Sites & Services

Patreon, Year Two

Patreon consumed my last year. Between launching my page, promoting it, and delivering on what I promised to patrons, there was little time left for other musical or marketing activities.

These days, most of what I make from my music comes from patrons. Starting at $1 per month, they get exclusive first access to new songs, demos, remixes, instrumentals, lossless downloads, quarterly video Q&As, signed CDs, private Skype chats, and special thanks in the credits of new releases.

That said, I think most of them only care about the songs, and some aren’t even interested in those! More on that later…

Here are the things I love about Patreon:

Prolificness. My previous album/EP set took six years, which breaks down to one new song every five months. Last year I released a new song every month: 10 songs to patrons, and 6 singles worldwide. Granted, 4 of those were collaborations and/or covers, and 8 of them were already complete or nearly so, as my launch video teased:

Today it’s a different story. I have no backlog, and no sneak peeks to offer. I’m hoping to track vocals for next week’s release this afternoon!

Freedom. Before Patreon, I was always working on my next album, with clear direction and constraints. Now I just need a song. If that song isn’t worthy of official release, then it’s a patron exclusive! That hasn’t happened yet, but just knowing I have the option is liberating.

Last year I recorded four synthwave tracks, potentially for an album. Right now I’m not feeling the synthwave thing. Maybe I’ll change my mind next month, or maybe I’ll decide to move on and release the completed tracks as an EP. If I’d gone the Kickstarter or PledgeMusic route, I’d have been committed to complete a synthwave album.

Community. I can’t overstate the value of having a dedicated group of fans who are intimately familiar with, and literally invested in, my work. When I’m stuck, I can ask or even poll them. Patrons aren’t just along for the ride — we’re all in this together.

For example, last week I was struggling with vocal styling: how to apply vibrato tastefully without it getting too “Broadway” or “Disney” (as described by several Crowd Review listeners). I provided an mp3 of my singing a couple lines two different ways and asked for their preference. One patron even referred back to my vocal performance on a 1997 release!

Meaning. Sometimes we all wonder… why am I doing this? For example, when browsing other artists’ monthly listener counts on Spotify.

Demi Lovato on Spotify

Now I’ve got a clear mission to fall back on, as stated on my Patreon page: To create a body of work that patrons will treasure, that uniquely reflects who I am as an artist and as an individual.

Money. I’ve been hovering between $450-500 per month for the last six months. At the beginning of the month, I always get a handful of declined payments, which are gradually compensated for over the course of the month with new pledges. Few patrons actually delete their pledges, but some do occasionally lower (or raise) it.

pledges

Here are the aspects of Patreon I struggle with:

Money. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t expected more. I can name 50 people who bought everything I released over the past 15 years, that haven’t signed on. And I have no idea why, because…

Chilling effect. When someone asks for money, the natural thing to do is look away. That couldn’t be easier to do on the internet — you just don’t respond!

Case in point, I sent out an email blast to 12K fans asking:

You’ve heard me go on and on about Patreon for two months now, but you haven’t become a patron. I’d love to know — totally anonymously — why, and how I can do better.

Please spare a minute to take this quick (and again, anonymous) survey

With a hard-to-miss “TAKE THE SURVEY” button just underneath. I got five responses, and zero meaningful intel.

Worse, now those fans won’t email me about anything or engage on social media, I suspect because they don’t want to call attention to the fact that they aren’t supporting me (if you’re reading this, it’s okay! I still love you 😘).

Ambiguity. Due to said chilling effect, I simply don’t know how to convert fans into patrons. I’ve tried hiding/showing my monthly earnings, tweaking the language on my page, uploading truncated versions of patron releases on SoundCloud, and plenty more.

Nothing results in a huge spike of new patronage, nor would I expect it to. Yet how else can I determine what works?

Rewards. Believe it or not, Patreon doesn’t provide play/download counts. If I knew what percentage of patrons were downloading new songs, or better yet, downloading the lossless versions, I could use that info to refine my reward tiers.

My guess is that most patrons aren’t interested in the rewards at all, even the songs. They’re happy to wait until the songs are on Spotify or Bandcamp, or hold out a new album. They just want to support me without necessarily getting anything in return.

Which is wonderful! I feel the same about most of the 17 creators I support on Patreon. I love what they’re doing, but don’t have time to keep up.

By way of proof, I offer up my last video Q&A, which was available for 162 patrons to watch. It has a grand total of 6 views according to YouTube. Nor did anyone take me up on the 30-minute Skype call, a top tier reward.

I’d love to offer rewards that fans actually want, but what little evidence I have suggests that they only want music — if that. My average pledge is $3, which is low compared to other creators.

