How to cultivate flourishing creative communities
In this episode, musician Rebecca Loebe shares tips for fostering meaningful connection and helping your creative business grow.
To singer-songwriter Rebecca Loebe, music is magical. With a homebase in Austin, Texas, she’s built a global, grassroots fanbase by touring incessantly across the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan for more than a decade. She made her television debut on the musical competition show “The Voice,” in 2011, and in 2017, she started “Team Loebe,” her membership on Patreon. Her fifth, and most recent, album “Give Up Your Ghosts” blends intimate folk, earworm-y pop, and no-holds-barred Americana.
In this episode of Backstage with Patreon, Rebecca shares her tips for immersing yourself in a community of fellow creators and embracing new tools that can help you grow your creative business.
Hello creators. You are backstage with Patreon where we open the curtain on how to build a thriving business on Patreon. I'm Brian Keller from the Creator Success Team. And today's guest is Rebecca Loebe, a touring singer-songwriter based in Austin, Texas. For the past 10 years, she has built a fervent grassroots sand base all around the world by touring incessantly across the US, Canada, Europe, and Japan. Rebecca has been running her team Loebe membership on Patreon for over five years. She's been a contestant on the Voice and has released five studio albums, her most recent Give Up the Ghosts, Glen's Intimate Folk, Ear Wormy Pop, and No Holds Bard Americano.
Let's get started with Rebecca Loebe on Backstage with Patreon, and would love for you to start with on something I read in your profile joining one of our programs where you described one of your philosophies as music is magical and you connected that to community grief, joy, expression. I thought it was so beautified. I'd love to hear the backstory on that.
"There's also magic in the way that music brings people. , the way that music creates in our current culture, a space for us to actually sit and process our feelings is something that I've been really in touch with recently."
Sure. Well, I mean, I don't know. I think most people who write songs will tell you that they are part craft, but also part magic. I've been writing songs for 25 years and I still don't know where they come from most of the time. I know that I'm involved in writing them and I work hard on them, but there's also something to be said for that magical spark of inspiration, and it's something that I think is beyond all of us. So I think it's really special, and I think that there's also magic in the way that music brings people together. The way that music creates in our current culture, a space for us to actually sit and process our feelings is something that I've been really in touch with recently. This answer's going everywhere, but I think some of the magic of life performing and getting to do what I do for a living is that it's my job to be up on stage singing for people, and the audience's only job is to sit in the dark, let me drive the bus and experience what comes up for them.
And in this culture where we're constantly running around and we've got our phones and we're so busy and there are so many demands on our attention and on our brain space at any time, and we are getting less and less accustomed to quiet in our own minds, and to God forbid, boredom, that I feel like we're just basically constantly running away from our own feelings. And music is one of the last appropriate acceptable portals for us to sit quietly and absorb what's coming in and process the feelings that it brings up for us. And I just think that's really magical and powerful. And for me as a purveyor of that craft, as a musician who stands on stage and creates these experiences for people, it's a really moving and powerful experience.
I love that. When you are now performing live with your audience, do you think about that? Do you do anything intentionally to put people in that moment to create that experience?
For sure. I do a lot of things intentionally. Yes, little things. I never ask the audience what time it is. I always want the audience to feel like they don't have to make any decisions or worry about anything. When I am on stage performing, they're in my care and I am guiding them through an experience where their only job is to receive what I'm giving them. And it's important to me that I communicate non-verbally, that I am trustworthy and that they are safe with me, that they can relax and some things are just setting up the stage.
I always want the audience to be in darkness because I have learned in my years on the road that when the audience feels like I can see them, or when the audience really feels like they can be seen by one another, they are stiff, they are tense, they're sitting up straight, they're sucking in their bellies, they're laughing self-consciously, like they're aware that other people can hear their laughter or that I am judging the manner in which they are receiving the show. So I try and give the audience as many tools as I can come up with to make them comfortable.
