How can Patreon help electronic music producers and DJs focus on their craft and build a community at the same time? We asked Mark de Clive-Lowe, Martyn, Rhythm Section, Speedy J and Jennifer Cardini.
Although COVID-19 presents major challenges to the music industry as a whole, the electronic scene has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The shuttering of clubs, festivals, and other live events have bruised the bottom line for many of your favorite artists and labels, damaging creative communities that took years — and even decades — to build. While clubs try to keep themselves afloat either through donations or government assistance, one big question remains: how can an artist survive right now?
Making money as a DJ or producer has never been easy, historically speaking. With the current pandemic reducing opportunities for bookings, the amount of money that musicians can generate is even less, with any revenue made through live streaming often being shamefully little. That’s why it’s more important than ever for musicians and fans alike to come together and develop new and creative business models that are sustainable during the pandemic — and beyond.
Though, something was missing even before the pandemic, and that’s the ability for fans and artists to form close-knit bonds outside of the club. While live streaming and online communities will never truly compare to dancing all night, surrounded by your friends, several musicians are making the best of the pandemic by offering memberships with Patreon.
One of the most talked about Patreon launches within the electronic music community is run by Martijn Deijkers, aka Martyn, a Dutchman living in Washington, DC. As a DJ, producer and operator of the 3024 label, Deijkers has created house and techno music for more than 15 years.
When, at the beginning of the pandemic, 17 of his gigs were cancelled within a single week, Deijkers chose to see it as an opportunity. He decided to build a mentoring program on Patreon, because he’d noticed there were hardly any resources available for artists in need of a mentor.
“The first thing you need is an idea. Something good that you can offer. A lot of things in the electronic music world are given away for free, which also has its upsides,” Deijkers explains. "But if you have a knowledge that took years to acquire, I don't see anything wrong with monetizing it - as long as you do it in an ethical and sustainable way.”
To make his membership a hub of creative mentorship, his four Patreon tiers are all designed to support mentoring and community, while his Bandcamp page is used for releasing new music and merch. By setting his Patreon tiers at higher prices (between $15 and $80 per month), Deijkers is able to work with his patrons on a one-on-one basis to help navigate the ups and downs of the creative process.
“During the mentoring process, I try to find out where my patrons are blocked in their music making,” Deijkers explains. “Where do people get stuck? There are some who always have a lot of loops, but can never make a track out of them. There are people who get stuck in the mixdown and there are people who just don't have any inspiration. There are also people who have ideas but don't know how to realize them. I identify all these different aspects and I handle them one by one. In each session I try to overcome a hurdle with my patrons and focus on the concrete aspects of making of music”.
After more than six months, Martyn is beginning to see some promising results. Several of his patrons are now playing radio shows on the London-based station, Rinse FM, and others are releasing their own tracks; and, this past summer, Deijkers even released an EP from his former patrons Djoser and Pugilist on his label 3024.
Dutch techno pioneer Jochem Paap, aka Speedy J, used a slightly different approach when he launched a Patreon for his Stoor project.
Stoor is a dream come true for techno producers. That’s because it’s a recording studio in a large bunker in the center of Rotterdam, which houses the artist’s massive collection of synthesizers and music equipment that he’s collected over the past 30 years. In addition to having a wide range of hardware for musicians to record with, he also has his own record press, allowing him to quickly produce studio session LPs that he can then sell to his fans.
Paap originally opened the bunker in 2018 for colleagues and other musicians, and successfully organized several master classes. However, when the pandemic struck, he launched the podcast series “Knob Twiddlers Hangout” and streamed his studio sessions under the moniker “Stay Home Soundsystem” with contemporaries like Luke Slater, Jeroen Search, and Steve Rachmad.
In his Patreon tiers, Paap not only provides behind-the-scenes materials and monthly sound packs with more than 50 files each — but also offers patrons the ability to meet with him for a personal one-on-one masterclass.
Though he doesn’t necessarily see himself as an educator, Paap enjoys sharing the knowledge he’s accumulated over a career that’s covered more than three decades.
