We’re familiar with the typical crowdfunding formula: a large sum of money is fundraised by many people for a one-time project, like an album release. Patreon allows fans an opportunity to support the ongoing creative career of a musician by pledging small amounts per month, or per creation, in exchange for fun rewards. Most game changing of all, artists are able build a steady, fan-funded income stream with monthly payouts.
The most basic explanation: it’s a subscription service to your favorite indie artists.
Patreon was actually designed by a musician dude by the name of Jack Conte. You may already know him from his indie electro-folk-pop duo Pomplamoose. Conte saw a major need for a network that not only allowed creative types to build real, sustainable relationships with their communities, but that also allowed them the security of a reliable income. He saw that many musicians (including himself) were finding popularity on YouTube, but that they weren’t able to harness that popularity and turn it into dependable income. Their videos were garnering millions of views, and they worked hard to nurture lasting relationships with their fanbase, only to receive a check for a couple hundred bucks from AdSense every now and then.
Not exactly something to build a career on. The payout simply wasn’t proportionate to the amount of work put in and the engagement earned. Patreon emerged as a way for musicians to continue serving their fans, keep creating at their current pace, and receive monthly payments from those who want to support their careers.
It’s modeled off of the Renaissance concept of patronage. Artists and sculptors were supported by a patron, or patrons, who paid them a stipend to cover their food and other living expenses while they created their artwork. This is how the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted. Michelangelo’s patron was Pope Julius II, who covered his living expenses throughout the years required to complete the masterpiece.
While innovative, Patreon isn't for everyone
Patreon is fundamentally different, and that’s really exciting. But it’s not going to be the perfect fit for every musician. Patreon works best for those who already have a sizable following. This is because, in the beginning, you’re going to be relying on your biggest fans to become your first subscribers (Patreon calls them patrons). It's a lot simpler to ask your current fans to put down cash and sign up for a new service than it will be to earn the trust of complete strangers (although it’s certainly not impossible). But more on that later.
Patreon tends to work best for:
- Successful YouTubers: people engage with you regularly in comments, your videos are getting thousands of views, and you might even be making some cash through AdSense.
- Regionally established touring acts: you and your band are well known in your region because you tour most of the year. You’re selling out smaller venues, you know a lot of your fans in person, and your email list is sizable.
- Those who’ve run a successful crowdfunding campaign in the past: because of that past project, you have a large pool of folks who have a proven record of supporting your music. You stay in touch with with them. You have access to their email addresses.
The nuts and bolts of Patreon
First and foremost, when starting a Patreon campaign, you'll already have been creating something. For musicians, that usually means you’re writing songs. A lot of the most successful musicians on Patreon also regularly create videos. We’ll call these songs or videos "creations." This is the type of content you’re already putting out there in a consistent way.
You’ll keep making these creations for free just as you do now. You’ll make them on a schedule if you don’t have one already; somewhere between one and four times a month is typical. In addition to your free content, you’ll also offer fun, exclusive rewards for those who decide to become your patrons. This can be almost anything you want, although scalable is the way to go. Typically, you see musicians offering MP3s, secret videos, access to private Google Hangouts, first looks at tour dates, etc.
Rewards are offered at different levels depending on the amount pledged. While you can set these levels to whatever you like, usually they start at $1 and go to $5, $10, and so on.
Let’s create an example campaign here:
You’re an eclectic indie artist creating music videos of your original music. Your first patron pledges $1 per creation. In your case, that’s per video. Since this particular patron is pledging at the $1 reward level, you post your fun reward right on your Patreon profile. It’ll be private and only available for your $1 level patrons to see. At the end of this month, you'll have released three videos. Your patron is charged a total of $3. Patreon takes five percent of the total amount pledged to you. You make $2.85, and it’s directly deposited to your bank account (+ $0.25 fee) or PayPal (two percent of the amount transferred capped at $1 per deposit).