That's a very thoughtful approach to it. How about when you are in your songwriting mode, what things help you get that spark and that magic for writing?
I mean, sometimes it really just pops in my head just based on inspiration. I'll be reading something or talking to a friend or watching a TV show. I actually wrote a song yesterday based on something that I saw scrolling social media. And I will tell you 10 times out of 10.1 times that I think that social media is dangerous territory for creativity. But every now and then I'll be mindlessly scrolling and I'll see something that sparks a thought or inspires me. And then for me, the way it usually happens is that a few words with a little bit of a melody attached pops into my head and I have that five, 10 words and these little notes attached to it. And then I run to the guitar, run to the piano, pick up my phone and record, and just try and capture that initial spark, that initial magic moment of inspiration.
And then the craft has to start up. And then I have to start doing what I call the musical algebra equation of taking this little song nugget that popped into my head from the ether. And it's song nugget plus X equals completed song. Solve the equation. Solve for X, and you have a completed song. And that's a matter of figuring out what song that line is in, what is that song about, and writing as much as possible in that moment to expand on that initial thought as I possibly can. And that's basically my process.
Very cool. It sounds like you're also really immersed in your community of songwriters. You've done dinners with other songwriters connecting with them. How did that become something that you were contributing to giving back to so much?
Sure. Great question. Well, I love going to songwriting retreats. That's being in community and setting the intention with a group of other creative folks that we're setting aside some time to get creative together is really moving to me. It helps me a lot with my focus. Sometimes I have trouble because in addition to being a musician and a writer and a creator, I'm also a small business owner. And the small business demands are many. And sometimes it's easy to forget that without the art there is no business to do. But also sometimes the business is more instantly gratifying. You know, can spend an hour trying to write a song and at the end of the hour you've just been staring at a ceiling for an hour and you have no song. But if you spend an hour answering emails at the end of the hour, you have answered an hour's worth of email.
So if you're somebody who's achievement driven like me, that can be rewarding. And sometimes I'll get to the hard part of writing a song, which spoiler alert is most of songwriting. And I will try and let myself off the hook and I'll be like, "Yeah, it's not common today. Go do something else that you can actually tackle." But when I'm at a writing retreat, I am able to sit there and suffer in the muck of creativity because that's what we're there to do. And there are a lot of other people there doing it as well. So out one of these retreats, this was many years ago, I was chatting with a friend of mine named Danny Schmidt, fantastic songwriter. And we were talking about a weekly songwriting event that had been happening in New York City since the 1970s. And it was run by a guy named Jack Hardy, who was part of the fast folk movement and a mentor and friend to a lot of up and coming songwriters who came out of New York for like 40, 50 years.
And he had run a Monday night songwriting dinner party every Monday in his tiny apartment in the Lower East Side. And it was really simple. It was like songwriters showed up at seven, he made a pot of spaghetti, you put a couple of dollars in the bowl to pay for spaghetti and toilet paper, and then you visited for half an hour. And then at 7:30, everybody sat in a circle and played their newest songs for Jack and for each other. And after each song, you got some feedback from the group and from Jack and the rule was you had to have a new song each week. You couldn't play something you had already released or something you had been working on for a long time. People got into a groove of going every week, and the rule was they had to write something new for the next week, and you also had to sign this little guest book.
So I had been to a few of those when I was touring through New York. Unfortunately he passed in 2011, so they had recently ended. He had recently passed, but Danny and I were talking about how great it would be to have something like that in Austin, Texas where we both lived. So we decided to start one up, we decided to do it at Buy House, and we did a weekly songwriter dinner party every week for about four years. And then I moved and my new house didn't work as well, but we did it occasionally after that, right up until I left Austin, or right up until the pandemic really. And I now live out in the country outside of Austin, so it wouldn't work as well.
