As outdated industry models and dodgy record label dealings are finally seeing their eventual demise, membership subscription platforms like Patreon are bubbling their way to the surface. As a way to help cut out the middleman, Patreon is geared towards musicians and creatives who want to connect more directly & earn money from their fans, via the exchange of things like backstage photos, live streams, unreleased songs or other exclusive content.
Since its humble beginnings in 2013, Patreon has blossomed into a globally-used and recognised platform with over 6 million active patrons, making an estimated 2 billion dollars worth of collective revenue in payments to creators. As a tonne of new creators flock to the platform, it’s no surprise that Patreon has become another great source of income for independent artists via loyal fan support.
Patreon for Musicians: How does it work?
The overall premise of Patreon is a relatively simple one: fans (or patrons) support their favourite creators by making direct payments to them for their creations.
Seems pretty simple, right?
In most cases, fans will pay a monthly subscription fee in exchange for access to a preset list of benefits. For musicians, the benefit options are endless - from exclusive music content to merch, fan input and much more.
So why Patreon?
Well, unlike other types of crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and IndieGoGo, the overall goal of Patreon is to strengthen the relationship between creators and fans through a less transactional business model that benefits both creators AND fans.
So while creators generate money to help support their career, patrons benefit by getting more content from their favourite artists all while knowing that they’re directly contributing to the creator’s ability to make that ongoing content.
Is Patreon right for me?
Whilst Patreon is a great platform for independent artists who want to tap into another music revenue stream, it’s not necessarily the platform for everyone.
There’s a few things artists should consider before deciding whether or not to get started with Patreon, such as…
- Do you have a unique selling point to offer patrons on Patreon
- Have you already got a substantial number of fans who would be willing to subscribe & support you via a monthly subscription on the platform?
- Do you have the patience and commitment to build your following on a new, more upcoming platform?
The general consensus is that the more established an artist already is online, the easier it will be to grow on Patreon. This is because you’ll need to funnel your fans to your Patreon page from elsewhere, i.e you social media accounts or streaming platforms. So artists with an already sizable online following stand a better chance of getting the most out of the platform.
The thing to remember with Patreon is - it’s a membership platform, not a discovery platform.
Think of it less in terms of platforms like Instagram & TikTok, and more of a hub where all your already established, current fans can huddle together to unlock exclusive perks & content from a musician they already listen to and love.
But - hold up.
That’s not to say you can’t start a Patreon platform if your follower count is relatively low!
Followers don't = engagement.
It’s arguably much better to have a dedicated 100 subscribers on a dollar-per-month subscriber plan than having thousands of unknown ‘followers’ who can’t even make the time to watch your latest Instagram Story.
Patreon is still a great way to connect with their most engaged fans, whatever your follower count. It simply means you’ll have to put in a bit more hard work & perseverance to reap the max potential rewards.
8 tips for using Patreon as an indie artist
1. Strip it back (waay back)
When it comes to starting out on Patreon, the quickest way to start earning money is to get moving!
Don’t worry about fleshing out your membership page too early on, most fans will just be happy to start supporting you straight away. And the less time you waste trying to make your page & perks perfect right from the outset, the more time you’ll have to implement a cross-media promotional strategy to actually get the fans over to your Patreon in the first place.
Be clear & concise about what you’re trying to achieve via your Patreon. Fans will respond better to a clear message than getting confused with too many details about the why, what when & who.
When you create your page, start off with implementing Patreon’s 1 - 3 tiers option, which offers all the core benefits you’ll need to get started.
Later down the line you can always add more tiers and play around with other rewards to start enticing in new members, but for now - make sure all the key elements of your page are complete, such as the ‘About’ section, ‘Introduction Video’ & your page’s overall branding.
2. Make a plan (and stick to it!)
A well structured plan and approach to your Patreon account will save you a lot of agro in the long run, especially when your patrons expect you to meet the promises and offerings that you’ve already said you’re going to deliver on.
This might mean taking a couple of months out BEFORE creating your page, to plan and create all the content that you want to make available to your fans as soon as you launch.
Keep in mind that your Patreon page won’t be your only focus - you’ll still need to keep on top of all the other things you’re already doing to make it with your music, so that’s making and distributing new music, playing live shows & promoting your brand across multiple digital platforms.
Not only will planning ahead prevent you from coming under time and pressure constraints, but it’ll also give you more time to build some buzz and anticipation among your fans in the lead up to the official launch.
3. Tap into the available resources
One of the best parts about using Patreon is that it's specifically designed with creators and musicians in mind.
This means the platform offers a range of benefits which are catered towards creating an amazing user experience for artists and their fans.
To give you a sense of what we mean, here’s a list of top 5 most popular features among musicians who’re using Patreon…
- Gated content: Allows you to give fans exclusive access to your unreleased music libraries and/or early access to new albums
- Direct fan engagement: Interact with fans directly using the in-platform messaging tools available to members
- Sharing of digital content and files: Patreon facilitates the sharing and swapping of downloadable digital content between creators and fans
- Sharing of physical products: Giving out some free or personalised merch to your subscribers just got a whole lot easier
- Audience insights: Find out what your fans are responding to best & what they want more of via the platform’s chat and polling facilities
4. Get inspired by other Patreon musicians
Have a dive into some of the top performing musician’s pages on Patreon to try and scope out what it is that they’re doing so right.
