Ashlie White certainly isn't lacking for ambition. The 30-year-old graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill is also the instigator of Pet-Tich-Eye, a compelling (and confounding) project hoping to bring together local musicians, visual artists and community organizations. Close to many in the Triangle music scene—she's in a relationship with Hammer No More the Fingers' Joe Hall and is a close friend of The Rosebuds' Ivan Howard—White approached 10 of her sonically inclined cohorts, asking them to recruit two more musicians they don't normally work with to record a one-off song together. The resulting collaborations include members of Megafaun, Mount Moriah, Hiss Golden Messenger, Bowerbirds, The Rosebuds, The Love Language, Lost in the Trees and more.
After connecting, the musicians then entered the studio alongside a photographer of their choosing, who documented each trio's day-long session. Each group also picked an artist to create individual album art for each song, which will be paired with the photos in an art book that will accompany the Record Store Day (April 20) release of the vinyl LP. Each group of musicians also paired with a local community organization, which will directly benefit from the album's sales. Every LP will also include a ticket to a party at Durham's Motorco Music Hall the night of the release, which will include live performances from five of the impromptu triumvirates and an exhibition of art work associated with the project.
Late last month, White turned to Kickstarter to help pay for the initiative, but as many in the community quickly pointed out, there were some nagging issues with the campaign. The description states that all Kickstarter funds go directly to paying back the debt incurred in creating the album and art book, but it also claims that $1 from every album sale goes to the nonprofits. Also disconcerting was the massive $14,000 fundraising goal. Having already raised more than $3,000, Pet-Tich-Eye has until March 31 to reach its target, or—as with all Kickstarter campaigns—they get nothing.
INDY Week sat down with White to address the issues surrounding the project.
INDY WEEK: How did this idea get started?
ASHLIE WHITE: Do you remember when Converse did a series where they did these artist collaborations? They got Andre 3000 and James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and the guy from Gorillaz to do a collab. It was a really funky, fun song, and I loved it. It just made me want to dance in my car. I thought that was a cool idea, but obviously, they did it to sell shoes. I said, "That’s such a neat idea, but they’re selling shoes. It plays in their stores, and it’s on their commercials. Our community’s so intertwined, it would be really cool to do something like that here."
I was in Wilmington at the time, and Ivan Howard is one of my best friends. He also lived in Wilmington at the time. He and Jon Yu were doing this collaborative thing. One night at my apartment, they pulled out their computers and a mic, and they just sort of started messing around with sounds. It was just this really cool thing, and I just happened to be present when they decided to do this. It’s awesome because it's pushing Ivan to be creative in a different capacity, and Jon Yu’s getting to do something that he really loves and see the response that Ivan has. It was all very organic and beautiful.
That feeling kind of carried out, and then I heard the Converse thing. It started as this little thing, and it sort of grew. When I moved to Durham, I had more access to the scene than when I lived in Wilmington. I just called Ivan one day, and I was like, "This is what I want to do. Do you think we could do something like this? Do you think our friends would be into this? Do you think they would reach out of our immediate circle enough for it to even be cool?" He said, [she imitates Howard’s deep drawl] "Hell yeah."
I sort of explored some of the tax options and the financial side of how to donate money, and I found out actually that if you tell somebody that a dollar is going to something from what they’re purchasing, then the person purchasing is actually donating the dollar. It doesn't have to come from us. Any store that has a little jar at the counter, they don’t have to report what goes into that jar as a donation. That’s the way that part of it works. It’s just that we’re choosing to put a dollar into that jar. That’s built into the whole concept. It started from the first record sale. People can interpret that however they want to. I don’t need to run through the street saying, "We’re giving a whole lot of money to people!" We’re not. A dollar is not a lot.
It was a ball of ideas, and it came out to what we have now.
There’s a part in the original Kickstarter description that states that the Kickstarter funds don’t go to the charities, but it also says that a dollar from each record sale goes to the organizations. Where are those sales happening?
So Kickstarter doesn't allow you to donate directly from their platform. Because the project cost more than $14,000, technically, the money we’re raising is going directly to pay off that cost. I’m just choosing to count our Kickstarter pre-sale as a sale. A rewards category is a rewards category. But when it all is said and done, and I’m filling the order for that, that counts as a record sale to me. So I’m going to take a dollar from a record sale and put it toward a non-profit. That’s the way it’s structured. It can’t work any other way, or those first however-many records I've sold don’t count. That didn't seem right to me.