But it was a magical thing. And I would say for anyone listening, even if you're not a songwriter, whatever your field is, especially if it's a creative field, finding an event to get people together on a regular basis, and if there is no such event, creating an event is one of the most powerful things that I did both for my creativity, because I was inspired to keep writing. And I wrote every week because I knew that there were going to be 15 people at my house and we were all supposed to share our newest songs, but also hearing everybody else's creative work every week inspired me so much. God, I'm getting really nostalgic for it right now, talking about it. It was really not so much about pushing myself to write as it was about hearing what everybody else was writing and learning what moves me about a song, learning new tricks, learning what things don't resonate with me, and feeling, it just gave me so much like electrical mojo. It just really lit me up to hear everybody else's songs every week.
And it also made me feel like I was a part of something. I had been living in Austin for a few years at that point, but I traveled so much that, and when I was home, I just had a couple of friends that I hung out with, but suddenly I had a posse. I had a pack of people, and we were bonded by something incredibly important to us in a really intimate way. We're sharing our newest tenders, little baby songs, and I suddenly felt like I was really part of the musician scene in Austin in a way that I never had and probably never would have if I hadn't taken that leap.
That's such a great message for not just musicians, but really all creators to find that community in the world. Let's talk about your community with membership and on Patreon. And I saw that you used the term team for your members there. How did you come up with that as your term for them, and how do you use that? How do they use it as a way to bring that community together?
I started my Patreon page in 2017, and I just called it my Patreon page, Rebecca Loebe's Patreon, join me on Patreon. And I started my page, I was pretty specific in my strategy. I really copied a lot of Natalie Dawn's Patreon relaunch video from 2016 or 17, took notes and extracted what felt doable for me. And I did a big push. I did a really big launch. I launched on my birthday and the night before, I emailed 100 of my top longtime supporters just to let them know this was coming. And I immediately got a pretty good amount of support from my core group of friends and family and long-term supporters. And then I pushed it hard and loud on all social media channels every day for a full week. And then I stepped back to regroup, and I just started pushing and building it from there.
And for a few years, I observed that other creators were using catchy names for their Patreon page. The Mouths of Babes call it, I think Babe Land. And Bob Schneider calls it his song club and Kina Grannis calls it Her Record Label and different titles to bring the whole thing together to have it under a cohesive umbrella. The end of America that goes by TEOA, they have Camp TEOA, and their whole page is really campfire theme. So I loved that from a branding standpoint, but also from a bonding standpoint to make the patrons and the artist feel like they're a part of something together. And I thought of Team Loebe two or three years ago, and I was like, "Maybe I can call it Team Loebe." And I was like, "I can think of something better than that." And I never did.
So finally last year, I was like, "Okay. I'm going to rebrand my page. I want to have a name that's cohesive that brings everyone together." And I kept trying to think about it, and I really couldn't think of anything that I liked better than Team Loebe. And I got another artist, a musician actually who's on Patreon. Her name's Megan Megan Slankard based in the Bay Area. She is super great, and I love her artwork. She doesn't consider herself to be like a visual artist first. She's a fantastic musician.
But I asked if she'd consider designing a logo for me for Team Loebe, and she crushed it. She did such a good job, and she made beautiful branding artwork for me, for my Team Loebe relaunch, and I did that relaunch in the summer of 2021. And it was just a really fun way to basically throw a little party, make up a new name, and call it what it is, honestly, which is a group of people who have signed up and decided to be on my team and to work collaboratively with me on making this music career that I have been working on for 15 years now possible.
That's so cool to hear about creators hiring and working with other creators, right. Typical become part of that journey there. Well, I imagine over the five years you've been doing this, you've figured out some things that work that don't work when it comes to how do you promote, how do you talk about Patreon and what are some of the things that have evolved for you?
