on patreon + community without gigs
A few days ago I talked to Julia from Ratboys, Glass Beach, and Christina from Locate S,1 about Patreon and gave my perspectives on being a Patreon supporter of musicians the past few months!
I’m currently in the midst of interviewing people for a zine I’m making about the impact of the last six-ish months on people involved in music in different realms. I’ve been talking to managers, musicians, photographers, visual artists, label people, etc and while I’ve been getting their very valuable input, I’ve also been considering my relationship to music over the same time period. I’ve started this newsletter out of an anxiety of going to the post office all the time and a difficulty getting materials to make zines, as well as a desire to more immediately connect with people who follow me online. It’s been fun to talk about my first listen of a beloved Blink-182 record and about DIY and about my dad. It’s given me a new perspective on music that isn’t based in live shows or new releases and I’ve loved doing it.
I’ve also spent more money on physical and digital music than almost ever. As I type now, it’s Bandcamp Friday. I did make purchases today, including some records from the UK that cost me $25 in shipping from a label that used to be able to ship to the US for £3.50. Devastating. But this newsletter isn’t about the breakdown of postal services. (That’d be a good topic for someone to cover.)
This newsletter is about the other music thing I’ve been spending money on: Patreon.
I’ve been a Patreon supporter of a podcast network that makes my favorite podcast called “Tom and Jeff Watch Batman” (among others, but that one’s my favorite) for a long time and of GoldFlakePaint for almost as long. I’ve always kind of associated Patreon with youtubers, especially smaller youtubers who don’t make much off ad revenue, or podcasts or certain kinds of websites avoiding ad revenue. Put simply, I’ve always associated it with capital-C Content Creators but, at the start of quarantine times when every band I’ve ever liked started doing live streams instead of tours, Kevin Devine announced his Patreon.
I’m sure musicians have been on Patreon since long before Kevin created his in April, but that was the first one I was aware of within the sphere of heavy touring musicians I typically am a fan of. My boyfriend subscribed and got a crewneck alongside a handwritten lyric sheet.
I personally subscribed to Foxing’s Patreon not too long after, a decision spurred by their announcement video teasing a cover of West Coast by Coconut Records. I believe Foxing is America’s best band so it was an easy choice to subscribe.
From a fan perspective, Patreon makes a lot of sense. I like listening to Conor Murphy and Eric Hudson play their songs. I like their fun covers. I like supporting one of my favorite bands monetarily. I never really considered what the artist benefit in doing it was, outside of the obvious, much needed monetary boost.
Then, toward the end of the first Foxing live stream, Conor Murphy said he wasn’t sure how long he could keep doing the band if they couldn’t play shows or interact with people but talking to fans on their patron Discord and hearing from a community of their fans changed that outlook.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing live or if we’re at home playing into a computer, as long as you’re on the other end of the computer really that’s what matters most” - Conor Murphy
I guess I’ve thought about that a lot, especially as I talk to people who either are currently or typically work in music about what they’ve lost or had to change. As a result, I had the idea to talk to a few artists who run Patreon accounts about what they’ve gotten out of it, why they started them, and what their advice they have for musicians who might want to start one. I also compiled a list of musicians (and a few other artists and writers) who have started Patreons lately that you all might be interested in checking out!
Each artist I spoke to had a slightly different take on it and philosophy going into it so it was really interesting to hear what they had to say. Big thanks to Glass Beach, Christina of Locate S,1, and Julia from Ratboys for taking time out of your days to give me your insight!
What influenced you to start your Patreon?
For about the past 5 years, we’ve spent the majority of our time as a band touring and playing shows. That’s always been what we’ve gravitated toward, I think mostly because we love playing our instruments, traveling, and meeting new people. It’s always been what we plan around and what we look forward to.
So because of that we never really even thought about creating a Patreon page until recently. We didn’t really have time to spend making extra songs, videos, etc since we were constantly touring, and the shows we were playing were eventually paying our bills, which was so awesome. We worked really hard to get there.
