By Aidan Rush
Aidan decided to check out Patreon, who claim to be serving a crowdfunding market neglected by Kickstarter
As has been written about in this magazine before, the proliferation of online art that’s taken place over the last few years is nothing short of staggering. Not only has it given a worldwide platform to any self-proclaimed artist (good or bad), it’s also turned the established entertainment industry on its head.
With media streaming companies like Pandora and Netflix leading the way, we’re transitioning from an ownership- based entertainment consumption model to a rental- based one. And because it’s so easy to create something and publish it online for the entire world to see, the idea of an entire album needing to be released at once is quickly disappearing. Why not release your art one piece at a time, as it comes to you? That’s the question a lot of musicians have been asking, and in Patreon they’ve finally found a company to help them take advantage of this shift.
Similar to Kickstarter, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform. Unlike Kickstarter, Patreon was designed primarily for the benefit of artists who make art in piecemeal fashion: little by little in the form of one song at a time, one comic at a time, one music video at a time, etc.
Here’s how Patreon works. An artist—for the sake of easy explanation let’s make this artist a songwriter who wants to film themselves performing an original work—will write and record a song, film their performance and upload it to You- Tube or another embeddable video platform. Then, they can add this video to their profile on Patreon.
When someone finds their profile on Patreon, that person has the choice to pledge any dollar amount they like to watch that video and every subsequent piece of art the artist creates. That pledge amount can be as low as $1.
So let’s say our songwriter publishes 3 performance videos a month – someone who pledged $1 per song would have $3 deducted from whatever bank account they link on Patreon and get to watch all videos. To prevent an artist from having a wave of inspiration, producing a heavy stream of content and making their pledgers go broke, the pledgers can set a monthly maximum amount to be withdrawn from their accounts.
Content creators also have the choice to let pledgers pledge on a monthly basis. So if a fan pledged $1 / month, they’d be pledging $1 total regardless of whether the creator published 1 or 10 videos that month.
Patreon solves a problem that Kickstarter and its competitors do not: the financial needs of artists who create works one at a time and are more interested in that model than the “one big chunk at a time” model. Consider it a digital tip jar of sorts – some creators on Patreon are making upwards of 5 figures per contribution due to the fan base they amassed on social media and then directed to Patreon. Not too bad! Patreon is also nice in the way that, like Kickstarter, it allows artists to set different pledge levels. Higher pledges are sometimes able to get rewarded with supplemental material on a regular basis depending on how the artist structured their offerings.
I expect they’re working to rectify this situation (Patreon is a fairly new service, launching in spring of 2013), but at present, Patreon’s search functionality is subpar. Searches result in only Patreon creators who have the entered search words somewhere in their profiles. It’s possible to sort by category of art (music, comics, film), but not possible to search by any sub- category. This makes it very difficult for anyone with any degree of musical preference to discover a certain kind of musical creator on the service. The result of this poor search functionality means that unless you’ve built a fan base on other, more established, social media services like You- Tube, you’re going to have a very hard time attracting new fans on Patreon.
Check out what these singers are doing on Patreon
Eventually, it would be nice if the site could recommend Patreon creators based on a pledger’s preferences. Just imagine the number of talented artists who would have their bottom line affected by a move like that! Even with just a handful of pledgers pledging $1 per creation, an artist is bound to bring in more royalties than the pennies he or she would on YouTube alone, where viewers cannot decide how much their view is worth. And hey, if all goes well the artists could bring in income on both services.
Only time will tell if Patreon is capable of fulfilling its potential and becoming a vital stream of revenue for all of the talented artists out there who deserve to be paid for their work. The idea itself holds tremendous promise, and if founder Jack Conte (of YouTube darlings Pomplamoose) is able to translate his artistic magic into business, there’s no doubt that Patreon is destined for great things.