That's a great question. One big evolution is that I recently, and you might ask me about this later, but I recently made the switch from being per creation to monthly. And the main reason I made that switch was that explaining how per creation worked was a huge pain in the ass. Can I say ass on this podcast? I don't know if I can, but thumbs up. I got the thumbs up on ask. Great. We're going to get along great. It was just really cumbersome to say, "Well, if you follow me at $5 a month and that's all you pay. I usually post two or three times, but if I don't post it all, you won't get charged anything. But yeah, you can set a cap if you're..." So it's just a lot easier to say, "Join at whatever amount you want monthly." It's just a much simpler, cleaner pitch.
So that was a really big evolution for me. Generally, my thinking about the Patreon shifted almost immediately when I started the page in the August of 2017. I was thinking, "As a strategic businesswoman, I need to open up a new possible revenue stream." And that's why I was going into it. I was in it for the money, but just kidding in the music for the money. And if they are, they're very bad at making money. But I wanted to open up a new business revenue stream. I thought it was strategic and smart, but the thing that I found after my first couple of weeks of having a Patreon page is that the benefits of it, and this is where I start to sound like a totally cheesy, like Patreon televangelist, but the benefits were about so much more than just the money. It was really powerful, really moving to me to have direct access to the people who the people raised their hands, the people who said, "We like this, we want to hear more of it."
And suddenly I had this little cozy corner of the internet where I could directly access the people who were most into what I do, and they wanted to hear my new songs, and they wanted to hear my weird interpretations of covers, and they wanted to read essays about what actually goes on behind the scenes in my career. And that inspired me to write. I mean, the first few months that I was on Patreon was the most prolific time in my life as a writer because I suddenly had this little dedicated audience of people who were so eager to hear what was on my mind. And I was so lit up by that. I was so inspired that suddenly the songwriting faucet was just cranked all the way on. So I don't know if that answers your question.
I love that your membership, your community inspires you to write in new ways. Sometimes we hear from creators though, but that pressure can be challenging as well, feeling like they have to create and make new things for this audience.
Sure. Yeah. I got a text from a friend a few months ago who was like, "I've only been on Patreon for a few months and I already don't want to record another cover song just for this website." And for that, my biggest advice to people who are on Patreon, and maybe this is specific to musicians, and maybe this is specific to just me, I don't think it is that what I have found is that most people who have joined my Patreon page mostly just want to support me doing the work I'm already doing. And it honestly seems like the more somebody contributes to the Patreon page, the less they care about the incentives. It's like you just open a window for them to stick their arm through and drop a few dollars in the window, and if the window's closed, then they have no mechanism through which to give you that support.
So by opening a Patreon page, I opened this window through which people can give their support, and that most people don't care about the incentives to the extent that I believe that maybe even as many as 80% of my patrons never or rarely even open the emails that I send from Patreon or download the music I send or click and watch the videos. But the 20% that do open the emails and that do watch the videos and that do download the music, really care about the incentives. So it's a funny little lopsided thing where let's say that I have 100 patrons, which is about where I started. So I'm creating basically for 20 diehard fans at that point. And then there are 80 people who are contributing money who do not care whether or not I post how often I post or what the quality of my posts are.
So I had to make a decision early on about how much of my resources, my time, my money, my energy, I wanted to spend creating content for those 20 diehard fans. So it's like this tricky balance of wanting to make content that is worth it for the diehards, but not too demanding on my resources in order to honor the contribution that's being made by the other 80% who really just want to give me some money to keep being able to do what I do. So that is a long preamble to say that my approach with Patreon and what I recommend to anybody who will listen is to identify the things I already need to do and to then share those things with my patrons first and to share those with them with a little bit of extra context.
So for example, I find it to be really beneficial for my career to release cover videos on YouTube. It's like somebody might have never heard of me. I'm Rebecca Loebe. I'm a folks singer here from Austin, Texas, and they might not go to YouTube and search for Rebecca Loebe, but they might go to YouTube and look for in the mood to hear an acoustic cover of Bob Dylan's song Forever Young. And they will search for Bob Dylan acoustic cover, and they might find my cover and like it, and then they think, "Who's this person?" And they click down in the comments and they get to my website and maybe they join my newsletter and maybe they even join my Patreon from that point or come out to see me play a concert. All of those things have happened. So I use the funding that I get from my Patreon supporters in order to release a new video to YouTube every month or two.
