“I am good at business,” she says. “But that’s not why people are giving me money. They’re giving me money because I’m good at making music.”
Amanda Palmer has been music's best-known crowdfunding pioneer ever since she used Kickstarter in 2012 to raise $1.2 million for her solo album Theatre Is Evil and its tour. With nearly 25,000 backers, it became the most-successful music campaign in the site's history. Now, as subscription models soar in the streaming era, the solo artist and member of the Dresden Dolls has quietly moved onto a new platform where she's found even more funding for her career: Patreon, a membership platform where fans support artists on a recurring basis.
In three years, 20,600 patrons have funded her to the tune of more than $1.58 million, according to data Palmer's team provided. With Palmer preparing to record her next solo LP, she wants to address her new crowdfunding revolution now so it doesn't overshadow her art when she releases the album this spring.
“I am good at business,” says Palmer. “But that's not why people are giving me money. They're giving me money because I'm good at making music.”
Since her Patreon launched on March 3, 2015, Palmer has used the revenue to make 56 things including two LPs, four EPs, six webcasts, plus original and cover songs, videos, podcasts, and performance art. Many of these are exclusive to her patrons.
“Her original Kickstarter campaign was this viral thing that showed people what was possible,” says Hayley Rosenblum, who worked on the campaign and now is the creative project manager of the Patreon program. “The Patreon shows this isn't a fluke, this isn't just a sexy fad of internet culture. When I look at the amount of money we are dealing with in a single month, and it's not all profit, but it blows my mind.”
Palmer is one of 100,000 financially active creators on Patreon — other musical acts include Peter Hollens and Pentatonix, but neither have as many supporters at Palmer. While the company won't share specifics on how many musical artists it works with, the platform has seen huge growth since launching in 2013. The company is on track to double the number of patrons supporting members (from 1 million to 2 million) and annual amount paid out to members (from $150 million to over $300 million) from 2017 to 2018. Patreon has become part of a constellation of crowdfunding resources for artists including Kickstarter and Indiegogo — both of which continue to grow and have raised about $3.2 billion and $1.5 billion respectively for users in the past decade.
Palmer and her team pointed out that pulling in nearly $1.6 million doesn't mean Palmer takes home piles of money. They said the media missed the distinction between net and gross last time around.
According to her team, about $25,000 a month goes to pay for office space, salaries and more. Then taxes, managers and collaborators get a cut. In 2012, she initially had volunteer musicians help her on some tour stops (after the controversy around this, she reversed course and paid everyone); since Palmer joined Pateron, the team reports she has paid over 750 artists and crew from photographers to dancers to graphic designers for projects. Finally, there is a charitable component: in 2017, $17,000 went to charity.
Palmer isn't dealing with Beyonce money, but her 11,410 active patrons give her the cash flow to fund an endless string of projects.
Can Palmer's success be replicated? Palmer and team think so, even if others need to tweak the formula. Palmer releases constant content and exclusive, exhaustive blog posts for fans, but there are other approaches. Singer-songwriter Mike Doughty's Patreon has a deeply different feel than Palmer's: he writes one song a week for his patrons. It “is exactly the job I want,” he tells Streets Talkin.
Palmer's manager Jordan Verzar says a few years ago crowdfunding and subscriptions felt like alternative options of financing projects. Now they are an income stream all artists should explore. Palmer agrees, but believes there's more to it. For her, it represents artists' return to the DIY roots of punk and folk.
“[It is the ethos of] not selling it out, putting on shows in basements, forming your own label, and fuck the man,” she says. “I have found it so bewildering bands feel all this shame around crowdfunding, this system is punk as fuck.”