You may or may not choose to post rewards with each creation. That’s entirely up to you. (More on rewards coming up.) You also have the opportunity to set your campaign to charge patrons or per month as opposed to per creation. Patrons are given the ability to set a cap for how much they want to pay each month. That way, if you have an amazingly productive month and make 10 videos, your patrons won’t ever be charged more than they expect.
So, why is this so important for musicians?
First of all, it gives musicians an incredibly reliable, consistent income stream. In an industry where every month looks different, you can understand how refreshing it is to be able to count on a steady paycheck. It also gives you a chance to interact with your fans in a very personal way. On your Patreon page, patrons have access to what’s called a "Patron-Only Feed" where you can communicate via comments. You can post blogs and interact in the comments there as well. The reward system allows you to offer exclusive content like iPhone recordings of songs in progress, downloads, artwork, and other items that aren’t available elsewhere.
In fact, Patreon, by its very nature, attracts your superfans. These are the people who know you and love your music and want to support you financially. Patreon gives them a way to jump in and do just that. The other folks out there who've been enjoying your music for free all this time can continue to do so, but those who truly have your back will pledge and become patrons. It's a wonderful way to suss out those who really connect with your music.
Getting started with your Patreon page
Let’s take a look at some of the better strategies for getting the most out of your Patreon campaign. A Patreon "campaign" is not a campaign in the sense of a Kickstarter campaign. In the Kickstarter universe, you campaign up until you’ve reached a goal amount of money. A Patreon campaign refers to the entire duration of your creative life on Patreon. You’ll hit various funding milestones along the way (called “Goals"), but the campaign itself is the whole shebang!
Phase 1: building out your page
Once you’ve signed up to Patreon, by default, you'll be set up with a patron profile. You’ll want to convert your profile over to a creator profile. Navigate to settings, then hit the big green button that says "convert to creator profile." Bam! You’re now a creator. Next, you’ll want to start filling out your profile. Everything. All of it. Every last bit. Here are some tips for filling out your creator profile to gain the most engagement with your fans:
- Pick out your primary content to create consistently: this is the content you’ll be releasing publicly, multiple times a month. Will it be music videos? Will it be songs? Videos tend to work best on Patreon, with downloads of songs as a reward.
- Decide if you'll be charging patrons per creation, or per month: if you’re more prolific, per month is a good idea. If you’re committed to a schedule of one to four creations a month, then per creation is the way to go.
- Outline scalable, interesting rewards: place in profile. Don’t stop at two levels. Patreon has reported that higher earning creators tend to have more than two reward tiers. One dollar, $5, and $10 are good places to start. What can musicians offer?
- Access to your patron-only feed, where patrons can communicate with you directly
- First looks at tour dates/tickets
- First listens to new songs and videos
- Downloads of your singles before they come out
- Downloads of work tapes/sketch recordings as a glimpse behind the scenes
- Secret vlogs from inside the studio or on tour
- Handwritten thank-you cards
- Handwritten lyric sheets
- A private streaming show
- A 15-minute Skype session, just to talk and say hi
- VIP passes to shows
- Outline your goals: goals are patron-funded milestones that you’re aiming to reach along the course of your campaign. Think about some of your obstacles in your career. What's keeping you from reaching the next step, or creating the kind of music you want to create? You may want to be able to invest in that $2,000 condenser mic you’ve had your eye on. Maybe you need new tires for your tour vehicle. Or maybe you just want to be able to cover rent for a month. Patreon has found that creators with more than one goal on their profile tend to earn more.
- Film your intro video: the best intro videos are about one minute long. They explain who you are, what Patreon is, and the reward system. The shorter and sweeter, the better! Patreon even gives you some stock video of the site to use.
- Film your "thank-you" video: this is a private video that is shown to patrons once they’ve signed up to support you. It’s a really nice gesture that adds a personal touch to their experience.