When people start buying records on Record Store Day, a dollar from those records goes to a non-profit, so why not the records sold on Kickstarter? For me, it’s just from day one. If Kickstarter takes our campaign down because I’m saying this right now, it would suck. I don’t get caught up in the semantics of it or the theory of where this money goes. But I also didn't think that I needed to tell the world necessarily. It’s built-in to me. It’s at the core of what this project’s about. I don’t want people to donate to the Kickstarter just because it benefits a non-profit.
So the donations that don’t have an album sale attached to them, they go straight to the project?
And the donor gets to specify which charity, and if they don’t specify it gets broken up by 10 into all of them?
Yup. I don’t want people to invest in the Kickstarter because they think their dollar’s being donated. I’m not trying to raise money for nonprofits through the Kickstarter. I’m trying to pay for this thing to happen. I don’t feel like I’m breaking any rules. And I don’t feel like Kickstarter would either if I have the bills to show that this project cost this much money, and that’s what it’s going back to pay. If I have to donate that money myself from some other account, I’ll do it, but in theory, I think you have to keep it. Those first people who got their record, they didn't get it a dollar cheaper than anyone else will pay at the record store. It’s all going to be the same price, so I want that to still happen. And on release day I want to be able to say, we've sold this many records so far, and here’s the little bit of money we've made for you guys. But we hope this continues to be a viable partnership.
So the musicians are getting paid for their work here. How does that work? How did you decide to do that?
I paid all the musicians. I came to the studio each day on the day of recording with $100. They were paid for their day of time recording the project. Each individual musician was paid or offered to be paid $100. Some of them donated that money directly back to me or refused to take it. Some of them took the money and have since pledged on our Kickstarter campaign. My goal was to facilitate, so they didn't have to think, "Do I have to take off work, and how much money am I going to lose if I take off work today to come to the studio and record in a much longer way?" A lot of times when you go into the studio, you already have your day planned out, but because of the collaborative effort, I knew these were going to be long studio days. I knew they were going to take a lot of takes, and they were going to be challenging. I didn't want that to be an obstacle. Even though $100 isn't a lot of money, it helped alleviate any obstacles of the musicians being able to get into the studio and record the song.
That’s $3,000 paid to the artists on the day of the recordings along with whatever the recording sessions themselves cost, which you got at a discounted rate.
And because of the arrangement, I don’t feel comfortable quoting the rate.
And then about $2,200 for mixing and mastering the thing and a little more than $7,282 to press 500 vinyl copies. And all of this was upfront cost for you?
It’s on a credit card. It’s on three credit cards. One of those credit cards has no interest for 18 months, so we've got 18 months to sell this record. I really feel good about the project, so it’s really not that scary. The second credit card has no interest for 12 months, and I only got approved for $3,000 at that point because I think the credit card companies realized I was taking out a lot of credit. The personal credit card that I already had has the rest of the bulk on it, which I've just been paying off as quickly as I could, so I wouldn't incur interest. I've also balance transferred to the credit card with no interest. Technically, the project isn't currently incurring any interest just because I've played the system a little bit with interest rates and stuff. I just took my savings account and paid off what portion of it was incurring interest. The cost of it isn't growing any more than what it sort of is.
I feel like a lot of people go into a lot of debt for school. I've been working through school. I don’t have any school debt, and I feel really fortunate about that. And I do plan to write my thesis on this project.
The concept here is very much about different people in the community depending on each other and coming together in a way that’s mutually beneficial. But all the risk is really on you. Why did that feel appropriate for you? Why did you feel like that was the best way to go about it?
All of the people involved, the artists and photographers and musicians, they already have enough risk on them doing what they do. They already are in a very high-risk position. If I could remove that risk from them, then I knew we could create something very special. And I believed that it would be special. What would have disappointed me would have been if one of the musicians had said yes and then at the last minute backed out. Nobody said no. No one I asked said no, which is overwhelming. Every single person was like, "Yes, I’ll do this," and no one backed out.
It’s going to be fine. We’re going to be fine. It’s a cool idea, and we have 18 months to really make back everything and sell the record. We’ll break even if we sell all 500 records.
What happens if the Kickstarter doesn't work?
Then it becomes more important for me to work on the structure of it. Maybe we have to rethink this concept. It’s more important that the Kickstarter works in that it will prove that people want this. If we don’t make it, I just incur some debt, and we move forward.