As 2010 drew to a close, Nate Maingard walked away from a psychic, shaking his head.
She had told him he could make a full-time living from his music.
She had to be crazy.
All his life, he had bounced from job to job, location to location, seeking something, but he was never satisfied.
Music was his first and deepest love, but… it was just a hobby. Not something he could really make a living from.
Just four months later, he took the plunge anyway.
He called every successful musician he could find to ask them questions. He booked every venue that would take him to get more exposure.
In one year, he played one hundred shows.
He was hoping to get discovered. To get picked — by an agent, by a producer, by someone who could make his dream a reality.
But the pace was unsustainable. He wasn’t making music the way he wanted to.
Success seemed out of his control, dependent on some mystery person who might show up at a gig someday and say, “You’re the one we want.”
Things are different now.
Today, he has a thriving, “symbiotic” community that supports him. He writes new music, and his fans love what he adds to their lives.
In growing numbers, they’re supporting him both financially through Patreon and emotionally — as demonstrated by a life-altering gift one of his fans sent him (we’ll show you a video of Nate opening the package later in this story).
This article explores the realizations and tactics that allowed Nate — finally — to live his dream.
Note*: Want to build your own “symbiotic” community? Sign up for* Patreon**.
Don’t Let Someone Else Define Your Success
Nate Maingard in 2013, when he released a crowdfunded EP called, “In the Shadows.” Photo credit: Caitlin Mogridge.
When Nate committed to music 100%, he followed a template every musician knows all too well: play as many gigs as you can, hoping that someone will discover you and sign you to their record label.
But that leaves only one, narrow definition of success: “You have to be famous to be successful,” he explained.
Nate had over ten years of playing small shows and open-mic nights from before he made music his job.
“I’d been playing music all these years and no one had ever come up to me and said, ‘You’re amazing. I want to make you a star,’” he recalled.
To increase his chances of being picked, he played as much as he could. Getting more exposure was like buying more lottery tickets.
It was soul-crushing.
“There’s just no end in sight. There’s no goal that you know you’re going to achieve. The goal is to keep gambling without any real guarantee of success,” he explained.
“I had a sense of powerlessness because I didn’t feel like I was in control of whether it worked or not. I just kept doing this thing that I thought was the thing I’m supposed to do and hoped that something would come of it. It’s a very, very disempowering experience,” Nate recalled.
Those feelings led to one key realization: “I’m going to have to do this myself.”
His first task? Redefining success.
That meant letting go of ‘fame’ — an elusive result he had no control over — and defining a clear goal to work toward.
For him, “success would be making enough money to be playing music as my full-time job. That was my definition of success,” Nate said.
From there, he broke it down into what’s required.
Currently, he hopes to find a rotating “one thousand true fans” to support him at $50/year each.
That would be a $50,000/year income — enough to support his life in Cape Town, South Africa, and get all the equipment he needs to make the music he loves.
He’s not there yet, but it gives him something concrete to work toward.
And along the way, his actions have a direct impact on the success of his music.
Takeaway for creators*: Define what success means to you, then set goals to achieve along the way.*
Educate Yourself Like You’re Launching a Startup
From Nate’s 2016 announcement that he had returned to South Africa.
Nate learned to play guitar at 14 and started writing poetry even earlier.
Throughout his life, he’d done open-mic performances. His first gig was actually as the opening act for his dad (who is one of the top 10 custom guitar makers in the world and occasionally performs).
By the time he was 28 and ready to do music full time, his music skills were up to snuff.
But he had some catching-up to do to succeed as a businessman.
“At some point, I realized that being a musician and being an entrepreneur are identical,” he explained.
So, he built the skill set needed to make his business — music — succeed.
Find Mentors (Just a Little) Further Along the Journey
Nate Maingard opening for Amanda Palmer during a show in Cape Town. Photo credit: Awelani Mudau.
Before Nate even knew “mentor” was the word for what he needed, he was calling up other musicians.
He looked for people who were “just a bit further” along the path than he was.
(In other words: don’t look to the most successful, famous people to help you. Find someone who’s closer to what you’re going through right now**.**)
To reach out, he’d write an email and say,
“Hey, so I see you did this tour, and it looks like it went really well. Would you be willing to share with me how you did that?”
Most of the musicians he contacted were happy to let him in on industry ‘secrets,’ like who to contact for booking shows and where to play.
Later in his career, he found another purpose for mentors.
Initially, Nate was energized and ready to prove that he could make it as an artist.
But what do you do when you’re in the trenches, when you’ve been going at it with everything you’ve got, and you just need something to help you carry on and focus?
For Nate, staying accountable once the ball got rolling was a struggle.
Having mentors and people he could check in with made all the difference.
Now, he recommends Tommy Darker’s new mentorship program for musicians looking to establish (and stick to) their goals.
Takeaway for creators: Reach out to people who are further along the journey you want to take. Even a simple email can yield great results!
Hit the Books… and the Podcasts, Blogs, and Round-tables
After attending religiously, Nate was featured on Darker Music Talks.
While you’re finding people who do what you want to do… it’s worth finding out what they’re reading, listening to, and watching.
He was a frequent attendee at Darker Music Talks, a monthly presentation (led by Tommy Darker) aimed at helping musicians become better entrepreneurs.
(Nate even went on to be featured on the show, explaining how he’s building his tribe as a “musicpreneur” — Tommy’s name for independent musicians.)
“There was just this incredible community that would go to these talks every month. I got so inspired by all the stuff that was happening there,” he said of the talks.
Attending the talks helped him network and identify a professional community that could uplift him.
