Why I chose Patreon (over traditional crowdfunding)

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It’s tough to make a living selling music these days.

Back in the mid-90s, I’d pull in $1200 a month from CD sales, and I barely had any fans. These days my albums get hundreds of thousands of plays, but I don’t make $1200 a year in actual sales.

What’s a recording artist to do?

Hold back? Keeping my material off Spotify and YouTube is a losing battle. Streaming is the future. The data I’ve seen suggest that streaming actually boosts sales, rather than undercutting them.

Tour? I don’t perform, though I did for a few years in the late 90s. It’s not for me. It’s crazy tough to turn a profit, even for big names like Rihanna. Plus I’m not keen on sleeping in my car.

Merch? I’ve got partnerships with GearLaunch (t-shirts) and Modify Watches. Sales are few and far between. For the most part, my fans just want the music.

Kickstarter/PledgeMusic? I’ve already written about my distaste for the glorified preorder route. It forces you to decide exactly what you’re going to make before you make it, and know precisely how much it will cost. If you meet your goal (and half don’t), making and fulfilling rewards from a dozen different tiers is expensive, time-consuming, and soul-sucking.

Patreon is different. It’s a membership platform that makes it easy for artists and creators to get paid. Patrons pledge as little as $1 every month to fund ongoing creations, the vast majority of which are released into the world for free. It’s like public radio without the pledge drive.

How I discovered Patreon

Back in 2014, I was playing a lot of Dark Souls II. One of the great things about gaming today, versus my formative cartridge and floppy disk years, is the community that surrounds the games. Lots of people were posting Dark Souls videos on YouTube, but the guy with the Australian accent was doing it best.

When I finally clicked through to VaatiVidya’s Patreon page and realized how much work goes into each of his videos, I was more than happy to chip in. As his patron count increased, he was able to afford custom artwork for his video thumbnails, and even commission songs based on the games (I’m available Vaati!). I’m still proud to support him, even though I’ve hardly touched a Souls game in over a year.

Once I got a taste of the exclusive access, mutual gratitude, and enthusiastic community, I was hooked. I’ve been supporting a handful of creators on Patreon for a couple of years now — running and science channels, anime reviewers, an illustrator, a podcaster, and yes, even a few musicians!

For the price of a cup of coffee, it takes my experience to the next level. I enjoy creators’ content more, I get to communicate with them directly, and I get a warm fuzzy feeling every time I hear from them.

Which is why I’m excited to announce the launch of my own Patreon page!

What I’ve learned in a week

Goals. These need to inspire, and I’ve got a lofty one! Once I hit 100 patrons, I’m going to make my entire 21-release discography, currently $105 on Bandcamp, free to download. I want to make all my music free for anyone in the world to enjoy, and trust that those who do will value it enough to support it.

Rewards. My average pledge is $3. Nobody has pledged at the $25 or $50 level yet. The lesson here is to offer the best rewards at a price people are willing to pay! I’ve had several people tell me they’d love a signed CD-R every six months, but $25 per month is just too expensive. [edit: I’ve since dropped it to $10]

Patreon payment options

Payment schedule. You can opt to charge either per month or per piece of content. Initially I planned to charge per song, which would grant me the freedom to devote my energies to other projects, without stoking the ire of my neglected patrons. But the whole point is to release more music! I could use a little pressure, not to mention a reliable income stream.

Charge settings. The way it currently stands, someone can sign up and download all your content, then cancel without paying a cent. To prevent these sorts of shenanigans, Patreon is rolling out a feature called Charge Up Front, which charges patrons immediately when they sign up, and then on the 1st of every month thereafter. The only potential point of friction is if someone signs up near the end of the month, they’ll be charged twice in the span of days.

Earnings visibility. Another new feature is the option to hide your earnings. I elected to go that route at first, but it was a mistake. Transparency breeds trust, and it’s not like I’m secretly making a killing. It was just a way to shield my ego from potential embarrassment.

Audio RSS feed. If you enable it, each patron gets their own individual private feed containing the audio they have access to. All they have to do is copy/paste the URL into their podcast app, and boom! You’re a podcaster.

Recruiting for dummies. The homepage always has a “get patrons” box at the top, with a button to share your latest paid post or rewards tier, or give a shoutout to a new patron — complete with a graphic served up just for the occasion. If you don’t like the option it gives you, hide it and refresh the page to serve up another.

Patreon share

Built-in cross-promotion. When a creator supports another creator, their patrons receive an email notification. I always click through to find out what’s so great about them!

Patreon cross-promotion

Want to try it for yourself?

If you’re thinking of launching your own page, please use my referral link to sign up! We both earn a reward based on how many patrons you have 30 days after launch, up to $500 for each of us.

Patreon referral

Be aware that you only have 30 days after signing up with my referral link to launch your page. If it takes longer than that, you can always use the link again to sign up with a different email address.

In the meantime, I invite you to become my patron and see how Patreon works from the inside!

[This article originally appeared HERE.]

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  • Kylotan

    “The data I’ve seen suggest that streaming actually boosts sales, rather
    than undercutting them.” Do you have a source for that data? It’s counter-intuitive and it runs contrary to what fans often say themselves. I’m sure there are situations where unknown artists manage to get onto a good playlist which drives some sales, but that’s not the same as saying it boosts sales overall.

    • Around the time when Taylor Swift was getting press for holding back her 1989 album from Spotify, I read several analyses that argued she was undercutting her own sales. That’s just what comes to mind — I’ve seen the same argument in many forms on Hypebot over the past few years. I don’t have anything handy though!

  • Dora Dragos

    Long story short: you chose Patreon over traditional crowdfunding because you just started a Patreon page and you wanted to promote it here, so you wrote an article about how you “prefer” Patreon. Sounds totally legit. I wonder which one would you prefer if you were just started a crowdfunding campaign…

    • Circular reasoning aside, I wrote the article first and foremost to help other musicians.