Imagine you’re a musician who has worked for months on a single video project. A project you feel so passionate about that you’ve spent close to $10,000 and re-created the Millennium Falcon in your art studio. Once made, it is seen and adored by millions online.
How much do you think that music video would be worth? Turns out, about $100.
“I got carried away,” Jack Conte told the Los Angeles Times with a hearty laugh, of the YouTube music video project that maxed out his credit cards. The bright side? His experience with a project that cost him plenty but made very little ultimately inspired him to create Patreon – a crowdfunding site for artists.
Making $100 off a $10,000 project – “there was just something so hurtful about that,” Conte said. “I knew my fans were really going to like it and they would see the time and energy I put into making this thing I cared so much about.”
Conte said he realized he could support his art if he asked fans to donate just $1 for each video he made.
“Not a paywall, but pay what you want,” Conte said.
Since launching 13 months ago, Patreon has funneled $2 million to a range of artistic types from fans – or patrons – who come to the site and donate a given amount of money to watch a video, read a comic strip, learn a science lesson and more.
Conte estimates about $1 million has been paid out in the last two months alone. The service began with just three artists and has ballooned to more than 25,000 content creators, adding an additional 180 new creators a day, including YouTube celebrity and musician Kina Grannis.
“It just made a lot of sense,” Grannis told The Times. “We have these people out there who want to support us.”
According to Grannis’ Patreon page, she has recruited 289 patrons who subscribe from $1 to $25 per video she creates. Depending on the amount the patron chooses, he or she will receive different perks such as a surprise MP3, a group webcast or a meet and greet with Grannis while on tour.
Grannis said she planned on using the money to fund new music videos, her tour and would donate 15% to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
YouTube musicians aren’t the only ones using the service. A quick browse of Patreon’s website surfaces comic-strip artists, animators, podcasters, photographers, scientists and even a guy named “Smooth McGroove,” who creates video-game a capella arrangements.
Patreon recently announced its first significant round of venture funding. The $15-million Series A round is by way of 17 angel investors and venture capitalists.
The investment deal seems to match well with its creator-centric model. Conte said Patreon had more offers from other investors but chose to stick with certain people who gave them more favorable terms.
“We got, for instance, 2-1 voting rights on the board, which is very unusual for a Series A funding round," he said. "It sets an important precedent for who’s expected to be making decisions for the company.”
“The playing field has been leveled,” Conte said of how Patreon will help creators. “Anyone can be an artist now. Anyone can make a living being an artist if you work hard enough. It’s just as possible as growing up to be a doctor or a lawyer.”
Watch our interview with Patreon investor Alexis Ohanian, co-creator of Reddit, and a performance by Patreon artist singer-songwriter Kina Grannis above.