Jack Conte’s Patreon: Anyone Can Be a Patron of the Arts

You don’t have to be a scion of the Medici or Guggenheim family to be a patron of the arts. Jack Conte’s Patreon site will let anyone become a benefactor for as little as $1.

Tapping into an ancient human instinct to support culture, Conte is leveraging the democratized economics of the Internet to come up with a new digital take on the tradition of patronage for independent artists.

Here’s how Patreon works. Fans can elect to donate as little as $1 for every song or video an artist produces. If the artist creates 6 videos a year, a fan donating $1 per work would give $6 a year. Fans pay nothing if the artist does not release any works. 

By mid-afternoon Friday, four days after Conte launched his personal campaign on Patreon, he amassed 442 patrons who pledged a total of $2,287 for every music video he makes. That’s an average of $5.17 per patron.

The idea is to provide a revenue stream for musicians who aren’t creating large, flashy projects for Kickstarter campaigns, but are slowly cranking out one video or song on a regular basis. Conte tells prospective patrons that he averages one video a month. His latest, "Pedals," has garnered close to 90,000 views in five days. (It's also embedded at the bottom of this post.)

“On the Internet, it’s not just content that’s king,” said Conte, who launched Patreon on Tuesday with Sam Yam, a former roommate from Stanford University and co-founder of AdWhirl, a company that was sold to AdMob in 2009. “It’s regular content. But models like Kickstarter don’t work for regular content. And the advertising you earn on YouTube is nice, but it doesn’t seem to assign the appropriate value for the amount of work and passion that goes into certain types of content.”

As with Kickstarter or PledgeMusic, higher dollar contributions get patrons more benefits. At the $1 level, patrons get exclusive access to the music video; $3 will get access to the video, plus another behind-the-scenes tutorial video.  Notably, the $100 Patron level where Conte promised to spend an hour in a private session with the patron on Google Plus was sold out.

Conte, who along with Nataly Dawn make up the band Pomplamoose, pegged his campaign to the release of his latest EP, a compilation of four tracks, which is he giving away for free. In other words, Conte isn’t selling his music at all. He’s selling something else entirely – exclusive videos, the psychic reward of being a generous patron and a peek into to his world as an artist.

“If I can get 2,200 people to give me $2 a video, and I come out with a video a month, it becomes a good income,” Conte said in an interview prior to Patreon’s launch. As of Friday, Conte appears to be halfway there.