Patreon: A Community Of Love
People often ask me what else I do for a living besides music. When the answer comes back "nothing, this is all I do," the incredulous looks tell the tale. Really? It's a common response; it's pretty widely known that most musicians hack and scrape to get by, if only for the love of music. Otherwise, we'd all be doing something that was less mercurial when it comes to finances.
Let's be real: there are a lot of entertainment choices out there. Hundreds and thousands of fabulous artists who are all making records, performing live and doing their best to amass a dedicated following of supporters who will stick with them through the good times and the not-so-great times. Even then, it can be tough to go full-time without diversifying a little bit. For me, this involves not just performing and recording, but also teaching, which is just as rewarding, if not more so, than sitting on stage and playing my heart out. With teaching, I get to assist others in their dreams of making music. It doesn't get more fulfilling than that!
So, between my live shows and studio efforts, there is a great deal of teaching taking place, both in person and through my "Dulcimerica" video podcast. After a life filled with odd jobs (theme park ride operator, electrical equipment courier, body jewelry catalog designer), I went full time with music in 2010 and have been continuously hustling to maintain head height above water. This has gotten easier with time, thanks to an all-encompassing attention to my craft; work harder at something for longer = getting better. And improvement catches the eyes and ears of those who would hire you for bigger and better things. I've been extremely blessed to have venues contact me first with offers to come perform and teach. It still requires a day-to-day attention and a huge learning curve for social media skills, promotion and marketing as well as keeping in touch with the folks who make the biggest difference in the world - the fans.
I got started with Patreon in September of 2014, based on a hot tip from my friend Stephen Seifert. Stephen's the one who reached out in 2005 and talked to me about income possibilities as a mountain dulcimer player and I'm forever grateful to him for his guidance in that respect. Patreon was pretty new at the time, but I leaped in with both feet and it has been an absolutely incredible experience.
Basically, just like the European patrons of the 17th through 19th centuries, it's a gateway for patrons of the arts to help support the artists that they enjoy. It's a way of saying, "we want you to keep doing what you do." By pledging at least $5 per month, my patrons gain unlimited access to the inner sanctum here at Casa de Milagro Studios, getting exclusive content and hearing new music as soon as it's created. By becoming a $5 patron, you automatically get all of this:
• "Milestones: A Patreon Tablature Collection" - An 86-page book of mountain dulcimer tablature
• The entire 6-book series "Mountain Dulcimer In The Band" on PDF with MP3 audio files
• The books "Dulcimerica: All Over The Map" and "Blues Method For Mountain Dulcimer 101" on PDF with MP3 audio files
• My ENTIRE CD collection on MP3 including 50-song bonus album
• "All Songs Lead To The Gift Shop" on MP3 (released October 2014)
• "Unresolved Blues" on MP3 (released January 2015)
• "Dulcimerica: Volume 3" on MP3 (released April 2015)
• "Sweet River" on MP3 (released April 2015)
• "Return Of Live At Old Songs (released January 2016)
• "Live From Ditty TV" CD and DVD set (released January 2016)
• "Synth For A Season" on MP3 (released August 2016)
• Mohave: The Legacy Collection on MP3 (released September of 2016)
• The Seifert Futch Project 2-hour live concert video
• Milagro Canyon Jam Trax on PDF and MP3 (released October 2016)
• "What's Old Becomes New Again" (released January 2017)
That's over $600 worth of product from my online store and merchandise table, all for just a monthly payment of $5! On top of that, there's ultra-HD versions of the "Dulcimerica" episodes, new tablature for mountain dulcimer, Native American flute and ukulele, full-length concerts, rare demo uploads and special backstage access videos from the studio and on-tour. It's a beautifully exclusive club that folks from all walks of life can engage in and enjoy.
My patrons are some of the most wonderful, spirited, enthusiastic and generous people that I know and I enjoy interacting with them and giving them as much of me as possible. Thanks to the support of my Patreon community, I've had a little extra cash-flow during the slow times, the security of knowing that bills will be paid and the opportunity to upgrade aging equipment and update critical software. They've helped produce every album since "All Songs Lead To The Gift Shop." I've also been able to invest in items that would previously been considered "outside of the budget". My patrons helped to obtain a new laptop when my old Macbook Pro died suddenly last summer (isn't that a song?) Their monthly pledges helped to get through a potentially disastrous mechanical breakdown with my motorhome in late 2016 and, over the winter months, they allowed me to purchase some video studio upgrades that have increased the production values of "Dulcimerica". None of this would've been remotely possible without them.
I also deeply enjoy presenting music and education programs at schools and libraries. With the arts budgets being cut at so many schools, kids and teens are missing out on an experience that could change their lives, and other's lives, for the better. Because of this limited arts budget, my patrons have made it possible for me to travel to schools and libraries across the country that don't have the funds for such programs, but can still have me come out and help keep the arts alive for our youth! I'm a product of a great school arts program and it inspired me to do what I do. Wouldn't it be lovely if all students had the option of going into the arts?
