The rise of the maker: how creatives are finding new ways to generate income and build community
More and more creatives are turning to new avenues to develop their own reliable (and creatively nourishing) income. For an individual creative, Patreon could be just the ticket.
It’s Nice That is currently partnering with Patreon, an an online membership platform for creatives. In this piece we look at how both creatives and audiences are looking for new ways to support one another directly in a trend we call “the rise of the maker”.
Well before we all got used to online exhibitions and virtual viewings, the creative world was being transformed by the constantly shifting nature of the web. Our connected devices have not only changed how we consume cultural content; they have altered how we create, share, and “like” it as well. Social media habits have created a double-edged sword – on the one hand creating a more equal playing field for creatives to be seen and heard, and on the other revealing the truth of how difficult it is to earn a stable living from doing so.
These two sides of the modern creative practice have led to a change in the way people are communicating and connecting with their audiences – a trend we call “the rise of the maker”. More than ever, creatives are fostering direct connections with their fans online. Those fans are in turn looking for ways to support these independent creators. Even before the pandemic came along and made many people’s income worryingly unpredictable, this could be seen in the rise of companies like Etsy for craft, Kickstarter for new launches, and Depop’s for fashion. A fast-growing addition we could add to the list – and certainly the most exciting for the individual creative right now – is Patreon.
Founded by CEO Jack Conte, a musician and YouTuber, Patreon’s aim is to narrow the gap between the number of people who love an individual’s content and the small financial gain it often generates. It was a problem Jack himself had “observed time and time again in the creative space,” Patreon’s creative director Amil Husain tells It’s Nice That. Developing into a membership platform that aids people in building an independent creative career, Patreon’s “creators” (as it calls its users) have made over $2 billion on the platform. “It’s a new way of doing things that’s giving creative people a lot more control over their future,” adds Amil.
Setting up a Patreon as a creator essentially means building a membership club between you and your audience. The price and how much you offer is up to the individual and many adopt a tiered approach, offering diehard fans extras for higher monthly prices, with entry-level memberships usually costing less than a coffee. This flexibility is purposeful as Patreon leaves it up to the creator to decide what’s best for them, all in aid of finding “the space and financial stability to focus on what they want to make,” as Amil puts it. There’s no need to “follow the unwritten rules of social media, or operate under commission constraints,” and each creator is offered the “freedom to explore, iterate, and share their progress every step of the way with a positive, encouraging community.”
This flexibility has led to a broad range of creatives using Patreon, including many disciplines you wouldn’t expect to translate into a membership. “Patreon is home to 3D artists, illustrators, animators, painters, muralists, game designers – you name it,” says Amil. Patreon’s popularity with a range of artist relates back to this idea of the rise of the maker, proving a general acceptance that creatives are deserving of support (both in terms of monetary value and encouragement) from the audiences which enjoy their output.
A clear fit for the platform are also comic artists who, in the relatable and often humorous nature of their work, always develop a strong connection to their fans. One of these is the beloved illustrator and comics artist Ruby etc (who also made the illustrations for this article), who began using Patreon a few years ago, and says she treats it “as a bi-monthly commission, from myself to myself”.
Keeping her own set-up relatively simple, for $5 a month Ruby offers potential patrons the chance to gain exclusive access to two of her pieces “and my undying love”. From long-form comics, writing and advice through to pieces she’s experimenting with, for Ruby this support from patrons offers a sense of ease. “Trying to earn a living, or part of your living, from something creative always involves multiple income streams, many of which are inconsistent and feel out of your control, like unpaid invoices months after a job,” she says. “A Patreon for your work is self-initiated and, in the right conditions, has the potential to create a steady bit of income that you’re in control of.”
Additionally, the platform offers creators a chance to pave their own way creatively against the grain of fast-paced commissioned work. Creators even often solicit advice from their patrons, where there is “a space for community that is more intimate and easier to moderate,” adds Ruby. Posting work online is always a daunting experience no matter the stage of a creative's career, but building a direct community allows for a more welcoming home to share.
As much as it offers creators, Patreon also provides a new entry point into creativity for audience members. Because creators usually offer some element of exclusivity in their membership packages, there is a chance to better understand the person behind the work. Its success makes sense when you consider that we may be experiencing a rise in makers because audiences prefer to purchase items from independent businesses, or an individual creative, due to a want for a more personal experience. Not only does this support an individual by buying locally or through a direct source, but it allows the buyer to feel as if they're contributing to creativity simply by enjoying it. It’s a gesture that works both ways.
It’s also this factor Ruby notes in particular, respecting “that many people who follow me just want to read and observe,” and seeing behind-the-scenes of how an illustrator like Ruby works is an inspiring treat. After all: “There’s a lot of internet to get through and sometimes it is nice to be quiet.”
On this behind-the-scenes element of a practice, Amil adds that “when we think about art, we think about a finished, polished product. But patrons join their creators’ communities because they want a peek into the process and emotion behind that finished piece.” By sharing those early sketches that would otherwise get filed away, filming a look into their daily creative routine or offering tutorials on particular techniques, a creator can easily bring a community closer to their work – and through tasks they’re likely to be doing anyway.
Additionally, as the pandemic has given each of us time to reassess what we want to produce creatively we've also seen several side hustles pop-up, from the rising trend of candle making to do-it-yourself craft experiencing a comeback. However these practices often involve the individual starting something entirely new, but platforms such as Patreon allow you to tap into a community you may already have. If your work connects with an individual there are ways to share and build a community around that, aside from directly having a product to sell.
Although initially starting out to fill a gap, with its understanding of creators and the creative practice, Patreon has built a platform which puts “power in the hands of the people that love their work,” says Amil. Not only raising the personal funds of creatives globally, it’s beginning to change our industry’s line of thinking on creative worth. As Ruby puts it perfectly simply: “You deserve to be paid for your work.” Combining these factors, Amil finally adds a final aim for Patreon, a growing platform for growing creatives: “We want creative people to be valued for the joy they give us and the impact they have on culture and society at large.”