So it has an extra purpose. And I actually took the cover song thing a little bit further because then after I'd done enough of those, I'd done 12 or 15, I took just the audio and had it mastered to be a CD or it's not a CD, it's an audio album download. And now on my website, I have a whole funnel actually, that I set up. And on my website front page, I have a free offer where you get a free covers album, acoustic covers album in exchange for signing up for my newsletter, which is a pretty good incentive to get people to sign up. And that's all work that I did for my Patreon page, but also serving the second purpose of casting a wider net on YouTube.
So I mean, other examples of that are that I'm working on a songbook of all of my songs, and one month at a time, I released a chord chart of each of the songs that I wanted to put in the songbook. And that way I was getting paid to do this work I needed to do of charting all of these songs for my songbook, but I was also creating content and sharing it with my patrons. I was also setting deadlines for myself. So I was actually getting the work done in manageable chunks. And then I wrote a little essay for my patrons about why I wrote the song, where it came from. And those essays are going to end up some of them in the songbook as well.
That's great advice. Find the things that both help you in that funnel from initial audience down to paying members and also things you can create multiple times there. Has your approach to what to share on Patreon changed as your audience has grown more? Have you had to adapt just feeling like you're serving a much bigger membership audience now?
My approach has changed, but it hasn't changed so much because of people, it's been more about what work I needed to be doing in the moment when I was writing more new songs and getting an album together and getting my band familiar with my songs. I was recording a lot of demos, so I would share those demos on Patreon, and then I was working on the songbook, and I would share the songbook charts with my Patreon page. And then for a little while, actually, you mentioned this as we were chatting beforehand, I did a little behind the scenes YouTube series about what goes on behind the scenes in the life of a singer-songwriter. And that was something that my patrons got a first look at. So I really just focus on what I do consistently do these cover videos. And I have done that since 2017.
And I have been since the pandemic started consistently doing online concerts monthly. But other than that, it just fluctuates based on what I need to be working on. One thing I am pretty vigilant about is that anything I release on Patreon as a download, I make sure I would be comfortable with it being played on the radio. I don't release lo-fi iPhone demos because I consider everything that I share on Patreon to be part of my cannon, part of my body of work. I'm not like a super legacy obsessed person, but I am practical, and I'll say that a number of people in my audience are DJs who have radio shows, and they will play, what I offer them is downloads on their radio stations. And I don't want the first time somebody hears a new song of mine to be some lo-fi demo that I recorded on my phone in the middle of the night.
So anything that's a down, and I'm also, I have a degree in audio engineering. That's what I went to college for. I'm a little bit of a stickler for Fidelity, but if I really want to share something that's not properly recorded yet, I will either do an iPhone demo. I've only done a couple in the whole five years I've been doing this. But I'll do an iPhone demo and just release it streaming on SoundCloud, or I'll record like a quick and dirty video and release it unlisted, and then I'll just call it a video demo.
It sounds like you've experimented so much. You gave a couple examples in your actual music and in your art, but also in the structure on Patreon and going from procreation to monthly. I know you also were one of our earlier adopters of Patreon. Video is another way to share content. Some creators have a lot of nervousness around those changes to their Patreon structure and page about that. What gives you confidence or even eagerness to actually try some of these things and keep experimenting?
Well, I've had really great luck with being involved in early release Patreon features. Back in 2018, I was invited to be part of the pilot group for the special offer feature, and since then I've been doing it annually. It was just a really pleasant experience because it was a new program. They were trying things out, but it was like a guided... They had a lot of guidance and leadership on how to run a special offer campaign. I learned a ton, and I have successfully increased my membership by 10 to 30% every year when I run a special offer campaign. So after that, anytime Patreon asks if I want to do something, I just say yes, assume it's going to work out, and it does.
