A rather bold prediction.Posted: February 23, 2016
Photo: Pankaj Kedia, Ozge Yilmaz, and me at TED 2016 last week.
Here’s a bold prediction, in two parts. I think that:
(1) Within five years’ time, Patreon will be the way that artists make a living. It’ll be automatic. Need a place to stay? Search Airbnb. Need a ride? Pull up Uber. Dig an artist? Find their Patreon. Done.
(2) Corollary: entire new art forms will be created out of Patreon tiers.
OK, to elaborate:
I’ve been thinking about this all through and ever since TED, where I had so many conversations with amazing people who are basically making up new economic models for how to make a living as artists because, the way systems are currently set up, almost no one can.
So in music, writing, film, and theatre, the dominant career-making forms are The Album, The Novel, The Feature-Length Film, and The Full-Length Play, respectively. But all of those forms are about making a Big Thing that is packageable and marketable—i.e., a one-time economic gamble that, if it does well, will make money for the intermediaries, without necessarily being what the audience wants to have, or what the artist wants to create. An album, novel, film, or full-length play can take years to make, and then all the eggs are in one basket: if it does well, great, but then they have to wait until the next advance, contract, green light, or production comes along—and that often takes years. If it does badly, forget it. That can easily end an artist’s career.
Big Things are just not a sustainable form for artists to make a living. So, not only do we need to break the economic model built to support them, we need to invent new art forms to take their place.
Patreon is a subscription to an artist. That’s all. Like Kickstarter and IndieGogo, it’s crowdfunding; but unlike them, it’s artist-specific, not project-specific. In other words, you subscribe to an artist at whatever level you can afford, and they make things and give them to you, often custom-made. They can be anything the artist wants, with this caveat: they need to bring the artist a net salary in terms of their time, money, and energy; while still being meaningful good shit. For example—for theatre—yes, you could make a $25 reward tier “sit in on a rehearsal” or “give feedback in workshop” or whatever (though to be honest, that’d be nightmarish for me, either as the playwright or as an audience member). Instead, why not invent a new form? Theatre is live performance. That’s all. Nowhere is it written that theatre has to be 90-minute plays in brick-and-mortar buildings. For $25, the artist could ask the patron to write down a secret on a piece of paper and then put it in a blender and make tea out of it and serve it to them. I DON’T KNOW. ANYTHING. But the point is that the reward tiers don’t have to be incidental to an artist’s output; they can BE the artist’s output.
And then, the holy grail: the artist can actually make a living. I can’t yet with my Patreon, but I’m on my way, making $800+ per story. That’s double what most short story markets pay, on the high end. So it’s significant. And the most visible example right now: Amanda Palmer, who arranged, recorded, and released a six-track EP in about six weeks, because the art is paid for by her patrons, and there are no intermediaries to “weigh in” or contractually please or wait for while they develop a marketing strategy or print CDs or booklets or whatever. She just had an idea and she did it. (Also, it’s amazing).
Nowhere is it written that good art has to take years to make. Nowhere is it written that the Big Lumps have to be the dominant form. Patreon puts power directly into the artists’ hands—but even more importantly, into the audience’s hands. We get to decide what and who is important. And in an age where theatre is in a permanent state of segregation, Hollywood is a permanent straight white boys’ club, and a corporation’s personhood is more important than a woman’s, it is way past time.