who starred in “Dances With Wolves” and “Avatar.”

Ty is working on raising funds to film a short documentary film featuring the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. The film tells a tale about how classical chamber music teaches young people to play well with others – in music and in life.  Please check out their Kickstarter pageand pledge your support if you are inspired by what the project is about.

Director Ty Kim with US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Director Ty Kim with US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

If you were ever thinking about starting up a Kickstarter project, this should give you a bit of insight into the process.  Hopefully, this will spark off more creative musical projects.  Let’s hear a bit more about Ty and the PACO Kickstarter project!

Hi Ty, thanks for taking the time to interview with us. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself.

My first job in television was working for the PBS Station in New York, WNET, where I interned on “Great Performances.”  After college, I worked two years at CBS News in New York as a live booker for their morning show.  I made a handshake deal with one of my mentors, Robert Anderson, who at the time was the foreign editor for the Evening News.  Bob promised if I got CBS News into North Korea, I could travel there with the CBS Evening News.  After I returned from this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Ed Bradley hired me at 60 Minutes as an Associate Producer.  I spent a year with Mr. Bradley and then worked for Mike Wallace for another seven years specializing in hard news/investigative pieces for the broadcast.  I’ve served as the managing editor for the CBS Station in San Francisco.   I also launched and ran an investigative unit for the NBC Station in Los Angeles for almost four years.  I’ve been a showrunner for major cable specials.  Now, I run a consulting practice focused on entrepreneurial finance and marketing.

I earned my MBA from Harvard Business School.  I decided as part of my media consulting, I wanted to give back to the community.  I’ve recruited a very special group of industry veterans–many of them with over 100 show credits.  A few times a year, we spend our time crafting a short film that showcases a worthy, non-profit institution.  A recent film I directed was about The Heard Museum in Phoenix which is the leading institution in the world for Native American art and culture.  The documentary was hosted by former US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and included a rare appearance by Muhammad Ali who supports the message of peace and social justice.  The film was also co-hosted by Wes Studi who starred in “Dances With Wolves,”  “Avatar” and many other films.

How did you become involved with the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra?

I’ve been playing the cello since I was four years old.  Music has opened a lot of doors.  I’m pretty sure it’s the main reason I got the chance to attend Stanford.  Thirty years ago, I formed a piano forte trio (cello, violin, piano) with two classmates in college.  We studied with Andor Toth at Stanford University.  Maestro Toth played in the legendary Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and opened our hearts and minds to ensemble music.  In the case of the cello, it’s some of the greatest music ever written for the instrument.

The violinist I met in the college trio is still one of my dearest and oldest friends.  His name is Cary Chin.  As it turns out, thirty years later, Cary and I were sitting in his living room reminiscing about the past.  We’ve gotten our families together a few times a year.  He asked me to consider directing a film about the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra.  Cary is the President and Chair of the Board for six years and served on the board for ten.  It’s really true about old friends.  There’s nothing as special as connecting with people who you know and care about for a long time.  Not a lot was said.  We both sort of shrugged and said, “Why not?  Let’s give it a try.”

What is the goal and message of the PACO Documentary?

What got me invested is the mission of PACO:  they teach young musicians the value of working in a team environment.  They sure attract some of the finest young musicians in the Bay Area.  But, the music director and conductor Ben Simon and the organization headed by its Board Chair Cary Chin have instilled a way of looking at the world that I can’t resist:  Learn to play well with others.  And, that is the message of the short documentary film which we’re hoping leads to a full-length documentary as the chamber ensemble prepares for their tour of Italy this summer.  PACO has been around since 1966 and positively impacted the lives of literally thousands of musicians.  It was founded by William Whitson who led the organization for its first thirty-seven years.

It really doesn’t matter whether someone plays an instrument or listens to classical music.  You have to see how these young people connect with each other and with PACO’s conductor Ben Simon who has played in some of the great orchestras of the world including The New York Philharmonic and the LA Philharmonic.  Ben has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma in the “Silk Road” project and has earned the respect of his peers both as a concert-level violist and as a wonderful conductor.  Ben also serves as the music director and conductor of The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, one of the premiere chamber ensembles.   He reminds me of when I was kid watching “The Young People’s Concerts” hosted by the legendary Leonard Bernstein.  Ben possesses the rare gift of being able to reach anyone and help explain why and how classical music matters.  You have to see him dress up as Mozart to get the kids smiling.  And, he has such a razor sharp intellect and sense of humor.  Sort of a cross between Garrison Keillor, Anthony Bourdain, Carl Sagan and Leonard Bernstein. Ben, the kids, the alums, the families, faculty, staff, even the memory of the late Bill Whitson—these are the stars of our little movie.  We’re sort of the Little Engine That Could.

How has Kickstarter been working out so far?

Great.  Our Kickstarter site launched just launched a few weeks ago–with only a few weeks remaining!  We’ve received donations of a dollar from total strangers to a thousand dollars!   Supporters have pledged from New York to Dallas, Miami, Greenwich, St. Louis and Los Angeles.  I think we even have supporters from Thailand.  They all connect with the idea of the film.  Many of them had never picked up an instrument but believe in the message of learning to play well with others.  Aside from the Kickstarter site, we’ve also raised enough to roll cameras for phase one.  We’re still hoping to hit our mark on the Kickstarter site soon though because every dollar will be donated directed to the production.  And, there are some cool gifts we’re giving for certain levels of donations.  Anyone willing to donate at a high level can even earn a production credit on the film.  It’s an intriguing way to get your brand out there because Kickstarter doesn’t accept every entry.  They’re pretty rigorous about their standards in terms of setting up a page and will let you know if it doesn’t reach the highest standards.

