By: Roshanie | Art by: Michael Rancic (L-R: Paul Chin by Sarah Bodri; GAYANCE by Stacy Lee & Bruno Destomes)

As musicians rework their business models, many are tapping into platforms like Patreon, Bandcamp, and GoFundMe to build sustainable livelihoods. The growing appeal can stem from desires to have more ownership of their work, communicate directly with fans, and secure predictable income streams. These alternatives can be far more fulfilling and lucrative than the world of ad and streaming revenue for musicians. Especially in the absence of live shows during the pandemic, crowdfunding is filling even more gaps than before. 

New Feeling spoke with Toronto’s Paul Chin and Montréal’s GAYANCE about their bittersweet experiences making fan-funded music. Both Chin and GAYANCE are DJs, produce music, and juggle a number of administrative tasks to keep their music careers afloat. They share what community support means to them, whether this type of funding is informing their art, and if they would crowdfund their next musical endeavour. 

Chin released his Full Spectrum EP in March 2020. Since then, he’s released a deluxe edition of the project and wrapped up its vinyl crowdfunding campaign on Bandcamp. Creating vinyl with Bandcamp is an incredibly streamlined process. They establish a campaign goal in USD based on vinyl details inputted by the artist plus Bandcamp’s own manufacturing and fulfillment costs. Chin’s campaign brought in $4,087 USD, surpassing its goal of $3,730 USD.

Chin is also a creator on Patreon where he shares works in progress, behind-the-scenes content, and other by-products of his arts practice. Unlike Bandcamp, which offers a one-time crowdfunding campaign, Patreon is a monthly membership platform. An artist’s community can subscribe to a payment tier and access its corresponding rewards such as exclusive posts, audio, and more. Not only do Chin’s listeners consume his music, they also directly fund future work through these channels.

GAYANCE is no stranger to the power of crowdfunding. She launched her first campaign in 2010 for her documentary, Piu Piu, and another in 2020 for her podcast, Le Bulletin des Cousins. Fast forward to 2021, and she’s crowdfunding her first EP, No Toning Down, which is set for release in September. This campaign is ongoing, with GAYANCE having raised $3,850 of her $15,000 CAD goal. 

As the community becomes more involved in the artistic process, dynamics between these artists and their fans are also changing. With crowdfunding and membership platforms, there isn’t always a transaction such as receiving music, tickets, or merch. Instead, the foundation of these platforms is built on cheering artists on, with tangible offerings being more of a bonus.

With Chin’s vinyl crowdfunding campaign, there were three pledge levels. Pledging $25 led to one vinyl and one digital copy of the album. At $45, supporters received two vinyl copies and one digital copy. The final tier of $100 included everything in the previous tier plus a limited edition test pressing of Full Spectrum Deluxe, signed by Chin. In that way, Bandcamp’s crowdfunding feature functions like a pre-order campaign. But with each tier, supporters can pledge more than the tier is worth. Through this model, fans are covering the cost of their own vinyl copy, as well as a few more for Chin to distribute later. This display of generosity was apparent throughout Chin’s month-long campaign. He recalls one donor single-handedly bringing the project from 87 percent completion to 100 percent. When the campaign closed five days later, it had a 109 percent success rate thanks to 59 pledges.

“There could come a time that I’m earning so much through these crowdfunding channels that I can actually just have this stuff that I’ve paid for covered, and then can give it away or do whatever I want … It gives me way more options to distribute things at different or more flexible price points,” Chin says. 

A few weeks later, Chin experienced another instance of generosity through an online encounter with the BTS Army, the dedicated fans of South Korean boy band BTS. After defending the group in a Twitter thread, Chin was inundated with replies from the Army expressing their appreciation for his stance. From there, the Army started getting familiar with Chin and his music. It didn’t take long for him to notice a spike in followers and streams. He adds that the Army was PayPal-ing him all weekend. Through his experiences with Patreon, crowdfunding, and now even the BTS Army, it’s become clear to him that people are willing to support him for being himself. 

Reflecting on the idea of being himself, Chin says much of his initial hesitation with Patreon was rooted in this same concept. He wondered if an artist like him deserved to be on the platform at all. During the planning stage, he would make this argument to talk himself out of launching his own campaign. 