On the other hand, I don’t think I could get away with simply dropping the reward tiers, because they at least offer the perception of value.

Windowing. Managing one release schedule for patrons and another for the rest of the world is a pain. I suspect some patrons would rather I release everything at the same time, so that they could listen on the platform of their choice. But who knows how many patrons I’d lose without early access and exclusivity?

Uncertainty. As many of you know, Patreon recently announced fee changes and then backed down in the face of overwhelming creator and patron outrage. I lost four patrons and had one lower their pledge, but some creators lost hundreds of dollars per month.

Not only has Patreon lost the trust of their community, but they are committed to further changes, presumably because they can’t continue to grow on a 5% share of pledges.

Conclusion

What comes next for the platform is out of my hands, but I’m sticking with Patreon for now! I’m convinced that patronage is where it’s at, and there’s no better option to date.

This year I’m going to focus on the quality of my content and hope that my patron count increases as a result. Writing and recording a new song every month doesn’t give me time for much else!

Your thoughts and advice as a fan, artist, or fellow Patreon creator are welcome and encouraged!

If you’d like to hear more of my promotional escapades, be sure to subscribe to my How I’m Promoting My Music This Month email newsletter.

You Might Also Like

22 Comments

  • Reply
    darrylgirard
    January 1, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    God bless you Brian Hazard! I’m always blown away with your transparency, writing skills, and what must be a very smart and focused documentation system for all the stats you keep track track of. FYI, I always eagerly open your Passive Promotion newsletter updates. Again, God bless you for all the honest and important info you share – and also the accountability various platforms are more obligated to because of your well written reviews. Happy New Year!

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 1, 2018 at 1:06 pm

      Thank you Darryl! That’s really encouraging!

      I actually don’t keep track of stats, since so many platforms collect them for me: Bandcamp, Next Big Sound, CD Baby, UnitedMasters, Spotify Artists, etc. But of course the one I’m most focused on is patron count!

  • Reply
    Laurent
    January 1, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    Hello Brian, happy new year, thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts. Keep on the good stuff 🙂

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 1, 2018 at 2:23 pm

      Thanks Laurent! I’m excited to see and hear what you whip up for Burzinski this year.

  • Reply
    stefkeb
    January 2, 2018 at 2:17 am

    I’m not on patreon. I’m probably an old-school CD-buyer and only have a few iTunes albums (where I still miss the touch of the actual album). I’ve started with your music from a package promotion (a few albums in a bundle) and occasionally an album via bandcamp. I count myself as a fan and like your music, but I’m a bit opposed to “subscription” style things. I’m a bit careful for what I subscribe to. I was a long-time pay-as-you-go cellphone user (although now I’m on a company account) and still think that reasonable usage is often cheaper than pay-per-month schemes (especially in my industry, which is software for the construction industry). I’m quite convinced that many times, subscriptions are not in the best interest of the user. Being an amateur-artist myself, I’ve had $0 for my music so far – I’ve released some stuff via bandcamp and soundcloud, with CC license and contributed tracks for a friend also via CC (although I do have some passive income via video tutorials on work-related matters – not music).

    Take care. I’m reading most of your posts – even the strange one about the hermitage-thing. Please continue to make music. I’ll probably get a few other albums as well.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 2, 2018 at 10:32 am

      I really appreciate your support, however you want to give it!

      You’re not alone in wanting to avoid subscriptions. Patreon instead pitches itself as a “membership” platform. A subtle difference, but it implies ownership or at least belonging, instead of just receiving goods on a regular schedule.

      I had one fan email to explain that he wasn’t going to become a patron simply because it required creating a new account. He felt he already had too many accounts and too many passwords to remember!

      There’s no way to get around creating an account, but I do try to remind potential patrons that they can cancel or pause their pledge any time for any reason.

      Best of luck with your music! Personally I try to avoid measuring success in terms of sales these days. Maybe streams/downloads or mailing list signups are a saner metric.

      As for my hermitage-thing, I think you’re referring to my meditation retreat? http://bit.ly/brianmeditation

  • Reply
    Michael Pohl
    January 2, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Dear Brian, I wish you a Happy ( and successful ) New Year! I just opened your newsletter and read your article about Patreon. Your efforts are admirable and your knowledge about all the mechanisms one could use to make a living out of music is outstanding. I hope all your work pays off more and more and my fingers are crossed for you. Your music rocks!

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 2, 2018 at 10:34 am

      Always great to hear from you Michael! Thanks for the well-wishes, and I hope to hear more new Wave in Head in 2018! The tidbits I’ve heard on SoundCloud are wonderful.