Compare and contrast what sort of benefits they have on offer, including which tier they opt to offer their fans.
For example, artists like Ben Folds offer just one tier of benefits…
While other artists like The Gift Of Gab offer a wide range of ways for their fans to support him…
You can also compare and contrast what types of benefits they’re making available to their subscribers.
For example, Mike Doughty keeps his fans engaged by offering exclusive music to his community members who pay $5 or more as a patron.
While Nataly Dawn, another music creator, keeps most of her videos locked unless you’re a member of her community.
If you’re really interested to scope out the competition, Graphtreon is a great tool that’s available to locate other musicians on Patreon, so you can see & learn from how they structure their creator pages.
5. Find out what your fans want
… and give it to them!
Choosing the benefits which make sense for your fans is the key to being successful on Patreon.
And as a musician who’s probably already putting out new music and promotional campaigns, extra, exclusive content will already be at your fingertips - whether that’s extra photos from an album cover photoshoot, outtakes from a music video shoot, videos from your recent show, or any other kind of audio visual media that doubles up as a valuable piece of content for your audience.
If you’re stuck for ideas, think about how you can create some valuable content, from the content or involvements you already have access to. If you’re going on tour or playing multiple live gigs, record one of the shows that your fans can download and view the next day.
Other Patreon musicians have offered meet and greets with patrons at live shows, conducted collaborations with other artists on the platform or offered rewards from fans that fans won’t find anywhere else, such as a weekly downloadable podcast or something widely different like visual art.
Here’s some of the top performing rewards musicians can offer their patrons (as verified by Patreon)...
- Bonus content: such as premium packages, exclusive access to future music videos, behind the scenes footage & more
Physical merch: a concert poster, ticket stub, t-shirts and other branded goods
- Live streaming: live streams of concerts and solo performances.
- Early access benefits: ensure your fans are the first to know about new & upcoming projects
- Q&A sessions and 1X1 lessons: Communicate and get to know your fans on a more personal level or offer one-to-one lessons & tutorials to help them hone in on their own musical skill set.
6. Be realistic
Party pooper in the building - but this one’s important.
Before you’ve even decided on the type of benefits you’ll offer your fans, you need to be really honest and realistic about 2 things;
1. If you’re physically able to make the content you want to offer; and
2. The amount of time you’ll be able to set aside for making this content & growing your Patreon
Simply put, although your fans might respond amazingly to exclusive merch that’s branded specifically for Patreon subscribers only (I’m talking limited edition stuff), is this a feasible benefit for you to offer? Do you have the money to create these items? Do you have the facilities to create, distribute and design them? Do you have a direct line of communication with your fans to accurately personalise each item?
Secondly, what’s your current schedule like? The bigger the rewards you offer, the more time and effort you’ll need to be able to commit to creating them and building your following. You don’t want to stress yourself out to the point that you’re overloading yourself and taking too much time away from the most important thing - making your music.
Feel free to get your fans’ opinions via things like social media and email newsletters. Ask them whether or not they would be willing to become a patron and the types of content they would like to see from you. Doing this will give you both the reassurance and the knowledge that a Patreon page will actually yield the results for your fan community that you want it to.
7. Create a pre-launch promotion strategy
While Patreon is not a discovery platform and therefore doesn't have any inbuilt app promotion, you can use your presence on other digital platforms to create a buzz and awareness about your Patreon page & drive your followers over to it.
Social media teasers are a great way to drop hints about it in the weeks prior to your launch. Tell your followers that you’re getting ready to announce some BIG news & that they’ll need to keep their eyes peeled, in order to create anticipation before the big launch.
One week or at least a few days before publishing your page, you’ll then want to follow up with an official announcement communicating with fans about your new Patreon page, letting fans know about all the amazing new benefits they can expect from you if they decide to become a patron.
Don’t forget to have all the links ready to include in your promotional posts and in your social media bios. Make easy and clear access routes for followers who may be less familiar with Patreon and what it's all about.
8. Listen to feedback and make adjustments
With Patreon, audience feedback goes a long way. And while you may have successfully launched your own Patreon page, don’t overlook the value of continuing to refine and alter your benefit system as you grow on the platform & build your subscriber base.
Feedback from your fans plays a critical role in making adjustments to your benefits, rewards & tier system.
In the same way that you’ll select which tracks will feature on your next album or EP in response to how well they went down with fans, so too can you apply this thinking to your Patreon content schedule.
Learn what aspects of your creativity your fans love most and where the no-go zones are. Patreon allows you to easily create and manage subscriber tiers and clearly categorise your content. By adapting the platform to fit your own creative output, you’ll really get to know the wants & needs of your fan base over time.
So - Patreon for musicians, what’s the verdict?
If you think Patreon is something you can see yourself getting involved with then there’s no time like now to get started - craft your approach, think about what you want to achieve and start making that Patreon dream a reality for you & your fans!