/THE NEW PATRON AGE/
How moving to a patronage model can help you escape music industry exploitation
Using Your Patronage to Make Art
Once you have a thriving patronage, you have a recurring revenue stream that is both consistent and totally understandable. You can look at how many people are subscribed and how much they’re contributing, subtract the processing fees (which are much, much smaller than record label fees) and boom, that’s how much money you have.
For artists that are used to being paid on an inconsistent schedule with biannual payouts, and having to look at royalty statements that don’t give a clear understanding of how much you might be making, this can feel relieving. The simplicity of the patronage model is one of its benefits — and once you have a steady income from patronage, you can use it to make the art you want to make!
Sure, you can choose to keep it all and run the patronage yourself. Or, you can choose to reinvest some of the money into areas which will benefit your art and audience. The true power of the record label comes from a corporation assuring an artist that they’ll take care of all the details that the artist doesn’t want to take care of, but the reality is that, in 2020, that list has grown considerably smaller than its 1970s counterpart.
Artists still need to care about distributing their music, marketing new projects, and administrative tasks, but where these three areas took entire departments back in the day, each can now (seriously!) be done by just one person.
So, consider using the patronage money to hire and outsource work, which you know will not only benefit your patrons but the entire world.
Here are some examples:
A social media manager can run your social media platforms, including your patronage space. Tell them how much free time you have available (be it every week, every month, or every six months) and ask them to come up with ideas to make your social media presence feel interesting. Then, have them run it. Opening Instagram every day is not something many artists enjoy, and you can delegate this task to someone else while still maintaining a level of authenticity because you’re the one behind the work. Look back at what you’ve told your patrons you’ll contribute, and ask this social media manager to help you stay on target and send things out.
A creative freelancer can create special pieces of art. Perhaps you want to send your patrons a series of demos, and you want to give each demo album art. Perhaps you want to send your patrons live recordings that are unlisted on YouTube, but you don’t want to use the raw iPhone quality video. A freelancer can take any material you create and take it to the next level. Depending on the project you might want to find someone to film, create visual designs, make animations, or do something else entirely! Instead of having to rely on a record label to have good taste (which, often, they do not!) you can directly work with artists you enjoy and keep the scale much smaller. Commissioning these one off projects can take a little time, but it can feel worthwhile to have a small creative project which is done ‘in-house’ instead of having to trust a label to take care of it properly.
A marketing strategist can help you release your next project. Perhaps patronage is working well enough that you want to release an album (or single) to the world on your own! How nice would that be, to own your masters and keep the entire sum of royalties! One of the things that record labels promise they’ll do for a project is market it properly. The truth is that this is where labels most often drop the ball. Because yours one of their many projects which they’re releasing, sometimes it feels as if they ramp up to your project, release it, and then totally forget it exists. An independent marketing strategist can not only get people excited about your project as it’s coming up, but keep people excited after it’s released! This is a person that should be able to help you get on Spotify playlists, work with (or do the work of) a social media manager to schedule posts and interact with the audience, come up with ideas for what needs to be done, and determine a weekly strategy for keeping your album fresh in people’s minds.
An administrator can help you manage your payments, ensure your music is being properly protected, and coordinate distribution on streaming channels (and physical media or merchandise, if that’s an option). This one if definitely key. No artist wants to sit on a streaming backend making sure that all the right buttons have been clicked. But, again, unlike in the 1970s when this was impossible for an independent to do, plenty of distribution portals (like DistroKid) exist that make this as simple as possible. Though this isn’t work that you specifically should do, it’s definitely work that a single person can do, and it’s something that can be contracted out. It’s certainly not worth the 25% in royalties many labels add on top for doing this now-simple work.
I just listed quite a few roles, and if you were to use all of them at once it would cost you your entire patronage income. That isn’t the goal! The goal is to strategically consider which people are needed at which times.