“Some people are very reserved and protective when it comes to their own way of working,” says Paap. “I'm the exact opposite: I'm happy to share my knowledge and I want to encourage people to do something and be creative.”
In addition to mentoring his patrons, Paap’s also enjoyed giving fans a backstage look at his podcast and, while he and his colleagues have some time on their hands, he’s using each episode as a chance to catch up with his creative peers. “We're not following a script, it's a chat about our work, a hanging-out with people who are very knowledgeable in a particular area of music.”
Berlin-based DJ and label owner Jennifer Cardini also cherishes the direct exchange between an artist and their community. With the Patreon page she’s preparing to launch for her label, Correspondant, she wants to take direct communication with her fans to the next level.
Now that the dance floors are empty, it’s also an opportunity to remain financially independent and continue the development of artists and other projects. "I’ve been involved with dance music and club culture for almost 30 years,” says Cardini. “It’s all my life, I’ve never done anything else. This is also why I know we will survive this. Music is timeless and unstoppable. It's going to be interesting to see what people come up with over the next months, now that we are all getting used to the situation. I think we will see more collaboration between artists and brands and other cool new projects."
Unlike Martyn and Speedy J, Los Angeles-based producer and DJ, Mark de Clive-Lowe, uses membership to open up his music archives to his patrons. By joining one of his five tiers, his patrons gain access to more than 20 years of material, including demos, unreleased tracks and alternative versions of songs. On top of that, his patrons receive an exclusive song from the producer every month, access to WAV remix stems — and for his top fans, personal monthly one-on-one mentoring sessions.
As much as de Clive-Lowe loves sharing music with his patrons that’s not available to the general public, it’s the monthly Community Zoom chats and Studio Zoom sessions that are the heart of it all. “People bring music to share, we listen to it together and then talk about it together,” explains de Clive-Lowe. “Everyone contributes something that's really cool and powerful. At the Studio Sessions, anyone can join in and ask me questions while I'm making music. It's almost like an interactive Master Class.”
De Clive-Lowe believes that being open with your content is the key to building a successful community on Patreon. According to de Clive-Lowe, simply calling for donations or offering benefits half-heartedly will get you nowhere.
While he acknowledges that some electronic musicians aren’t interested in becoming mentors, de Clive-Lowe stresses the need for all creators to open up to their fans. "I still have a small community on my Patreon, but I feel it’s the most direct connection I've ever had with my fan community,” de Clive-Lowe says. “It's more impactful than anything I've done before.”
The idea of community — the need to give something back and build political awareness — is also at the core of the London-based collective known as Rhythm Section. They organize parties and concerts, release records, produce a radio show, and run full DJ studios. This prolific creativity is also reflected in the five tiers of their Patreon membership, where they offer early or exclusive access to their shows, workshops and masterclasses, personal mentoring and discounted access to their studios.
Rhythm Section donates 15% of the income generated by Patreon to charity projects, and they also plan to offer free workshops to people with low incomes and from underrepresented communities.
"We wanted to use this opportunity to develop a platform where we can help make a difference to our industry in the future - to level the playing field, and provide those systematically excluded with a way in,” explains Rhythm Section member Bradley Zero Phillip. “This isn’t something we’re going to achieve overnight - but we’re moving in the right direction and using the platform to hone our knowledge sharing skills."
These musicians each have their own approach, but they all have something in common. Now that the hamster wheel of touring has come to an abrupt stop, they’re using the crisis as an opportunity to reflect on their lives, resources, and skills.
Martyn is convinced that something new and sustainable can emerge. Something that will outlast the Covid 19 crisis and from which musicians and fans alike can benefit. "It will be a long time before we get back to normality in traveling and clubbing,” says Martyn. “Before the pandemic, I was able to make a good living from my gigs, but it's uncertain whether I'll be able to do so afterwards when everything opens up again. Maybe I'll be accepting fewer gigs and spending more time mentoring! I like doing that. I never wanted to be a DJ until I'm 60, but I still have a lot of knowledge and information that I can pass on to people".