With the shutdown of the live music sector due to COVID-19, independent artists have been seeking alternative ways to generate income.
Naturally, musicians gravitated towards livestreaming because it’s easier to access and it’s the closest thing that resembles live performance. However, it’s not exactly a reliable way to earn money.
Another potential income stream that gained more traction in light of this global pandemic is Patreon. The idea of a consistent monthly income has attracted more musicians to the platform in hopes of finding financial stability through these uncertain times.
There has been skepticism about the ability to generate any substantial money on Patreon, but it is possible.
I know firsthand because I currently manage a Patreon page for a musician ranked in the top 100 for the highest number of patrons in the music category. Since we’ve launched in 2018, he’s been able to make well above a living income solely through Patreon.
In this blog, I’ll share some of my insights and tips for those considering starting their own Patreon campaign. This will serve as a preview to my eBook where I go into depth and detail on all the topics I cover here and much more. You can download my eBook Patreon for Musicians here.
What is Patreon?
Patreon has been around since 2013, but I thought I’d share a quick refresher for those who may not be familiar with how it works.
Patreon is a membership platform that allows you to earn a recurring monthly income directly from your fans. It’s similar to a crowdfunding campaign, but it’s for an ongoing basis, just like paying for your favorite music streaming service.
In this subscription-based model, fans become “patrons” by pledging a certain amount of money in exchange for specific rewards and perks offered at different price tiers.
Although there is a transactional element in Patreon, you can also build your membership around a community and altruistic support for your art. Think of it as creating your private fan club.
Patreon is more popular than ever
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Patreon has seen the largest growth of new creators on their platform in the company’s entire history in March of 2020. In the first 3 weeks, Patreon saw a 21% jump on its platform, which is roughly 35,000 creators launching new membership pages.
The music category went up by 25% with over 3,000 new pages from music creators in this period.
Is Patreon right for you?
With its growing popularity, does this mean you should launch your Patreon page?
It depends. As much as I love and support Patreon, I can tell you it’s not easy to build and sustain a membership page. I’ve helped launch Patreon campaigns for two other musicians that flopped while their peers ended up abandoning their efforts as well.
The fact is a membership model is not for everyone. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you have any unique selling propositions to offer on Patreon?
- Do you have loyal fans that would be willing to support you monthly? Do you have the means to reach these people?
- Do you have the patience and commitment to grow on a new platform? Are you comfortable with promoting your Patreon regularly?
One surprising statistic I discovered was that 72% of Patreon pages in the music category do not have more than 10 patrons! I know everyone reading this can get more than 10 patrons if they really put the energy into promoting it consistently and strategically.
It’s important for musicians to know that there are no discovery features on Patreon. They provide the tools and the platform, but it is entirely up to you to funnel your fans from other channels into paying patrons. This means starting a Patreon campaign makes more sense if you’re an established artist or band with a sizable fanbase.
Based on my own personal research, I would say you need at least 11,000 fans on one platform like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
If you feel you have what it takes, here are tips to help you with structuring your membership page. There are a lot of details to cover when setting up Patreon, so you can find more insights in my eBook.
1. Start simple
When it comes to your approach to setting up and structuring your Patreon page, “keeping it simple” should be your guiding principle.
One of the big mistakes I made in the past was over-complicating the tier and reward structure. At that time, I believed that you needed to offer fans a polished and fully built-out membership page to impress them.
Don’t invest too much time trying to make everything perfect. Spend more time on a promotional plan for launching.
I realize now that it is not necessary and there are more advantages to starting simple:
- You get your page out faster so you can start generating income. Some fans just want to support you and don’t care about all the fancy perks.
- You can be clearer and more concise in your messaging. It’s easier to pitch to fans without worrying about confusing them with too many details.
- You can always add new tiers and rewards later. These changes can be used as a promotional campaign to build around to get more members.
When you’re starting out, set the foundation for your Patreon page with 1 – 3 tiers that offer your core benefits. Make sure the other elements of your membership page, like the about page, the introduction video and branding, are on point.
Remember, it’s better to add and adjust as you go rather than breaking things down to change something already built.
2. Give fans what they want
It’s important to get input from your fans about what they want from a membership experience. Starting simple allows you to incorporate their feedback so you can grow your Patreon around benefits they’re more likely to be excited about.
According to Patreon, the most popular benefits across all types of creators are:
- Exclusive content
- Early access
- Physical goods
You’ll be in good shape if you offer these types of perks with your membership page, but you might want to find out from your fans directly. For your current patrons, use the built-in polling feature on Patreon. It’s a great way to get them involved.
There is a new analytics dashboard in beta right now that allows you to see post engagement data for the past week. It’s like what you would see in Instagram analytics, although not quite there yet. You’ll want to use this feedback to evaluate what type of content gets your fans excited.
We were able to use this to evaluate a new type of exclusive content my client has never done before: meditation music. It turns out his patrons love it by comparing the post engagement we’ve seen in this dashboard. This led to a suggestion from a fan to do guided meditation sessions.
3. Hold off on physical rewards
Along the same veins as keeping it simple, stick to digital rewards first. This is advice you may hear for crowdfunding campaigns as well.
Fans love merch, especially if it’s offered exclusively to your patrons. At the same time, I know from my experiences that merch can get complicated without a system or proper infrastructure in place to handle it.