In these opening weeks of 2017, as I plan out this year's tour, work hard in the studio on new productions and take stock of equipment and work gear, I find that I'm in a better place than I was at the start of 2016. With that said, there are still some goals to reach and some items to procure that will assist in allowing me to produce the best possible content and also arrive at my gigs with confidence and faith. Here are just a few things that are on the list:
• 8 TB External Drive - For working with audio and media files while on the road
• 8 Channel Audio Interface - For recording more than two tracks at a time, especially helpful when recording large groups, as I plan to do this year
• 2 Digital Video Cameras - To replace the cheapie pair that I had to quickly purchase two months ago when the five year old Sony cameras suddenly decided not to be cooperative. It wasn't in the budget to get the cameras that I wanted, so they are working in the interim, but require a lot of work to make the "Dulcimerica" episodes as good as they can be. The audio, in particular, is problematic
Motorhome (happy that this is a small and relatively minor list!)
• Coach power center needs replacing - is not charging coach batteries for travel
• Grey water plumbing repair - thankfully, this is outside and not inside, but it's a substantial leak
• Outside cargo hatch lock replacement - to properly secure stored gear
• Coach door/window repair - the door is sticking and the window is sliding out of its frame
• Retractable step motor replacement - on its last legs
I use a number of applications and programs for my business: Dropbox for data management and access; Adobe CC for design work; Squarespace for website hosting and design; Reverbnation for social media marketing; Hightail for content delivery. Alongside fees for web domains and online sales, I've had to upgrade to more costly tiers of service due to the amount of data that I'm using. It's all part of the cost of doing business. With more success comes more expenses, wear and tear on equipment and broader opportunities to reach potential new fans and supporters. Patreon has continually been a life-saver when it comes to handling all of this.
Not only do I receive support from my patrons, but I'm also a patron of other artists on Patreon as well, including Seifert, Aaron O'Rourke, Wendy Songe, Steve Eulberg, Erin Mae and others who are doing what I'm doing - making music full-time and trying to continue doing so! I love and appreciate these friends and hope that you will too!
Every once in a while, I do a big push for new patrons and this is one of those times. Heading into a very busy spring and summer tour season, I'm in the studio right now working on new projects and my patrons are getting a first look and listen to it all. Currently, I've been posting rough tracks from "Milagro Canyon Jam Tracks Volume Two: Mountain Dulcimer Edition" as well as some mountain dulcimer tablature. Soon after, I'll begin work on my next studio album and all of those new tracks will be uploaded to Patreon as soon as they're completed, meaning you'll not only hear the raw demos and rough mixes, but get the final product, too! And that's just at the entry-level "Pearl" rewards tier of $5! Here's some of what's cooking in the studio right now:
- "The Seifert Futch Project" - currently in the mixing phase
- "Fallen Angel" - a full-blown rock opera
- "Blues Method For Mountain Dulcimer 102"
- "Beginning Method For Ukulele"
- "Beginning Method For Native American Flute"
- "Untitled Duets Project" - with a number of great players
- A Disney-themed album with companion book
- Duets Album and Book with two-time National Mountain Dulcimer Champion Jeff Hames
Higher tiers (Sapphire and upwards) come with their own additional perks like private lessons, t-shirts, home-cooked meals (no kidding) and even a scholarship and lodging for our Florida Gulf Coast Dulcimer Retreat. Whether you're pledging $5 or $100 per month, it all makes an extraordinary difference in daily operations and my patrons are always the first, and usually the only ones, to receive the newest output from the studio, where ever I may be.
So, I invite you to come visit and see what it's all about. My patreon page is at http://www.Patreon.com/BingFutch and, if you scroll down, you'll see many posts marked "Patrons only." Those will all unlock once you pledge. But keep scrolling and you'll find special public posts that anyone can download and enjoy. Take a moment to read the intro and watch the video - then enjoy the public postings. I hope you'll consider becoming a patron. You can quit and rejoin at any time, I know life can be tough. All are welcome and all are appreciated. If 60 folks signed up at the $5 level, we'd hit our next milestone goal of $1500 per month pledged! When that happens, I'll be performing a special 4-hour long concert online for patrons and also sending out the stickers at the top of this blog to every single patron as a commemoration.
Today, right after I post this blog, I'm back in the studio and composing more jam tracks, which will be uploaded later tonight to Patreon. The busy production season is here - and some of the demos that I'm posting are from projects that won't even be released until the fall - but my patrons are part of an exclusive club, and they get the inside track on everything as it happens each day. I'd love to have you as part of that club. Thanks for your consideration of being part of my art!