Crowdfunding Campaigns of the Week: Hayes Carll's Patreon Experiment

Hayes Carll, Photo by Sean Rowe, Creative Commons License

Each week in this space, I bring you a few of the most interesting new roots-oriented crowdfunding campaigns looking for your support. I do this primarily by looking at three sites; Kickstarter, PledgeMusic, and IndieGoGo. With some variation, all three of these services work the same way. You set a funding goal (or in the case of Pledge, a pre-release end date is also available), offer some personalized items or interactions at various pledge levels, then release the campaign to your fans. But there is another service that works completely differently; Patreon.


Patreon takes an 18th century concept in art and classical music, where wealthy patrons would financially support artists to create, and brings it into the internet age, replacing one wealthy patron with hundreds of less wealthy ones pledging small amounts each. Patreon gives creators the option of having patrons pledge either monthly or per item created. Pledge levels typically run from as low as $1 to $50 or more per month/item.


Thus far, Patreon has been a major boon to the likes of models, writers, and podcasters, but hasn't been as popular with musicians because it breaks the album-tour-album cycle that is so ingrained in the business and replaces it with the need to create content on a monthly basis to keep the subscription dollars rolling in. There have been a few major names who have found success on Patreon, most notably cabaret rocker Amanda Palmer and a cappella group Pentatonix, but it has recently gotten a big name adopter in the roots community; Hayes Carll. So this week, we will explore both Carll's entry into Patreon and the ongoing Patreon campaign of a smaller act, Celtic musician Marc Gunn.


Hayes Carll

When Carll took to Patreon recently, he became the biggest name in the Americana scene yet to take the plunge. In his welcome video, Carll cited the five years between his last two albums as “too long” and, in launching his Patreon account, has committed to recording one new song per month. After debuting it live on his show “Enough Rope”, Carll will release a studio version of his song to Patreon supporters.


Rather than the “per month” model, Carll is wisely going with the “per song” model, ensuring he keeps up with the monthly release schedule to keep the donations flowing in. Carll's donation levels range from $5 per song, which grants the new song, exclusive member updates, a window sticker, priority access to shows, and discounted merchandise. Other pledge levels offer things like Carll following you on social media, a custom voicemail message, and a two passes to the 2017 Drunken Poets' Society gathering.


Marc Gunn

Birmingham Celtic and filk musician Marc Gunn is nowhere near as big a name as Hayes Carll, but he's a great example of how some independent artists can make Patreon work for them. Gunn's music fits the Patreon model as well as any musician. Not only is he highly prolific, able to turn out material for his monthly backers (and Gunn does use the monthly model for his Patreon), he is also a podcaster, hosting the Irish and Celtic Music Podcast and the Renaissance Festival podcast. He also has the advantage of the very tight filk community. For those not familiar, filk is the mixing of folk music (in Gunn's case, Celtic folk music) with science fiction and fantasy fandoms like Firefly, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings.


Gunn offers two levels of support. A very affordable $1 per month option that gives access to the majority of his Patreon content, including bonus podcasts, exclusive videos of concerts, and a private Facebook group to interact with Gunn and fellow fans. He also offers a $25 option, which adds in an autographed CD and a credit in the album's collage.