Pretty much everyone knows the story of Goldilocks and the three bears, but, in case you don’t, here’s a recap: A curious (trespassing) little girl ventures into an “empty” house, where the three bears live. There she discovers three servings of food, dished out and ready to be eaten. With no one around, she takes that task upon herself. The first bowl is too hot. The second is too cold. The third? Just right. After sampling the food, a tired Goldilocks searches for a place to rest. She tries the chairs, finally settling into one… until it breaks. This leads her to look for another place of rest, and she tries each of the beds in the house until she finds one that suits her tastes. She falls fast asleep in that bed and is found there when the bears return home.
I’m willing to bet, though, that you haven’t heard the story of Platinum Plaits. Or, if you have, you don’t know it. So, grab some popcorn, get all cozy, and listen to this tale.
Who Is Platinum Plaits?
Not so long ago, in a land not so far away, there lived an indie artist named Platinum Plaits. At the wizened age of 28, she considered herself an experienced musician. After all, she’d been singing since the age of four, playing piano since seven, playing guitar since eleven, and officially gigging since she was sixteen. She was in three different bands before she decided to set out on her own five years ago. Since then, she’s played more shows than she can count, opened for some national acts, been invited to a few festivals, and even had a few TV appearances.
Yet, life was not all rose-colored glasses, custom tour buses, and quaint restored cottages. Far from it! Platinum Plaits had a serious dilemma: funding. It was always running, well, just a little short. So she did what any indie artist would do: pulled herself up by her bootstraps, put on her thinking cap, and started solving her problem.
Her brainstorming and research were fairly successful, as she came up with three possible solutions to her problem.
Solution 1: Crowdfunding The Old Way
Platinum Plaits had heard of this option from other indie artists. As she discovered, it wasn’t limited to musicians; there are crowdfunding platforms for dozens of fields!
Here’s how it works: an artist has a project in mind but not enough funds to complete it. They do a little research, set a budget, define participation levels and rewards, create a crowdfunding campaign, and send all of their existing fans to the campaign. Hopefully, those fans are invested in the artist enough to contribute; better yet, the fans contribute and tell their friends to contribute. The artist has a certain time frame to complete the campaign, which builds a sense of urgency with supporters. Depending on the platform, the artist gets what was raised (or not), minus a cut. They then have to use that money for their project, and they have to fulfill all of the rewards (which often costs more money).
To Platinum Plaits, crowdfunding seemed like a Thanksgiving feast: it’s more than enough for the occasion, and it sometimes results in leftovers for a few (much more sensibly-sized) meals… but it won’t feed you for a year. Or even a month. In other words, it could work for occasional surges of funding, but not ongoing, steady support.
Tabling crowdfunding for now but keeping it in mind as a possibility for an upcoming project, Platinum Plaits continued her search for a solution.
Solution 2: Sales and Shows
Like every active musician, Platinum Plaits could count sales of her music and cuts from shows as income. Unfortunately, it was getting harder and harder to make a living off of sales and shows alone.
Platinum Plaits’ fans often approached her merch table at shows, only to ask if her music was available to stream online or to tell her they’d bought one of her songs and really loved it. While she appreciated the sentiment and vocal support, the financial statements coming in from online retailers and streaming services paled in comparison to those lost sales of whole albums. She did offer her music for sale on her website—both physical albums and digital downloads of her albums; while those sales had higher profit margins than the sales from third party retailers, they still weren’t impressive.
And the profits from shows? Some performances paid well. Others… not so much, especially when she added up her travel expenses, marketing costs, fees for her backup musicians, insurance on her gear, and so on.
In short, the income from sales and shows was present, but much smaller than she needed for a sustainable career and not nearly steady enough to be reliable.
And so her search continued.
Solution 3: Patronage, or Crowdfunding the New Way
Somewhere on the fringes of the indie music realm, Platinum Plaits heard whispers of another solution: patronage. The idea wasn’t new, as the concept of “patron of the arts” dated back for centuries. But it was slowly rising from obscurity and becoming a possible source of funding for artists, including musicians.
The concept intrigued Platinum Plaits. Like other forms of crowdfunding, it spread the burden of funding out among the fans of the artist. Unlike crowdfunding, it wasn’t geared toward a specific one-time project. Instead, fans—or, rather, patrons—pledged a small amount—maybe $1, maybe $5—for every time the artist created something of substance. This meant that the more the artist created, the more income they had. Artists were being rewarded, monetarily, for doing what they wanted to do anyway: create something.
Of course, there were settings that fans could control, such as monthly spending caps or the ability to change their pledge (or withdraw it entirely) at any point. But patrons seemed to love the concept and the level of exclusivity and intimate involvement with the artist’s career that they felt it brought.
Unlike traditional crowdfunding, patronage didn’t leave artists sated then starving for funds. It also didn’t lure them along with a false hope of income or increasingly smaller payouts from sales and shows. It could, in theory, provide a steady stream of income to supplement sales and shows. Better yet, it did just that for many artists implementing this solution.
With her mind made up, Platinum Plaits adopted this solution for herself. Her truest fans were happy to support her and receive early access to her content, and she could focus on creating new material without wondering how on earth her bills would be paid. While she started out with only 40 supporters at $1 each, she quickly rose to a couple hundred supporters pledging anywhere from $1 to $10 per creation. This is only about 10% of her fanbase, but their support provides an extra $2000 a month… and the counts are still growing.
In the end, Platinum Plaits and her fans lived happily ever after.