Perhaps you just released an album and you’re in the very beginning stages of your next one. You could hire a social media manager to maintain your social platforms and come up with new ideas to promote your just-released work, a freelancer to film a few videos for you where you do a post-mortem on some of the most successful songs, and spin up a special project for your patronage that excites you but doesn’t take up too much of your time.
Or maybe you have an idea for the next project you want to work on, so you hire a marketing strategist to plan the beginning phases of it and get them to help you consider how to tease it and keep your patronage audience in the loop throughout the process.
Maybe you’re about to release an album, independently, and you need all of those people! These can be three-month engagements, not lifetime hires — and they can be paid for their time, not given a royalty share. It changes the feeling completely, and leaves you with not just your patronage to live off of, but the creative works you’re releasing to the world.
You can also, as I mentioned earlier, use this patronage money to run projects you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do. The sky is the limit!
Here are a few that come to mind, but in no way represent an exhaustive list:
Create physical goods. This could be clothing, it could be art, it could be a book. Perhaps you want to make a coffee table book with imagery from your latest project! Where a record label would never take a risk on a creative project that wasn’t actually music (besides the t-shirts they know sell at concerts), you can make creative decisions like this and trust your patrons to tell you if it’s worthwhile or not. You can check in with them to see if this is something they want, then take pre-orders so that you don’t take on the financial risk. As long as you explain that they’re pre-orders and have clear deadlines, this can be fun! One way of making this feel special for patrons is by either making it an exclusive project that only patrons can purchase, giving them first dibs on a limited run, creating a discount, or providing them with a free digital version of the finished project.
Create videos. Make music videos for each song. These don’t have to be big-budget productions. No one cares about music videos in ‘that way’ anymore. Consider what music videos would look like if you took a more stripped back approach. Would you want to create lyric videos which all have a level of cohesion that feels appropriate? Would you want to create something more cinematic, or abstract? This can be the role of a single creative, it doesn’t need to turn into a massive (and time-consuming) project. Additionally, consider behind-the-scenes videos. Film writing sessions with other artists or your time in the studio. These don’t have to be comprehensive (or invasive). Just videos which give people insight into your world and the work that’s coming. Consider what videos you would want your favorite artists to be sharing, or what videos you feel you would enjoy that would cultivate a sense of connectivity with your audience. Experiment!
Create connections. One easy way to do this is by running events. These can be in-person. They can be digital. They can be live. They can be pre-recorded. If you are a person who loves to teach, find ways to teach. If you are a person who loves to connect with others, run Q&As. If you’re an introvert and none of this sounds enjoyable (hey, I get it!) then consider how you could bring people in to your life in a way that didn’t feel intrusive. Could you create a special, private Instagram where you share your thoughts on a regular basis? Could you set up something asynchronous, like a monthly email that you send out? Find ways to deepen the bond with your audience in a way that doesn’t feel draining.
These projects can be highly experimental in nature, and they can look unlike anything that you typically ‘get to do’ as a musician. I’ll include an idea from Craig Mod because it’s so unique that I think it helps people get outside of the typical boxes: Frustrated with the way that Instagram can feel impersonal, he set up an SMS service and had people sign up to be texted by him. Then, he took a walk through Japan and every night texted the entire group a single photo from his walk and a journal entry. At the end of the walk he created a physical photo album of all of the images he had taken, the journal entries he had written, and a selection of his favorite messages he received in response. Interestingly, the book was not available for purchase! He created a single copy that was just for him! People loved it!!
You can be completely unique and make weird art projects, and your patrons will love you for doing it. They are here because they want to be connected to you, and you can choose whatever that looks like. There’s no limitations.
As you create projects using your patronage as a launching platform, you can choose if the patrons get these for free (or a version of them for free), if the world gets them (or a version of them), and where they go. Doesn’t it actually sound kind of fun?
Creating using the patronage model shouldn’t be time-consuming or soul-sucking. Instead, it should be seen as a vehicle that allows creatives to spend more time doing what they love — and taking a more experimental approach which can feel extremely rewarding.