Patreon does not have features on their platform for you to easily manage and track merch rewards if you’re producing your own physical goods to ship.
They do have something called Merch for Membership that integrates a drop shipping feature to track and fulfill certain physical rewards seamlessly for you. However, I’m not the biggest fan of drop shipping for clothing items and their fees seem a bit steep.
Offer digital rewards first and hold off on the physical merch until you get into a good groove with the other aspects of your membership experience. For us, we didn’t end up integrating merch until 1.5 years later from when we first launched.
I cover more about merch and how we handled it without Patreon’s merch for membership feature in my eBook.
This is an area musicians often struggle with the most. How do you get your existing fans to become paying patrons?
Before getting to that, here are some statistics I gathered using Graphtreon to give you an idea of what numbers to expect with a membership business.
Looking at the top 500 of music creators (ranked by the number of active patrons):
- The top music creator has about 5,100 patrons.
- The creator at position 500 has about 100 patrons.
- The average is 275 patrons.
- 96% of the other music creators have less than 100 patrons.
Getting 100 patrons may not seem a lot, but it shows you how challenging it can be when most music creators have less than that.
Here are strategies and tactics you may want to consider when growing your Patreon membership.
1. Think outside of social media and emails
Although social media and email marketing are easily accessible channels to reach your fans, they may also not be the most effective in converting them into Patreon members.
Email will fare better than social media in regards to conversion rates, but you may need to consider a more personal and direct tactic to persuade them to join.
It could be using a text message marketing tool like SuperPhone or Community. This is not a tool that is easily accessible for independent artists, but another musician I helped was already using SuperPhone. We found text message marketing to be much more effective to get patrons for her than social media and email combined.
An alternative is sending a DM (direct message) to fans one by one on Instagram or Facebook. Assuming you have fans with a strong emotional connection to your brand, direct messaging fans individually can be surprisingly effective. It’s not scalable, but this personal one-to-one interaction was exactly what my client did to grow his membership business into the top 100. Just don’t use bots or copy/paste the exact message in each DM.
2. Use special offers
Patreon has a built-in feature called ‘Special Offer’ that allows you to run limited-time exclusive deals to incentivize new fans to join or to get current patrons to move up tiers. This is only available for creators who charge monthly and not per-creation.
When you set up a special offer on Patreon, the specific tiers that are affected will be highlighted in a yellow box with the number of days left in the offer. Set it to run for about 4 weeks to give yourself plenty of time to create a promotional campaign around it.
For example, you can offer a special song or EP download that fans can’t get anywhere else unless they sign up for the tier with the special offer.
I’m a big fan of doing personalized video shout outs because fans are likely to share the video on their social media channels to give you extra brand awareness. You can offer this to the first 20 people who sign up for your Patreon.
3. Premiere new content in Patreon first
If you have a new music video, merch designs or even an album, leverage that attention to promote your Patreon page. Premiere new content on Patreon and let fans know that your members get to see all your new stuff before anyone else. Assign this early access perk to a lower price tier, like $1 or $2 dollars, and use it as a foot-in-the-door strategy.
You might start by premiering a new video on Patreon as a public post so anyone can view it. Link to the specific post directly from your other social media accounts to drive traffic. The idea is to get people familiar with your new membership page.
For the other new releases, you can tease your fans on social media by linking them to a gated post on Patreon where only your patrons can view it. Remind them that for as low as $1, they can get early access to your new videos before the public.
This is exactly what we did in varying capacities after we launched his Patreon page in April of 2018. In the 3 months leading up to his new album release in June, we premiered 3 music videos, a couple of singles and merch all through his Patreon. We let his members pre-order a limited merch bundle first before everyone else.
The good news is that it doesn’t cost anything to set up or launch a Patreon page. They only earn money if you’re able to generate revenue from fans on their platform.
If you feel like you’re ready to incorporate a membership component, head over to Patreon to get started.
There are 3 plans you can choose from, which will vary in features and commission percentage Patreon takes from your monthly income:
The Pro plan is what most musicians should start with. You can switch plans if needed. But it may be an inconvenience to downgrade so I would figure out what is best for your needs beforehand.
Even with the right strategy and game plan, growing on a new platform is going to take patience and persistence. It’s not something you set and forget. But the more time you spend present in your membership community, posting regular updates and interacting with fans, the easier it is to grow.
Lastly, don’t be discouraged when you don’t see the results you were hoping for when first announcing your Patreon page. I know what it’s like because I’ve been there. It may seem like people don’t care, but you have to keep pushing it on them.
As an advocate of the membership model for musicians, I’ve seen the transformation it has had for my client. He struggled throughout his 20+ year music career to earn a sustainable income from music without having to do endless tours and shows. Patreon has given him the means to earn a living income by creating art for loyal fans that support him.
I hope this blog has provided you with useful insights on how you can become successful on Patreon.
If you’re looking for more help, check out my new eBook – Patreon for Musicians.
I breakdown everything for you in my ebook where you’ll learn:
- Tactics to get more patrons
- Strategies on how to market and promote your page
- Things you may not know about using Patreon for the first time
- Advice on how to structure your membership page based on research
- The best tool to help manage, track and fulfill merch on Patreon
- Tips for a successful launch
- Mistakes I made from my years of experience so you know what not to do