So with Patreon video, my mentality for that is that anything that I think I might eventually want to make public, I will release on YouTube and start out as an unlisted video on YouTube, and it'll premiere on Patreon. And then eventually I'll flip the switch on the back end of my YouTube creator studio and it'll become a public video, and I'll get all the views that I already had from when it was unlisted, and then it'll go out there into the world. But if there's anything that I want to share, and I know it's just for Patreon, especially things like these acoustic song demo videos, those are the kinds of things that I plan to release on Patreon video.
That's a good way to use both tools in parallel. Well, let's go back to a theme from the beginning about building community, finding other creators like yourself. If you have someone who's listening to this and they like that idea, but they haven't really done that, they haven't reached out, haven't found people locally, any tips for how do you get over that uncertainty? How do you really take that step and go for it?
I really love a songwriter named Carsie Blanton. She has a great Patreon page. She's really good. And way back when, maybe 2008 or nine, I was on tour with another songwriter named Jenn Grinnels, also incredible. She's writing a musical and she's sharing it monthly with her supporters on Patreon. But this was a long time ago before any of us had Patreon pages. And Jenn and I were on tour together, and we played a show and we saw Carsie play because she was also on the bill that night, and I was so intimidated by her. I loved what she did so much that my instinct was to run in the corner and hide, because if she looked at me, it made my stomach flutter and it made me blush, and it made me act like I didn't like her, basically. I liked her so much that I behaved as if I didn't like her.
And I was standing by our merch table hiding and being like, what would seem like I was being a little surly, but honestly, I was just intimidated. And my friend Jenn walked up to Carsie, stuck out her hand and said, "Hi. I'm Jenn." I love what you do. And Carsie was like, "Hi. I loved what you did too. My name is Carsie." And 20 minutes later, we were all at a diner eating pie, and I was like, "That's how you make friends." Just be a nice person. So if somebody intimidates, if you like what someone does, even though it's scary, start with that. Start with a genuine expression of what draws you to that person. I moved by what you do. I mean, people work hard on their music, on their creativity, there's a lot of rejection in the world.
So if you can be a positive voice for someone, maybe you'll become friends. Maybe they'll become a mentor, maybe you'll become coworkers, or maybe you'll just be a really nice person who gave them a compliment on a hard day, and they'll thank you for it, and they'll continue packing up their merchant lead. You never know, but they're not going to kick you in the stomach. They're not going to laugh in your face. They're not going to say, "Well, you're a loser. Goodbye." So I think that leading with positivity and sharing honest feedback about what moves you about somebody's creativity is never going to steer you wrong.
Awesome. Well, I hope we have some folks from our audience taking this advice, reaching out, making some extra connections based on that. And thanks so much for sharing about your connections with the songwriting community, but also all of the evolutions and the tactics and the things you've been trying on Patreon. Thanks so much, Rebecca.
Tune in next week to Backstage with Patreon when we'll have Chris Price on the show, he's Patreon's product manager for trust and safety, which means he specializes in the connection between product tools and the operational teams that keep users safe online. Patreon values putting more control in the hands of creators when it comes to content moderation and our guidelines. We'll demystify that topic and cover how the process works for and with creators.
To catch every episode of Backstage with Patreon, follow or subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review. We also have transcripts available at patreon.com/backstage. You're growing as a creator by listening to the show, so why not share the insights from this episode with another creator on Patreon or who is running a creative business? We'd love to have you as an active collaborator with Backstage with Patreon. Come join the discussion in the Patreon Creator Discord. Follow the link in the episode notes, and you can get answers to your follow-up questions directly from the guests and weigh in on what topics we'll be covering next. Editing by Tyler Morrisette. I'm Brian Keller. See you next time Backstage.