Patreon: A financial lifeline during difficult times

For the Recorder
Published: 2/4/2021 8:52:38 AM

If you’ve scrolled through the social media accounts of some of your favorite musicians you’ve seen announcements of upcoming concerts or perhaps the release of a new song that is only available to members of their Patreon community.

You may read these posts and wonder, what the heck is Patreon, and should I even care?

Yes, you should care because it’s a platform that many of our local musicians are utilizing. Patreon is a way for you to get your hands on some cool music and more from your favorite artist and in turn, they receive some financial assistance from you, something that is much needed during these times when touring is on hold.

Before the pandemic, Patreon was a helpful cushion for artists, but since COVID-19 took hold, the cushion has been transformed into a life preserver that is keeping musicians afloat.

“It’s something that’s keeping artists paying their bills right now,” said singer-songwriter Heather Maloney, of Northampton, in a phone conversation we had last December. “And so many of my friends are saying I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

So let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how this all works. Patreon is a source of crowd-funding, albeit different than platforms like Kickstarter, which focuses more on funding a specific project. Instead, it is more about providing ongoing support for musicians by delivering a payment at set intervals, usually every month.

The way it works is that fans commit to paying a monthly amount in exchange for special perks like monthly newsletters, new songs, live stream performances, videos, artwork, and much more that are only available to Patreon members.

Singer-songwriter Seth Glier, a Shelburne Falls native, has a nice way of describing Patreon. He likens it to a CSA, through which customers provide farmers with an ongoing stream of money that they need to continually do their job and grow our veggies.

This is the same concept in that we are helping provide musicians with the kind of steady income they need to create music.

The monthly fees are determined by a level system that is based on the basic concept of — the more you pay, the more you get.

In looking at the Patreon pages of some of our local musicians, memberships start as low as $1-$5 per month and increase to $10 a month, $20 a month with some offering levels that go as high as $150 per month. Most artists have four -six different membership options and you can cancel at any time.

Even at the first level, which averages $5 per month, the musicians welcome patrons into their community and offer up some nice incentives like hearing new material or receiving a special newsletter, or early access to tickets to shows.

As you go further up the levels, there is more interaction with the musician; you might receive a personalized birthday greeting or recording or even have the option to give input on material that an artist is planning to record, and on it goes.

And it’s that connection between fans and musicians that is a big part of Patreon’s appeal. Some musicians use the forum to share works in progress and sometimes look for feedback on these projects. For the fan, it’s a valuable way to gain insight into an artist’s creative process and even learn about some of their non-musical projects such as poetry or artwork.

Patreon has been around since 2013, but I didn’t hear about it until 2018, when Glier announced he was joining the platform.

”I started a Patreon page because I knew something had to change in order for me to continue doing what I love doing so much,” said Glier. “Which at the time, was bringing people together in a room and having them share a common experience.”

Like many musicians, he was struggling with lack of CD sales, the expenses of touring and the fact that streaming services only pay pennies each time a song is streamed. Once the pandemic hit and touring came to a halt, patrons were flocking to the fundraising platform and it has helped out — and not only financially.

“Patreon has actually been one of the creatively fulfilling experiences that I have ever had and I didn’t expect that. It came out of necessity because my entire touring year of income had been canceled,” said Maloney “But doing Patreon has been a complete blast. I get to make videos and try out songs and just make all kinds of stuff.”

Glier shares Maloney’s enthusiasm for the platform.

“For me, Patreon has become a community during this Pandemic. I do host weekly live-stream (shows) called ‘Pandemic Parties,’ which has kept me and I know many others sane,” he said. “Though we remain socially distant, I think of my Patreon page as a place where I go to feel interconnected with this network of friends and fans who’ve support me and it’s fueling a wellspring of creativity.”

And Patreon has spawned a wellspring for creativity for the musicians that use it, one thing that Glier stressed is that it allows him to explore in a way that a traditional touring economy wouldn’t allow.

Maloney has made handmade merchandise that features her blockprints available to her patrons, while the Suitcase Junket, aka Matt Lorenz, who launched his Patreon late last year, plans to share his interests in maple sugaring and winemaking with his patrons.

Both Philip B. Price and the David Wax Museum recorded new albums during the pandemic and their patrons heard all the new material before anyone else.

If you are a casual fan, new or unreleased material probably doesn’t matter much, but if you are a serious fan of an artist and you have a few bucks to spare every month, Patreon may be something you want to look at. To find out more information, head to the Patreon website at patreon.com and search for the artist you are interested in; you will then find all the information you need.

And remember, you can spend as little or as much as you choose.

“It’s rare now to find a musician who doesn’t have Patreon. Most people are trying to make it work,” said Matt Lorenz in a conversation I had with him as he was preparing to launch his Patreon. Lorenz added that even if people give $5 a month, you don’t need many people for it to be a real game-changer.

“I can’t wait for live music to resume but I hope people realize just how transformative giving $5 a month to their favorite musician is,” said Glier. “When touring resumes, I think many artists will find that Patreon is the ship we were building as we learned how to sail through the storm.”

Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. You can contact her at soundslocal@yahoo.com.




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