Guide to Patreon for Musicians - how can artists make a living off of crowd-funding? Come to that, what even is Patreon?
Why do musicians need money?
And yes, I have heard people ask that in all seriousness. The really cool thing about Patreon is that it’s promoting a culture of openness and honesty between creative people and their fans, so most are quite happy to say that people’s donations are going towards rent and bills or on guitar strings or new microphones and lighting. Crowdfunding albums isn’t new - record labels have been gradually losing control over the music we listen to for years. Historically, labels basically have 3 jobs - the first is quality control, (whether or not you think they’re any good at that), basically making sure the music they release is good enough; 2nd is promotion, making sure joe public knows an album is coming out; and lastly funding studio time because those tasty Neumann microphones cost more than your mum’s house. So, if you wanted to release your own stuff you need to do that all yourselves - enter crowdfunding, which allows bands to take care of the monetary aspects of releasing an album, (namely, studio time and marketing).
More common these days is for musicians to have their own basic recording gear at home - so with something like Patreon a musician can gradually add to their recording setup using the funds they receive, (possibly using it on rent and food as well), and releasing new music every week or every month but only letting their patrons have access to it. Lastly, in terms of money, I don’t want to get into this whole thing, but YouTube ad money isn’t quite as free-flowing as it once was. Lots of creators are looking for alternate sources of income and Patreon seems to be leading the way.
But how do you get people to subscribe?
You can use what they call Reward Tiers to offer, basically, prizes to your fans depending on how much money they send your way each month. For example, a $1 supporter might not get anything other than a thankyou; while a $5 supporter might get a free download every month; a $15 supporter might get a merchandise pack; and a $100 supporter could get an album named after them. Patrons can actually select how much they want to donate, so don’t feel like you have to put in a reward for every conceivable amount of money. So you know what you’re going to offer people, and how much that’s worth, but how can you convert those Facebook likes or Twitter followers into Patrons. Well, obviously you’ve got to tell people about it and obviously that’ll be about as hard as anything on social media. There’s 2 things we’ve learnt about social media and communicating with fans over the years, those are: 1, make all posts visually pleasing (either with picture or video); and 2 the most effective form of promotion seems to be the mailing list because it combines online fans with fans you can get to sign up at your gigs, (some of whom might not actually like social media, but will still use email). So, you should be using your mailing list to get the word out about your Patreon campaign, and any changes that happen to it along the way - and if you aren’t using a mailing list yet you need to start doing that right now. Use mailchimp - they’re not paying us to say that (yet) but they are really good.
The last thing I wanna say about promoting your Patreon is that you kinda need to already have a fanbase before embarking on any sort of crowdfunding campaign. That’s kinda the number 1 reason a crowdfunding campaign might not take off. As disheartening as it is, you need to be sure that your idea is interesting to fans and can hold their interest before you suggest they give you any money.
Ideas & Best Practices
Patreon, as a company, is great because they clearly want their users to succeed. They have a really great blog and send out really useful newsletters which I advise you to take a look at. Some of the advice might not be obviously useful to you as a music creator, but just because a blog is about podcasting or visual arts don’t think there’s nothing useful in there - definitely read it anyway and see what ideas you can apply to what you want to do. Generally, you’ll need to offer more than just music. Here is a list of cool ideas you could use: monthly Google Hangouts or Skype Calls with top subscribers; downloads of stems of your music and free licence for remixing; if you make physical notes for your tunes like I do you could send someone your notebooks when you’re done using them; packs of old guitar strings; one-on-one tutorials explaining how you do what you do; play a gig in the location of their choice; merchandise packs; exclusive only to Patreon merchandise packs; write a song either about a supporter or about the subject matter of their choice; name an album after someone; …. That’s a lot of stuff… off you go…
Find a niche. This is the same with everything else creative really - if you’re making Minecraft videos then you might not be able to stand out because we’re saturated with Minecraft videos as it is. This isn’t specific to Patreon, but it is worth remembering. People in general tend to switch-off when you start talking about Patreon, so what seems to work is this: have your Patreon details easily accessible on the end screen of your YouTube videos and in the description and in the about sections of your various social media. Don’t mention it loads in the middle of YouTube videos or blogs because it will get skipped over (I’ve seen the metadata, I know it’s happening), but do make separate videos advertising your Patreon or a sketch about it and make it really obvious in thumbnails and titles that that’s what it is - your die-hard fans will watch it anyway, the people who don’t want to be advertised to won’t but no one gets butt-hurt. Unfortunately, a lot of people are going to think you’re greedy for talking about your Patreon regardless of how much you earn. Use Patreon as a secondary source of income. I don’t think it’s going to disappear overnight, (as a business they seem to be doing everything correctly), but if it did and it’s your only source of income then you’re just immediately boned, yeah? It’s the same as Google - if all your money is tied up in adverts then what happens if Google disappears? So, as a musician you can make content exclusively for Patreon but don’t put all your time and energy into it - keep looking for gigs, or film scores or students or however you make a living.
Last tip - don’t ever stop creating. Be regular in timetable and quality, and also be able to document the creative process as well because people do actually want to see that. To finish I’m going to give you a selection of musical Patreon accounts which you could take a look at: Peter Hollens; Ali Spagnola; Pentatonix and Adam Neely. Go have a look at what they’re doing, what they’re offering supporters and how they present themselves.