The 21st Century Musician: Patreon & Kickstarter

Crowdfunding_Bible_topEarlier this week, I was surprised by a link that a great friend of mine sent me about a new initiative for emerging artists. Patreon is the brainchild of Jack Conte – an independent artist/musician/videographer/entrepreneur. As part of Pomplemousse he created a video that went viral on 2008 and provided plenty of visibility and income for him and his band, only to dissipate months after and go back to square one. As I will be commenting on the content, please watch the entire video presentation first, which although long, I believe it will be very valuable for the up-and-coming musician.

In my last post, I touched upon the frailty of social media and social initiatives as a means to differentiate art within a market. This time, I would like to touch upon Kickstarter and – due to the discovery of the video above – Patreon.

First, I consider that the name ‘Patreon’ is very apt for this venture. After all, history shows that the evolution of art is as much due to the artist as to the patrons who supported the livelihood of such artists in order to let them free their minds and create. Such is the case of the Medici family, the Kings, Queens, Counts and other nobility in Europe, the different religions and churches across the globe, and a long list of etc. Even in the classical guitar, a brief peruse of guitar history reveals that a young Fernando Sor was under the patronage of an emblematic figure such as the Duchess of Alba.

So, what happens when the socioeconomic and political landscape changes?

Internet seemed like the Promised Land for musicians. However, the commoditization of music and art in the 21st century has opened a Pandora’s box in which everybody with a cellphone can be a filmmaker, a musician or any other type of artist one can imagine. Ironically, the tool that provided a democratic outlet to distribute music now made it even more difficult to break through: how to make a living as an artist if there are no barriers of entry? Without wealthy patrons to subsidize art, the artist has to find ways to monetize their work and raise through the noise of the thousands oversaturating the ‘free’ channels he has. It is interesting to notice how Conte mentions how “in 2008, 500,000 views in Youtube was a lot, in 2013 there are millions of videos with millions of views”. As a guitarist, I feel empathetic about this view. Is anybody going to ‘discover’ our great artists only through Youtube? I see artists bragging about 100,000 or 200,000 views, when in the larger picture, those figures mean next to nothing. I now ponder that without any other forms of marketing, using Youtube and Facebook alone is akin to yell your name in Times Square during New Years eve: technically you are reaching millions, but nobody cares.

In the midst of all this noise, came Kickstarter, with the aim to eliminate the middleman and let the fans decide whom to support with their money. The theory was: we don’t need the labels; our fans will be able to distinguish and support us directly. The guitar has not been exempt of this trend and the likes of the Texas Guitar Quartet or our very own Gohar Vardanyan have successfully undertaken these initiatives. However, Kickstarter did not solve the issue of sustainable artistic creation because it focused on a single project at the time.  Thus came Patreon.

Patreon’s concept is quaint: let our fans give us a fixed amount of money EVERY time we develop a project, effectively subsidizing the livelihood of artists on a long term basis. Sounds like a great deal right? In lack of Medici’s, lets use the power of the people to feed artists who otherwise cannot live of doing art.

One could argue the results of such initiative, but I have already seen a trend forming wich can be summarized as: early adopters advantage. All other marketing efforts aside, both with Kickstarter and with Patreon, the first ones to engage in these activities will benefit the most of the novelty, and will have a higher likelihood to receive funding. After the first handful of successes, the marginal return for each additional artist asking for support diminishes, until the next ‘breakthrough’ appears. Its almost like giving money to a single homeless person in an otherwise poverty-free city. The novelty ignites our human solidarity and we share a couple of bucks. However, moving to New York and being asked for money 5-10 times a day would reduce the likelihood of monetization for each of those in need. Patreon has been a great differentiator for Jack Conte, and he is now getting $5000 per month for releasing videos. However, some of the recent Patreon artists cannot muster $150. What is the difference? Artistic quality, or just the hype of early adoption?

Lucky for you all [if you are reading this], there are NO classical guitarists. Who is going to be the first one? GO FOR IT!! BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!!




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