“In my mind, it didn’t feel like anybody wanted to pay me just to be me… [Patreon] was always one of those things that I was aware of, thought it was really cool, but it seemed like something I had to work up to,” he says. 

It was a conversation with fellow Patreon creator Kid Koala that eventually changed his outlook. The Montréal turntablist, composer, and producer reminded Chin that Patreon is a marketplace at the end of the day, with a wide range of users. Those users may be more seasoned than Chin, and others may be earlier in their careers. Either way, they’re all offering their audiences the opportunity to support them directly and a window into their arts practice.

When it came time to establish his Patreon rewards, Chin’s strategy centered around sharing his work instead of receiving input or co-creating with patrons. All the mechanisms are there to have that kind of dialogue with patrons, but it’s not in Chin’s nature to create alongside so many people. Seeing an artist like Kid Koala, who has a similarly independent creative process, succeed on Patreon showed Chin that artists who create music on their own can find a meaningful way to use the platform. It also helped Chin realize the kind of rewards that made sense for his own music career.

While he maintains creative control over his fan-funded music, Chin can still appreciate how all of these interactions will inevitably inform his work. He’s currently thinking about inviting his patrons to a monthly discussion club where they listen to a particular album and reflect on it as a group. He says the works he would select for discussion are likely influencing his own sound, so it would only make sense that dissecting it with his community would add another layer of influence and inspiration. 

Now that he’s seven months into his Patreon experiment, Chin says the platform also fills a gap in terms of communication. Rather than connecting with listeners when he’s rolling out a project, there’s more of an ongoing conversation. The break from social media algorithms has also been refreshing. He’s enjoying the pace and loyal audience of Patreon much more than the usual pressure to churn out bite-sized social media content on a regular basis. Even when life gets busy and his Patreon page is a bit quieter, his patrons aren’t chasing him down to get their money’s worth. He senses his patrons’ trust in him and doesn’t feel any expectation to become a music-making machine by joining the platform. Seeing creators like musician Andrew Huang scale back his Patreon rewards when life gets busy has also been reassuring for Chin.

Both Chin and GAYANCE point out that musical and artistic projects need time to flourish—something crowdfunding can help support. While she’s been embedded in the city’s beat scene for some time, GAYANCE is fairly new to producing music. She says if she had taken it up sooner, she could see herself maybe tailoring her sound to what her peers were making. But since she waited, became a seasoned DJ, and got a taste of music scenes elsewhere, the music she’s making now is a better representation of who she is. It’s the reason she titled her EP No Toning Down

For GAYANCE, her community is at the core of her music. That energy exchange with crowds and communities is critical. Especially in the absence of live shows and dancefloors, her crowdfunding campaign has become a source of inspiration and motivation. She explains that meeting people and bonding over music fulfills her, and her time in isolation somewhat sparked her foray into producing. Since she can’t afford therapy yet, she says making music has been her way of working through those emotions amidst the pandemic.

“We have three songs mixed out of five… Financially, the GoFundMe will help me with [pressing] vinyls, getting some merch so I can have profits to invest in other stuff, paying my engineers… I’m trying to make a music video as well,” she explains.

GAYANCE adds that she was recently rejected for a music video grant, so it helps to have options like crowdfunding to fall back on. She says she wouldn’t be able to do anything if she waited around for grants to fund her work. 

Collaborators are another crucial part of the EP, and being able to compensate them fairly through the crowdfunding campaign brings GAYANCE some peace of mind. She adds that many of her collaborators have offered her discounted rates and are willing to accept delayed payments, but she’d rather provide competitive and timely compensation. WIth the help of her community, these fees become one less thing to worry about while she creates. 

There’s also a part of her that is frustrated by the circumstances that led her down this path. She says many artists making English music are left behind by Quebec’s funding bodies. Especially in Montréal, where artists are bilingual or even trilingual, she doesn’t see this reality reflected in the system. While GAYANCE recognizes that some regions around the world have even less funding than what is available to her, she sees a lot of room for improvement in Quebec. 