But, as every single person on earth can attest, everything changed back in March when the US realized the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic and the concert industry subsequently ceased to exist. It was seriously such a surreal and scary experience, watching every tour go up in smoke during that second week of March and wondering what was going to happen to all of the bands and venues and workers as a result.
It’s still pretty scary to be honest, but we decided back at the end of June that, since it looks like touring won’t be possible until spring 2021 at the earliest, we needed a more permanent and stable way to survive and just keep going amidst all the uncertainty. So that’s when we really considered making a Patreon for the first time. We saw our friends in Diet Cig and Foxing doing really cool and creative things on their pages, and we were inspired to think about what we could share and how we could challenge ourselves to stay active and stay creative and stay connected to people when we’re all so distant.
How has your experience been so far? How do you see it developing?
We launched our page a few days ago, and it’s been nice so far. It feels like having a blog almost. We’re able to upload random tidbits, cover songs, bonus videos, and thoughts here and there, into a space that feels intentional and fun. We’re able to kind of us just pour ourselves into it, and if people want to support us, they can. It feels very mutual so far.
We’re hoping that once touring does return, we’ll be able to transition the page into a tour diary of sorts, sharing lots of photos and observations from the road. Now that we have this thing, we’re excited to just keep it going as long as people want us to.
What influenced you to start the Patreon?
I had just quit my full-time job as a graphic designer and began months of touring when the pandemic hit the US. I was also working as the lighting director for my boyfriend’s band. Almost all of the household income we had counted on for this year was supposed to come from touring, so when shows started getting cancelled we both panicked and immediately started our own Patreons purely for survival.
What have you gotten out of the experience running your patreon? Do you think it helps you stay creative or motivated while we continue to deal with quarantine?
It has been life-changing and process-reviving to realize that I can actually pay my bills because a group of people see value in what I’m doing as a musician. I haven’t yet reached a point where I would be able to support myself on the Patreon income alone, but I can actually see the path to get there now and I can’t think of anything more validating and motivating for an artist. Feeling truly valued is something a lot of musicians are not used to. We are generally limited to seeing our work evaluated through the eyes of music critics on a scale from 1 to 10 and on sales sheets, even if those numbers could never actually sustain us. I would take a modest but steady and survivable income over selling a $10,000 song any day. The $10,000 pay-day commodifies the fruits of your labor. The steady income values your process and therefore your life. That is deeply motivating.
“The steady income values your process and therefore your life. That is deeply motivating.” - Christina Schneider
Has using Patreon changed your view of your relationship with fans at all?
It has truly dissolved so much bitterness, anxiety, and distrust in me that got in the way of being able to connect with fans. I experimented with a new idea last month where I had one-on-one zoom meetings with my Patreon supporters for 30 minutes each. I’m an introvert and I was a little bit worried I would burn out quickly, but it was so nice just to connect with each person and understand where they are in life and what they’re going through. Knowing them as people and friends makes it so much more meaningful to me that they care about what I'm doing, and I definitely wouldn’t have the time to connect with people on that level if I were working full time and trying to work on an album right now.
Glass Beach runs their Patreon as more of a virtual tip jar than the more typical paying more gets you more exclusive content. This is done with a clear understanding of who their audience is and an ideal of the few pay and the many get to consume.
What influenced you to start the Patreon? Was it influenced by other artists you know who started them? Just virtue of a situation trying to reach fans and make some extra money?
Our drummer has been on Patreon since it started, but wasn't really using it. We've known about it through youtubers and other artists for years and kept feeling like we should start one, but it's hard to get past that feeling of "why would anybody just give you money? do you deserve it?" We ended up just switching our drummer's patreon into ours, doing a bunch of fucking research about how to launch and ways that you can run a patreon, and were planning to launch it since December getting everything set up and then the pandemic hit. Now it's one of the only ways we're making money, unfortunately. Fundamentally, we needed to decide if we would reach out to fans for help and get to working full time on our music as soon as possible or stay stuck as we were, all of us working full time jobs on top of being in the band, and maybe not get to that point for another 5 or 10 years. Who knows? It might still take that long, but our fans have been incredibly gracious and hopefully it'll become a real way to sustain ourselves down the line sooner rather than later.