  • Reply
    Brian Hazard
    January 2, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Yesterday when I posted the article I had 157 patrons pledging $494. This morning I have 152 patrons pledging $468. Every month the same cycle plays out as payments are processed and a handful declined. I suppose the moral is you need a handful of new patrons every month just to maintain.

  • Reply
    Nicholas Jenkin
    January 2, 2018 at 11:23 am

    I admit I concur with your observation that I am one of those looking forward to an album release. I know I said to you recently to this effect. But as you raise the subject, songs released here and there play havoc with listening on an iPod because in order to load them into iTunes I need to then choose an album title, which is usually the name of the track. The outcome is lots of one track folders that mean having to return to the pod to trigger each one. There are other ways of using the pod but when one wants something on their headphones for half an hour without thinking about it, and has options, they will opt for the easiest way of fulfilling this and overlook the dedication and time you put into your one release.
    It’s good to be involved and it is good to have the contact you supply: it’s good to listen to each track you pull out the bag but ultimately the LP developed all those years ago for a reason, for people who wanted more than a single.

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 2, 2018 at 11:48 am

      I know what you mean Nick!

      One solution is to select all the tracks in iTunes, select “Get Info” (Ctrl/Cmd I) and create an album name like “Patreon releases”.

      I pretty much only listened to albums until recently. Now that I’ve got a Mighty (basically a little iPod for Spotify), I’ve been listening to playlists on my runs. The track volumes are matched automatically, which makes for a smooth experience.

      For better or worse, most people are listening to playlists these days, not albums. Likewise, many of my favorite artists only released singles last year.

      I don’t foresee any of last year’s Color Theory originals being part of an upcoming album. Maybe an EP for the synthwave tracks.

      I’m grateful for your listening, however you choose to do it!

      • Reply
        Nicholas Jenkin
        January 2, 2018 at 12:44 pm

        Yes, that’s an interesting idea, Brian. Thanks. I know it’s a tad lazy but even downloading odd tracks to get them into iTunes can be a prohibiting factor! To be quite honest with you, I am getting to an age where I have, it seems, heard it all. I don’t buy a fraction of what I used to, even compared to a couple of years ago. Last year I bought one CD and downloaded a handful of tunes and the rest of the time I have come to enjoy Classic FM 🙂 I’m past it, aren’t I…

        I don’t know, the idea of fandom pretty much evaporated many years ago when I worked in the industry but I still bought stuff and felt an energy from it. These days with streaming it is like having a vault of music to hand and I no longer put time into collecting. Collecting these days is a matter of clicking and not a case of getting into the city to the record shop, and streaming is so easy it circumvents both. However, the conflict means you lose that excitement to a certain extent and it is replaced with a need to get higher each time you listen to something online. I understand why people would forsake albums for playlists for this reason because listening to an artist’s or band’s concept of life for an hour can lose it’s appeal. It’s a rare thing to find an album where you like all of it unswervingly, too. Some songs aren’t as catchy as others and so forth, but then isn’t that just life – people just don’t want to know all about you at any given point.

        But in terms appreciating the skill of it i.e. finding an album that does tick the box with every track, this is why I like Adjustments so much. It is definitely a goer all the way through and you clearly are not bowing to any pressure of trying to better it and that is very sensible. It isn’t often an artist or band can bring out album after album like that. But I would say that you should consider from a marketing point of view to cast your net wide. You may well feel sometimes that the age of a collected work is not as current as a playlist but you can be sure there will always be people who like to collect that way, so don’t forget about it, and an EP is definitely better than nothing.

        • Reply
          Brian Hazard
          January 3, 2018 at 1:54 pm

          I absolutely plan to top Adjustments! I actually think The Sound and The Thought Chapter are better albums, or at least more coherent.

          The difference this time is that I’ve got some breathing room to experiment before settling on a direction. I’d wager the final result will be superior, and that we’ll all enjoy the journey together a lot more than the usual “disappear for a few years and come back with an album.”

          As for collecting, it’s alive and well! Just in a different form. For example, I’ve been listening to The Glitch Mob’s playlist of their favorites from 2017 — it’s great! Instead of collecting physical media, they’re curating from new releases over the course of an entire year.

          I still get excited to see an email from Spotify announcing that one of the bands I follow released new material. I also enjoy the tidiness of having everything in one place, including downloads I collected outside of Spotify.

          So while I understand where you’re coming from, I’ve made the switch, and I’m enjoying new music more than ever!

