One of the misfortunes of the modern music industry is that almost every artist relies on streaming platforms and corporate sponsorships to promote and distribute their art to their fans. Over the weekend, Neil Young demonstrated a possible way to opt out. The rock artist’s career spans nearly 60 years, and he’s long been archiving his music on his own website. On May 12, Young took to Facebook to announce a new subscription service (called NYA or Neil Young Archives) that allows fans exclusive access to his archives, first listens to his new releases and chances to purchase tickets, as well as Young’s personal song of the day choices and blogs of “ruminatIng and ramblIng.”
In essence, Young is combining old-school patronage and fan clubs with new-school internet monetization and fan subscription services, a la Kim Kardashian. In the process, Young is challenging the controls of companies like Spotify and Apple Music, which are notoriously financially challenging to new and emerging artists alike.
With his established fanbase, Young has significantly less to lose than an emerging DIY band looking to divorce themselves from big name streaming platforms. His example begs the question of how many other musicians will follow in his footsteps. As a new Guardian article reports, creative crowdfunding and subscription website Patreon has exploded in popularity in its first five years in business, demonstrating that there are millions of people interested in a direct patronage system.
And while less popular artists are rarely found on the platform or with their own subscription services, they are the ones that have the most to gain from switching to a single-artist patron system. For example, musician and YouTuber with over a million subscribers, Tessa Violet, currently nets over $7,000 a month from her music-dedicated Patreon page. That’s a number many musicians with more critical music industry recognition would be more than happy to get. The feeling one gets on a site like Patreon at least is that you are buying directly into a person and what they stand for. It’s that kind of intimate devotion that earns Jordan Peterson $80,000 a month on the site. Surely, someone much less terrible but equally popular — Beach House? Smash Mouth? — could pull in comparable numbers.
“This place is made for you to get the best of me. I appreciate you and want you to always have the first choice.”
It seems the biggest obstacle is the technological difficulty many artists would have in setting up their own dedicated platforms. As comments on Young’s Facebook announcement show, users are already having problems accessing NYA. Existing platforms like Bandcamp and Soundcloud, which can act as de facto artist websites, are the most accessible places for emerging artists to connect with fans — complicating that would take more effort. But when it comes to artists with established fan bases and name recognition (and better access to tech professionals), not taking a page out of Young, Kardashian, and Patreon’s books seems like a missed opportunity to buck music industry control.