What have you gotten out of the experience running your Patreon?
It's been fun seeing what people latch onto and what they don't. We run our Patreon differently than most people do. We have goals for things we know we want to work on and set patron numbers to reach those goals. That's been super helpful for giving us a framework and a timeline for working on and finishing things we've been otherwise overwhelmed by or just been putting off. We don't have exclusive content for patrons. We know it gets us less people signing on, but it feels better to not leave people out just cos they can't afford to donate to us. Whatever our patrons are able to support financially for us will be available for everyone. They just sometimes see/get things early and have voting rights on certain things. (Just gotta say that artists are stuck in the system we currently have and we don't judge anyone who has exclusive content. Everyone deserves to make a living just doing what they love and that's especially hard in the arts. We respect any which way people handle their own Patreons. We all gotta live and eat.) but running the Patreon has, honestly, been pretty fun and almost like a game and all of our patrons have been really sweet and understanding through all of this. We could never thank them enough.
Has using Patreon changed your view of your relationship with fans at all?
“As far as we were concerned we had a bunch of, often young, gracious, caring, poor fans and this just confirmed it all (I mean that lovingly). That's why we set up the Patreon like we did where the few pay for the content that the many get to consume. We're pretty blown away from the support we've been getting but not in a necessarily surprised way. More like in a "this is amazing thank you all so much!" overwhelmed kind of way. I mean, frankly, it's life changing. With how poor all of us have been our whole lives, 100 extra dollars a month is life changing. Even trying to split it 5 ways to the members of the band. We've always had an intense appreciation for our fans and monetary support is incredible, but we value it all. We see people tweeting about us and showing their friends and putting us in playlists, and covering our songs... I think there's a mutual trust and understanding with our fans that we'd never ask for more than we need and they have no obligation to give if they can't. It's been really wonderful and rewarding.
Do you think there's value in continuing to do it (for you) if the world returns to a sort of pre-covid state of touring?
Absolutely. I hope all bands/artists keep theirs going. If anything this pandemic has shined a light on what we already knew- the industry is flawed and has no tangible support for "working class" musicians. In a crisis we have only our fans to rely on and if that infrastructure isn't in place it can be extremely damaging, especially to new, young, and wildly independent artists. Sure, people pay for records and merch and stream music and get concert tickets and whatever else, but so much of the process is behind the scenes- writing and producing and demoing and rewriting and practicing... stuff artists generally don't get compensated for. Baseball players get paid to practice baseball. Basketball players get paid to practice basketball. Musicians often have to pay to practice. Whether it be for a space, instruments, time, whatever. Patreon (and other services like it) help form a base income so you can practice, write, record, and fundamentally take risks in ways you couldn't otherwise if you were solely reliant on the industry to prop you up. Musicians should have Patreons, artists should have Patreons, writers should have Patreons, teachers should have fucking Patreons... you should have a Patreon. (This newsletter writer says: please donate to my ko-fi I have to spend $1000 on law school textbooks)
Glass Beach also has some Official Advice on the topic that I’d like to share with you:
On Tiers -
“Have a low tier of at least $2 or $3. It'll be your base, it'll be more accessible, and you won't feel it as much if those people stop their donation,” And on the other end, “be careful of higher tier numbers. $50 a month as a tier is enticing and when people sign on for it you're like, "oh shit! yes!" but you have to budget for that loss! if one month you lose 7 $2 patrons you go, "oh dang, guess we're out $14. oh well." but if you lose two $50 patrons in one month you. will. feel. that. it's ok to have tiers that high just teach yourself not to rely on them.”