We’re approaching the seventy-seven percent funded benchmark which I think is remarkable considering it’s been a few weeks.  So, come on, all you fans–check out our site!

What is involved in starting up a Kickstarter campaign?

First, you have to clearly define your concept.  It’s about telling a story.  And, being very clear about how you plan to get your project done.  You log on to Kickstarter’s site and build a page the same way you would build anything.  One piece at a time.  They take you step by step through the process.  When you think you’re done, you work on it some more, craft and recraft.  We’ve been refining our page almost every day—even after launching.  It’s great for Type-A’s who need something to do in the middle of the night like me.  Honestly, one of the best ways of learning what makes a great Kickstarter page is studying the projects that have been fully funded.  You learn some of the most effective elements including putting a video together and making your rewards tangible to your supporters.  The site advisors tell you what you’re missing if you don’t hit the mark.  They’re standards are high.

Internally, it’s all about forming a team.  A team can be two people.  We started with two people.  Cary and myself.  We laugh about it now because we’ve come up with so many cool ideas that have not gone anywhere over the years.  This one has in a big way.  I recruited the production team, many of them from past shows I’ve worked on.  My first stop was to call my cinematographer, David Y. Chung, who has been a loyal creative partner since we worked on an A&E Special with William Shatner about the DC Snipers.  We became very good friends and have worked together on projects now for years.  Once we did a film for a well-funded, ambitious pre-IPO company that was shown to one client–a member of a royal family.  Others joined us looking for a way to do something beyond the traditional television and film route.  For example, one of our key team members is Reba Rosenthal, a young filmmaker, who produced a short film called “The Contract” that has played at some major film festivals.  Reba’s two older brothers and I attended business school together.  Our original team of two quickly grew to three, four—and now it’s like a small start-up.  Cary presented the idea to the PACO Board who supported the project.  Getting Ben Simon who worked closely with Cary for years was an amazing experience—let’s just say, we met for three hours in a swirling dervish of activity unfolding around us.  Everyone from parents of PACO students to recent and past alums to Ben and Cary and the board and Hans who runs PACO’s office have pitched in.

 What advice do you have for other musicians trying to start up a Kickstarter campaign?

Just do it.   Artists tend to sometimes be introverted.  They stick to the world they know.  But, there’s another world out there with people willing to help you achieve your dreams.  No risk, no reward.  For sure, form your team early.  I’m pretty amazed that some of the larger non-profit institutions—even ones that I’ve consulted for—have not launched their own kickstarter campaigns.  It’s about effective entrepreneurial marketing and building your brand in a crowded marketplace where resources are limited.  If you don’t find your customers, then no one will do it for you.  When you launch your site, treat it like your baby.  Care and feeding is the key.  I personally wrote thank you notes to every single supporter.  It matters when people know you really are grateful.  That’s how you and I met, Brendan!  You wrote me back when I had a pretty basic question about earning rebates on

When does your Kickstarter campaign end? If you meet your funding goals when do you plan to release the film?

It officially ends in 13 days!  Our plan has two levels.  Phase one is to do a short film based in Palo Alto.  Phase Two is to produce a full-length documentary film of the ensemble’s tour of Italy.  They’re both stand-alone projects and yet they fit together nicely because the footage we shoot for Phase One will be used for Phase Two.  Reba has experience working the film festival route.  We’re hoping that our documentary attracts interest.  Some of the movies we honor and love include “From Mao To Mozart” which documented the trip by the legendary violinist Isaac Stern to China.  We also love “Hoop Dreams.”  We know we have our work cut out for us.  But, it’s a fascinating and positive story that we think will inspire others.

Do you have any words for those who you would like to see backing your project?

Thank you.  We’re so grateful for your support of the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra.  PACO truly is an extended family.  Like so many worthy non-profits, PACO runs on volunteer power.  Let me say there is something very cool about how the right group of people can change the world.  They’re doing it.  We’re so lucky to be part of an amazing team.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

The music community is such a small and wonderful group.  I never imagined that we would be talking about this project with It so happens that the kids and adults I know all shop at the company’s on-line store.  I reached out to to ask about how the rebates for music teachers works.  The response I got was so polite and friendly; I just made a brief mention what we were working on.  One thing led to another.  And, it so happens that the company values social awareness and giving back to the community.  Music opens doors.  You just have to be willing to knock on a few sometimes.

The arts in general these days are in crisis mode.  Concert attendances are down.  Many of the big record chains and labels have winnowed to next to nothing.  If you want classical music recordings, you either go to places like Amazon or you dig up your old record collection which is exactly what I did recently.  I had stored my dad’s old record player and his voluminous collection of operas and classical music on lps. Checking on-line, I found that many of the recordings on vinyl were more expensive than a brand new cd!  Anything you can do to support the arts is a good thing.  Classical music is part of the fabric of the American culture–just like rock n’ roll, motown, jazz, etc.

If you want music, you’re going to go to and find just about anything.  I coach my son in piano, cello and bass.  He’s eleven and also plays the electric bass.  He was extremely happy finding bass sheet music for the Beatles, the Who and some of his other favorite bands.

We hope this article has sparked your interest to start your own Kickstarter campaign. We would like to thank Ty Kim very much for taking the time to interview! We wish him and the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra the best of luck with receiving full funding to film their documentary. If you haven’t done so already, please check out their Kickstarter campaign.

Brendan Lai-Tong is the Assistant Marketing Manager at Sheet Music Plus and holds degrees in trombone performance from University of Miami and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

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