Tons of musicians who would normally be out on the road and gigging in area clubs are sitting at home now, streaming online “concerts” from their homes or replaying old concert videos. Mostly they’re doing it for free, asking for donations if anyone likes what they hear.
But some artists are turning to another model, one that’s been around a few years but has become more alluring at a time when musicians who rely heavily on gigs have time on their hands to explore new things. That model is Patreon, a platform that allows creatives of all types — from podcasters to journalists to visual artists to musicians — to set up a page where supporters can subscribe to enhanced content at several price tiers. For between $5 and $25 a month, you can access such bonuses as news about their activities or new music before they’re made public, exclusive content, private events online or the chance to interact one-on-one with the artist. The creator meanwhile is guaranteed an income stream.
Normally, an artist with a heavy performance schedule is short on time to create and maintain content on a platform such as Patreon. That’s the case with Cleveland musician Diana Chittester, who’s become known in the area and beyond for her emotionally naked songs, intimate vocals and her intense, skillful guitar playing.
“I’d known about Patreon for a few years,” she says, pointing out that the current break in her normally hectic schedule has allowed her to give it more attention. “It’s a wonderful platform where I can create new projects I’ve been eager to produce but often don’t have the time to launch due to the demands and busy schedule of live performing. The loss of work is financially challenging for us all at the moment, but Patreon offers the opportunity for me to continue to release new music, share my new podcast, upload a video lesson series, and an intimate concert series for my audience and community.
Of course, in order to attract subscribers, you have to give them something worthwhile for their money. Luckily for Chittester, she’s got all those ducks in a row. She already gives private lessons so she’s adept at that piece. She’s been planning her podcast, “Outside the Spotlight,” for a while. In it, she explores the lives and music of women guitarists throughout the 20th century on a monthly basis. She’s already released one on blues/folk musician Elizabeth Cotten and just completed another on blues vocalist/guitarist Memphis Minnie.
She’s also using the platform for her “Underground Concert Series, an idea she’d been toying around with before the pandemic shutdown. The first, with Boulder-based singer/songwriter Dave Tamkin, aired April 16.
“I meet a lot of artists when I’m on tour and I wanted to find a way when they’re on tour and here in Cleveland to bring them to you,” she says. “The ‘Underground Concert Series’ is an intimate experience specifically designed for my Patreon supporters since the coronavirus epidemic took myself and all other artists away from the live stage. What’s cool about Patreon is the virtual setting provides the opportunity for me to really interact with viewers while performing and I’m able to share deeper and more personal stories in the more relaxed environment of my own home vs what I can usually share on a stage. It allows me to create virtual space to play some of the music I wouldn’t necessarily take on stage.”
To attract subscribers, an artist generally needs to have some kind of fan base or reputation acquired through their prior work. So it’s no surprise that some of the other area artists who have started Patreon subscription pages are fairly well-known around northeast Ohio.
They include Youngstown’s blues-rocking Vindys, fronted by electrifying wailer Jackie Popovic, the lively Chardon Polka Band which brings young energy to its reinvention of this classic Cleveland ethnic style, and Mourning [A] BLKstar, known for blending jazz, R&B, electronics and spoken word to truths about the black experience in America. While the Vindys have been on the platform for a while, as they’ve been building a regional following, the other two, like Chittester, launched theirs as a way to connect with fans during their shutdown.