          • Nicholas Jenkin
            January 3, 2018 at 2:14 pm

            Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll check that out and I have one for you, in case it passed you by, a few years back but definitely still listenable – Von Spar. They have three that I know of, the first being punk which was even harder to take for it being sung in their mother tongue. The two I collected are Foreigner and Streetlife and both a massive departure from the first in style.

  • Reply
    Benedetta Baldin
    January 2, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Hello there!
    I just saw this post on twitter and it kinda got my attention. I’m a Patron as well and, as of today, I support only 1 Creator. I will definitely check out your creations as well! I am eager to find new music to listen and new talents to support!
    I would like to comment some of the issues you had with Patreon, so forgive me if this comment is a bit long 😉
    -Money/Chilling effect: You’re right, if you ask to someone to pay for some music on the internet, they will definitely ignore you. I chose to be a Patron of this band I love because I saw their amazing effort, and it would have been a huge honor to be the reason they create more and more stuff! So I think that those who are not on Patreon do not really care about their favorite artists. And this is unfortunately even more evident since you really got only a few replies to your survey (I’m so sorry for this!)
    -Ambiguity: First of all, someone to be a Patreon hasn’t to be financially stable, but has to be willing to share some of their personal income to Creators just like you who make this world a better place. I am currently unemployed, yet I would not cancel my pledge for anything in the world. I love supporting artists who are talented and passionate, and I will never stop, no matter what! So if your fans are not becoming your Patreons, that means that maybe they don’t believe you deserve their money. Too bad for them! They don’t know what they’re losing! The band I support has more than 20,000 YouTube subscribers, yet not even 30 Patrons. I know it must seem very strange to people to pay for music, but today it’s the only thing that can garantee you a stable income! My advice is to keep on sharing your Patreon page everywhere and incourage people that will get very great rewards by supporting you!
    -Rewards: what you wrote about rewards kinda left me shocked. The rewards are the FIRST thing I read in a Creator’s page! And I choose my pledge considering all of them (and a bit of my financial status, too haha)! I love rewards and I really claim them all, once I start pledging a Creator! I am so sorry to hear that people barely consider them, I cannot wait to find a new job to increase my pledge and have other rewards! But still, Patreon really need to consider to let Creators know how many times and who downloads the songs you publish there!
    -Windowing: I also subscribed to Patreon to have the chance to access the songs and the videos before the non-Patreon world, so I personally would be disappointed if the Creator I support will delete this feature!
    -Uncertainty: when that morning I received the e-mail of Patreon saying that we Patrons should be charged with new fees… Oh God I wanted to throw my phone outside the window. They simply put it in the wrong way. The email was very vague, they didn’t tell Creators anything first and I felt like they were charging us without a reason. If they explained to us more clearly that we were charged because Creators would have had more income, then I would have said “Yeah, definitely!” soon and I didn’t have to be angry with my phone 😉

    I’m so sorry this comment is too long, and I am also sorry to comment here without knowing anything about you and your creations, but I promise I’m going to check it out now! I just wanted to share my point of view 🙂
    I wish you a wonderful 2018, may it bring you happiness, peace and joy!

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 3, 2018 at 1:46 pm

      This is wonderful Benedetta!

      It sounds to me like your heart is in the right place when it comes to supporting artists. While Patreon is my primary focus, I recognize that it isn’t for everyone and welcome fans to support me in whatever way best works for them.

      That said, I still encourage everyone to try out the platform for $1 and see if it’s for them. At worst, they can download a few songs they’ve never heard, check out the posts and Q&A videos, then cancel.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for checking out my page! Happy New Year to you too.

  • Reply
    Andrew LeMay
    January 3, 2018 at 8:29 am

    Love your stuff! But as a struggling artist myself, I try to focus on collaborative social media marketing retweets etc. to help spread the word about your music. Just out of curiosity, if you did do a tour, what cities would you go to?

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      January 3, 2018 at 1:41 pm

      I actually don’t perform! I’m strictly a recording artist.

  • Reply
    Luppy
    March 18, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    This is really interesting Brian. Thanks for sharing this! I have been going back and forth on whether Patreon is worth it or not as an artist. I have some of the same reservations that seem to be realities for you. But I’m glad to hear you are having some success too. You are trying. Creating. Doing something! And that’s awesome. Keep it up man!

    • Reply
      Brian Hazard
      March 25, 2018 at 5:50 pm

      I will, thanks! It’s a lot of work, but I’m glad I dove in.

  • Reply
    Al Walser
    April 10, 2018 at 2:54 am

    Thank you for your transparency, highly appreciated and very valuable insights for us readers.

  • Share Your Thoughts