Takeaway for creators: Find the places people in your field congregate. Learn from their experience and grow your network, both online and in-person if you can.
How to Build a Massive Twitter Following
Nate doing some pre-show entertaining in a church in London.
As Nate started playing gigs and learning more about marketing his work, he also established an active online presence.
He’s a “very immediate” kind of person, so Twitter and live streaming are his favorite ways of communicating with fans. He wanted to foster a personal connection with them, and it paid off in a big way.
One of Nate’s “first superfans,” Ben Landis, also happened to run a Twitter marketing business.
During one of their interactions, Nate noticed that Ben had over one million followers.
Nate immediately reached out and said, “Who are you, why are you following me, and how do you have so many followers?”
Ben explained that his business, Fanbase, “helps creative people get more followers on Twitter by following people who have similar interests,” Nate recalled.
Even though Nate thought it sounded “really dodgy,” he tried out the service.
He started following people on Twitter based on Fanbase’s recommendations, and the response was overwhelming.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, the reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so happy you followed me. Your music’s amazing. I never would have found you otherwise,’” Nate said.
To date, he has 1.13 million followers and counting.
“I still feel a bit shaky about it, like, is this a morally OK thing to do? But the reality of it is that the vast majority of my audience on the internet has come to me through that exact thing,” he said.
“And the vast majority of those people have been really grateful and excited that I have followed them and they’ve discovered me that way,” he continued.
“I see a lot of people doing it who are just doing it for numbers. From my perspective, it really was from a desire to connect with more people, and it worked in an authentic way,” he said.
If anyone asks why he followed them, he explains that he follows people to share his music with them.
Through that transparency, he’s earned the trust of over a million followers.
Takeaway for creators: If you want to grow your Twitter fanbase, consider following people who like things similar to the work you’re doing.
Foster a “Symbiotic” Community
A promotional image used on Nate’s website to attract support on Patreon.
Nate always wished for some way for his fans to support him in an ongoing manner but never found a way to do that — until he found Patreon.
“My reaction when I saw Patreon was a hundred percent yes, this is the thing. This is what I’ve been waiting for,” he recounted.
There, he’s built a tight-knit community of his most dedicated fans.
Nate’s Reasoning Behind Membership Tiers
When he set up his Patreon page in 2014, Nate focused on ways he could offer his core music for free.
“I don’t want to have to charge people,” he explained. “But then those who can afford to and who choose to and who value my music can make a pledge. Lots of people pledging small amounts makes a big difference.”
He focused on building his offerings around things he was already making.
$1 supporters are treated to downloads of all officially released music. Unreleased music downloads are reserved for $3+ supporters.
“In my mind, it’s much more valuable to have someone pledging $1 or $3 for a few years than someone buying an album for $10 once,” he explained.
Patrons get exclusive access to a patron-only community, and high dollar supporters even get a personalized postcard.
The postcards grew out of the desire to say ‘thank you’ in a unique and really fun way,” he explained.
“It gives people something that they can’t get anywhere else, that I can’t give anywhere else, and that’s real and tangible,” he added.
Currently, his most popular tier is the $1 reward level, but his most profitable tier is the $5 support level.
Altogether, Patreon results in over $1,500 in income each month.
It’s a number that Nate hopes will continue to grow as he forges deeper connections with his fans.
That said, he thinks his success on Patreon isn’t because of rewards.
“The vast majority of patrons, when I’ve asked them about changing rewards, pay because they want to support me. They pay the amount they can afford because that’s what they can afford,” he said.
“It’s not going to be like this for everyone,” he added. But for him, support arises from the nature of his intimate connection with fans.
Takeaway for creators: Every creator’s relationship with fans is different. Build your reward tiers in a way that makes sense for your audience.
How Nate’s Fans Changed His Life
Nate with the fan, Eli, who sent him a special package on his birthday.
After Nate’s Patreon took off, he experienced a stability the likes of which he’d never known.
In 2013, two years after committing to music full time, Nate was “running around London” working three side jobs in addition to making music.
But four months after launching his Patreon account, he was making $400 per month.
It wasn’t much at first.
But it was enough to free him from his miscellaneous jobs. He traveled, couch surfing and making music and building his community.
Those first few hundred dollars “took the pressure off,” he sighed.
But just as impactful has been the emotional support they’ve brought.
“I am completely integrated with my community,” he stated. “I’m completely symbiotic with them. I do not exist without them. And my community does not exist without me.”
In 2015, one of his patrons, Eli, asked for his address. She wanted to send him a birthday present.
“My first response was, ‘No, no, no, you do so much,” he recounted. But she insisted, so he shared the address.
Her one request was that he film his reaction.
“When I opened it, what I discovered inside was a scrapbook that she had made.
She had gathered messages and photos and poems and all these things from patrons around the world that they’d sent to her.
She put them into a scrapbook and sent it to me. And I burst into tears.
Every time I talk about it, every time I look at that scrapbook, I cry.
It’s impossible for me not to. It was like shining a light into the darkest parts of me that say that
I’m not worthy and
what I do doesn’t matter and
I’m a fake and
I should give up and
it’s just all bullshit and
it’s all going to disappear in a moment.
And this gift that I received, in the clearest way possible, was a bunch of people saying,
‘You are worthy. We love you. Thank you. You have bought so much value into our lives. We believe in you. You’ve helped us.’
It was the exact opposite of my darkness.
That experience that I have through this community that I’ve grown with Patreon, I can’t imagine doing it another way.
I feel so empowered in that. I feel empowered to be able to talk directly to the people who care the most about what it is that I bring into the world. And Patreon helped me do it.”
Note: Want to be supported by your truest fans? Sign up for Patreon.