On Launching -
“When you launch don't just tweet out "hey, i guess we've got a patreon now." Launch that sucker! Make it a big deal! It's a big deal! your fans want to support you and as long as you've made accessible tiers and you seem stoked about it, they'll be stoked about it. The bigger deal it feels to you and you show it to be, the bigger deal it will be to them.”
I, personally, think this is good advice for almost any creative announcement. I’m sick of seeing “so I did a thing” and the humble playing down of exciting announcements. Be excited! Be earnest! Be proud!
On Taxes -
“Patreon is basically freelance income. Patreon doesn't take out taxes for your federal government or state. It's not taxed, but it is taxable! You will need to claim it on your taxes so always budget taking out about 20% of your monthly income from Patreon and stowing it away in savings or wherever to eventually be paid into taxes. You will hurt big time if you don't plan for this.”
I think if Patreon and Bandcamp Friday support have taught us anything, it’s that people do want to support their favorite artists. The loss of connection that is built into shows, whether it’s fan to fan in the crowd or fan to artist on stage and at the merch table, has been felt heavily by everybody. Patreon, as well as other formats like the Baby’s All Right live streams, Ratboys’ own Twitch virtual tour, and artist focused Discord servers, provide us a semblance of that connection.
In general, I think, we’re all looking to connect with people. I write this newsletter to connect with people through personal experiences I have with music and doing it has grown into a lovely community of friends who are also writing. That connection is what drew me to music, specifically the kind of indie punk music I love now.
I’ve wanted artists to encourage and nurture fan community more for a long time. I believe that’s such an important aspect to music for a lot of reasons, not least of which being the financial viability of music in the current state of our world. Patreon, to me, is a community building opportunity unlike anything else online and seeing artists put careful attention toward it is a heartening display of what DIY and punk should be — a place for people on both sides of the fan / artist aisle to find community and connection.
I hope you all find that connection somehow…
Maybe within some of these very cool people’s Patreon accounts!
Carmen from the wonderful band Remember Sports started a Patreon last week! Perks include limited original artwork, monthly playlists, video tutorials, and more!
Perfect indie pop rockers Diet Cig also started one recently! Perks include recipes and get ready with me videos from Alex, merch discounts, cover songs, play throughs and more! Noah also just started a new project that y’all should check out too!
Noah’s new project calm press:
Foxing is America’s best band.
Glass Beach rules. Buy their music.
According to my boyfriend, Kevin has been posting a lot of sad new songs over on his Patreon. But he also seems to have some cool other perks and his live stream at the beginning of quarantine was the best one I’ve ever seen.
Christina’s Patreon has my favorite tier names. She also makes lovely weird pop music that I can’t recommend enough.
I saw Oceanator play with Camp Cope and Petal and was enamored then. They’ve got an album coming out soon that I hope you all already know about but if not, now ya do!
I’ve been a big fan of Ratboys for a while. In fact, there’s an entry in a zine I made earlier this year about how I got into them on the Blue Line the day I went to a bad show at my least favorite Chicago music venue, Concord Music Hall. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how wonderful they are or to listen to their new album (but they are and you should.)
(shameless plug in the form of a screenshot of a pdf of my own out of print zine)
I’ve had a really positive experience with the Trace Mountains Patreon. I love the new (relatively new…) record. It’s probably my favorite album of the year. I never listened to LVL UP but I love Lost In The Country and now that I’ve heard Hoodwink’d I like that a lot too! Woo!
(I’d also like to plug Yours Are The Only Ears, just because I’m a fan of Susannah Cutler and I’m excited that her and Dave are working on more of her music!! https://yoursaretheonlyears.bandcamp.com/)
Speaking of my favorite albums of the year! Walter, Etc.’s newest album is brilliant. Dustin rules. Walter Etc rules.
Miranda Reinert is a zine maker and law student newly based in Philadelphia. She is looking for friends. Follow me on Twitter for more on music and other things like polling the emo community on where good pizza in Philly is: @mirandareinert. Thanks for reading!
I’m probably never going to make this a paid model newsletter but you can donate to my ko-fi if you enjoyed this and feel so inclined!