When asked about the relationship she's cultivated with her patrons, singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza confidently iterates, "We're just people and we've been connected for something so pure as music, as songs. They are seeing me for who I am and they're accepting that and they're joining this community. At this point, it's just community. We're all just hanging out."
That sentiment of her patrons being more than just fans not only came up multiple times during our conversation with her, but it's also present in the way she talks directly to her supporters on her page. A great example would be the request accompanying a recent Patreon goal Zaragoza shared in support of her sophomore album. It reads:
I am looking for 300 of my core supporters who want to ride shotgun with me on this album creation journey. 300 people who will hear the songs first, give me feedback during the process, and be my emotional support as I dive into deeper places. These 300 people will be my warriors! And will be the reason this one woman band without a record deal can release this album.
Core supporters. Emotional support. Warriors. Those simple and succinct phrases reflect exactly how she feels about her supporters, and why she chooses to connect with them directly, independently, and not through a label or firm. Zaragoza has found the sweet spot between business, creativity, and connection. However, this direct relationship with her fans didn't happen overnight.
"People have looked at me and been like, wow you got really lucky, things worked out for you pretty quick. And I'm like, I was just always looking forward. Whenever people were complaining, I was scheming about what I was going to do to solve this problem instead of drowning," Zaragoza shares when asked about taking the non-traditional path to funding her music. "While everyone else is talking about that, I'm in the other direction running the other way, trying to figure out how to make it work for me."
"While everyone else is talking about that, I'm in the other direction running the other way, trying to figure out how to make it work for me."
And what path did Zaragoza find while running the other way? She discovered that, for her, it made sense to get funding from the people who were the most invested in her work — her listeners. Instead of going down the typical record label route, she made her own way. She knew that if she was waiting for someone to come and give her a successful career, she’d still be waiting.
"My greatest advice to anyone is that you've got to roll with the punches. You've got to swim with the tide because if you keep trying to fight the current and to live in some idealized past that you are looking up to because of your heroes, [you have to remember] that's how they made their career 25 to 30 years ago," Zaragoza shared when asked about her decision to stay independent. "People are out there who want to help. You're both looking for each other. My greatest advice would be not to wait for anyone to do something for you and to just take it into your own hands. We're living in a time where there are so many avenues for that, Patreon being the way I believe in most. It's a substantial part of my income. Don't wait around for anyone."
"We're living in a time where there are so many avenues for that, Patreon being the way I believe in most. It's a substantial part of my income. So yeah, don't wait around for anyone."
Zaragoza's inclination towards impatience has worked in her favor. So has her desire to make her own decisions without asking anyone else. When it comes to the club of music industry success, it's safe to say she's the only bouncer.
"I've always been very impatient, I want this now. I don't want anyone telling me I have permission to do something. I'm just going to do it because I've been independent since I was super young. I think that's why the direct to patron relationship was so attractive to me because no one could tell me I can't do something. There's no gatekeeper," Zaragoza shares. "It's just me and the human being."
So how did Zaragoza organically build a relationship with her audience? It took putting herself in their shoes and seeing the value of her own music from the perspective of her fans.
"In the beginning I wrote the emails as if no one was on the other side which is easy because you're staring at a screen. But, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the patron because whenever I read something that one of my favorite artists post, it feels like they're talking directly to me, like they're talking to a friend or they're talking to someone that they know very intimately. It just feels so wonderful. I feel so heard. I feel so seen, you know? At the end of the day it comes with humility. I don't really see my Patreon as like an artist to fan platform, I see it as a human to human platform."
I don't really see my Patreon as like an artist to fan platform, I see it as a human to human platform.
Another surprising element of Zaragoza's success with patrons is how she chooses the rewards and benefits she shares on her Patreon page. She makes those decisions based on two important factors: if she enjoys creating it and if she'd create it anyway.
"When someone asks me, 'I want to start a Patreon, what should I do?' I tell them to only do things that excite them. Only do things that are fun. For me, nothing I do for my patrons is a chore. I love writing poetry, so promising a poem every week is actually a really good exercise for me. But it's also great because I was co-writing yesterday in Nashville and I literally just opened up my Patreon page and I was reading my co-writer poems and then we were pulling ideas for songs from my Patreon poems. So it's kind of like killing two birds with one stone. I'm doing something for people, but it's also providing me with content for my work, so I enjoy that."
Beyond content creation and the freedom of being independent, Raye Zaragoza never forgets that what she's creating isn't just about the art she makes innately, but who she's creating that art for. As Zaragoza shared in her own words, "There's no power dynamic of I'm better than them. I see them as my equals and I want to learn from them, because sometimes the people who admire your work can see things in it that you can't because we're so clouded by our ego and our fears and our insecurities. I think at the end of the day cracking the code to connecting with patrons is to treat them like people. Don't treat them like fans."