GAYANCE also observes a disconnect among artists’ financial capacity to create. She used to wonder how some artists facing the same barriers could release videos and music so often. Then one of those artists suggested funding the $15,000 goal through her parents instead of the community—an eye-opening conversation. For artists without funding or generational wealth, crowdfunding becomes critical. 

Asking the community for money is another reason why the crowdfunding route is bittersweet for GAYANCE. She admits she feels a bit guilty knowing that members of her community could just as easily benefit from a crowdfunding campaign. She’s also received apologies from community members that believe in her music but have to wait till their next paycheque to donate. As a result, accepting thousands of dollars in donations can evoke some mixed feelings. 

“DIY is cool, but at the same time, I feel so bad because I’m like, everyone in my community is as broke as me. Not everyone can give and give … People who are giving back are mostly marginalized people. And it makes me sad, you know? There’s rich white kids that are trying to emulate poverty with some mom-and-dad money … Why are you not giving back to people that are actually doing this shit?” GAYANCE asks.

Chin has his own frustrations with crowdfunding. While the injection of funds can move creative projects forward, the preparation and planning for campaigns and Patreon launches are now often competing with other artistic responsibilities. 

Asked what he would do differently for the next campaign, Chin offers a surprising take, saying the goal is to never have to do a crowdfunding campaign ever again. Like GAYANCE, Chin is grateful to have an audience that is willing to support him, but he believes it shouldn’t fall solely on an artist and their community to bring these projects to life. 

“That’s exhausting for all of us. And I do believe that while I’m nowhere near the ceiling, there is a ceiling for how big and how well you can do with [crowdfunding] as your only means. With that ‘sweat equity’ runway, you eventually do have to take off,” he explains. 

He’s hoping a label or distributor can foot the bill next time, after seeing how much he’s accomplished on his own. 

While creating fan-funded music is a big undertaking, GAYANCE ultimately feels better when her projects are crowdfunded. She can express herself exactly how she wants, and there’s a sense of pride knowing that she’s already accomplished so much without any support from traditional funding bodies. She jokes that she can also challenge institutions a bit more since she’s not a recipient of their grants. GAYANCE still applies for the grants that exist and would be open to other sources of funding—just not at the expense of her creative expression. Having DJed in 10 countries across four continents so far, she’s already seen the power of her community and is open to more crowdfunding campaigns down the road. 

Ultimately, these platforms are a helpful tool to artists, but they still have trade-offs. It’s not as simple as the community putting money in the hands of artists. It can be an emotional rollercoaster that requires intellectual labour and upkeep, and projects can still go unfunded. Thankfully for Chin and GAYANCE, crowdfunding platforms are creating space for a well-stocked merch store and new, innovative soundtracks for the fall. Along the way they’ve also created a financial cushion, strengthened their connections to fans, and felt in control of their creative expression. For some artists, crowdfunding can be an essential step to getting their voices heard. For example, GAYANCE’s first campaign for Piu Piu sheds light on the long-term impacts that these crowdfunding efforts can have on the arts

“Nobody wanted to fund [Piu Piu], and to me, it was very important. We’re talking about 2010. I made this documentary about my music scene. … There was Kaytradamus [now known as Kaytranada], Alaclair Ensemble, Dead Obies, High Klassified. But no one thought that those people would have a future,” she says. 

GAYANCE didn’t reach her fundraising goal for Piu Piu, but the contributions meant she could spend less of her own money to bring the project to life. Without the crowdfunding campaign, perhaps the final product would have been different or not feasible at all. Filmed more than 10 years ago now, the documentary is a fascinating snapshot of a sound and community that has propelled many artists into the mainstream. For acts like Kaytranada, it has even landed him Grammys. 

Reflecting on his experiences with Bandcamp and Patreon, Chin says these channels for fan-funded music can be a breath of fresh air for both artists and fans. 

“It’s a literal deprogramming of the models that came before it, which is, you’d have to have something to turn out and have the most stuff to turn out for the least cost to the consumer to make it the greatest value to them… I think there are enough people that are tired of playing that game that they’re willing to throw five, 10, 15 dollars at somebody because they’ve done something that I like, and I’ll throw that money at them so they can at least do it again,” Chin says.  

As artists dive deeper into crowdfunding, it’ll be interesting to see what else fans can fund for artists in Canada and the ripple effects they can create too.