- Have new content for launch: write a new song, record an acoustic EP, throw a Patron-only all-day-live-streaming-concert party, have something available for launch that has never been released before. This will give fans an extra enticing reason to sign up.
- Create your content calendar: get organized! Create a monthly schedule that outlines when you’ll be filming your videos, recording your songs, and sending out rewards. Also lay out when you’ll post public content, like blogs, photos, and other things for your non-patrons. This is where you’ll really need to focus on scalability. It will really save your butt once you get rolling and start to really grow your patron following.
While you’re making your profile as amazing as it can be, you’ll also want to start talking about making the move to Patreon on your social media accounts, email lists, and at shows. Don’t drop the URL yet, but let folks know that you’re setting everything up and that you have some exciting rewards and new music in development exclusively for your patrons. It’s a promotional campaign, aimed at getting the maximum number of people excited for the ribbon-cutting of your new Patreon home base.
So you’ve gotten your profile all spiffed up and ready go to. Time to launch!
Phase 2: launch and growth!
The time has come: it’s launch day! Hit that gorgeous green "launch" button, and you’re off! Your page is officially live on patreon.com. Time to share the heck out of your brand new URL. Your focus from here on out is to start creating content using your handy content calendar and to promote your Patreon page at any reasonable opportunity.
Now that your profile is live, do not, I repeat, do not expect Patreon to start funneling you fans. Patreon simply doesn’t work that way. It’s still up to you to reach out and share music, put yourself out there, and communicate with others and bring them into your new Patreon universe. This is where the Patreon campaign really starts to feel like a campaign. It’s now up to you to nurture new and old fans alike and make them feel welcome.
Patreon does make fan management super easy. It offers a myriad of helpful spreadsheets that show your patrons email addresses, physical addresses, the payment schedule, and more.
Here are some examples of free content you can share to further engage your patrons:
- Life on the road videos
- Video or photos showing a peek inside the recording process
- Cover songs
- Videos of live performances (Periscope + Katch is a winning combo!)
- Collaborations with your friends
- Grab the camera and talk about why you wrote a particular song, or just blog about it
- Share your favorite recipe
- Introduce your fans to your pets
- Pretty much anything and everything you can think to share!
Patreon recommends sharing unpaid content frequently, as it promotes engagement on your page that can convert fans to patrons. Here are some ways to keep promoting your Patreon campaign:
- Whenever you create a new video, share it on Patreon first. Then share it on social media, your website, and email list, with a link to the piece of content on Patreon
- On YouTube, add annotations to your videos that link back to your Patreon page
- Share your profile URL with fans at shows and direct them there for new music
- Put a banner on your website that links off to your Patreon profile
- Put the Patreon logo and your profile URL on your social media graphics (Facebook cover image, Twitter header, etc.)
- Include a link to your Patreon profile in the footer of your emails
- Whenever you release a relevant piece of paid content, announce it on your website and to your email list
- Print your URL on postcards and hand them out at shows
- Include your Patreon URL on banners and signage at shows
If you’re looking for some real-life Patreon creators who are killing it, check out these profiles below. All of these musicians are making over $700 per video creation, with most of them making over $1,000. Study their rewards and their content to get an even better grasp of how Patreon can truly be a great tool for the hardworking indie musician:
Find out more about crowdfunding:
- The Real Cost of a Crowdfunding Campaign (and How to Budget Correctly)
- Before You Even Think About Crowdfunding an Album, Read This
- 3 Not-So-Obvious Benefits of Running a Crowdfunding Campaign
- 5 Crowdfunding Backer Rewards That Have Been Proven to Work for Indie Musicians
- 7 Signs You're Not Ready for a Crowdfunding Campaign
Sarah Spencer is a singer/songwriter and blogger, working, living, and playing in Nashville, TN. By day, she's the creative director at boutique creative agency for the music industry. When she's not on the web, she's writing songs, playing shows, and singing as a session vocalist.