After making 100 original songs, an indie musician reflects on her top lessons
Here, Megan Slankard, a long-time Patreon creator, shares insights on sustaining creative projects, adapting membership levels, and connecting with fans and fellow creators in meaningful ways.
Since indie rock musician Megan Slankard launched her Patreon in December 2014, she has sold more than 40,000 copies of her five self-released albums, built an incredibly tight community of long-time listeners, and created a brand-new song for her members every single month without pause. To meet this monthly creative challenge, she's something of a one-person-band: In her San Francisco kitchen, Megan writes, performs, engineers, and produces her monthly songs — and 10 of those tracks turned into her most recent album, California & Other Stories.
At the end of March, Megan reached a personal creative milestone: her hundredth song released on Patreon. "Without this self imposed rule of 'one new original song a month,' I would surely find myself lost again in the business side of music, distracted by booking, promo, and social media," Megan says.
She adds that her audience members were actually the ones who pointed out the significance of reaching her hundredth monthly song and that sustaining a creative challenge over one hundred months is worth celebrating.
"They're really good at bringing me back down to earth," she says. "I get so lost in the details that I forget to take the little wins or take a breath."
Here, Megan reflects on what she's learned along the way and how prioritizing creativity, connecting deeply with listeners, and celebrating wins has helped her build the independent creative life she always dreamed of.
Find ways to create more
Ever since she was 15 years old playing Beatles covers on acoustic guitar in her California hometown, there wasn't a day job that could sway Megan from the musical life for which she knew she was destined. But being an independent musician, though deeply rewarding, isn't easy.
"Around 2014, I was feeling really discouraged," Megan says. "I love touring, but I was touring constantly, sometimes racking up 200 gigs a year. That kind of life means you're just surviving, not creating anything new."
When her manager KC Turner brought up Patreon as an option, Megan says she felt hesitant. She worried about having enough bandwidth and didn't want to just ask people for money without giving anything back. But her manager pointed out that Patreon's membership model could allow her a way to tour less and create more.
"One of my friends, Kyle (known as M. the Heir Apparent), was also on Patreon," says Megan. "One thing he told me is that Patreon forces you to make time for your own creativity. And I really needed that."
Megan held a house concert soon after and from stage, in between songs, asked the audience what they thought of Patreon's model. To her surprise, almost everyone there that night was on board, and their encouragement was just what she needed to start offering membership.
Set up manageable workflows
"I remember having all these grand plans in the beginning — I made like 40 tiers," Megan says, laughing. "I over-promised and under-delivered, because I was so excited. I thought, 'If I can make a certain amount of money, I can go to the studio and hire a producer and add all these backing musicians every month.'"
For her first song, Megan used all her Patreon income and did just that. The result? A beautifully produced pop track recorded at a studio. But the following month, as she sat in her kitchen, she had a revelation: "I realized these songs don't need to be this polished, professional thing. People just want to hear my ideas."
That shift in mindset continues to help Megan explore, learn, and make work she finds exciting — and she's still doing most of it from her home. "Song number two is kind of poorly recorded, but 50 songs later I can tell I made progress, you know?"
Soon, she ran into another obstacle: all those membership tiers. The restrictions and goals she'd set for herself were starting to make Megan feel burned out — a feeling all too familiar from her touring days. Megan sent out a message to her members explaining her feelings and detailing the tiers she was thinking about merging or dropping so that her admin work could feel more manageable. She asked for their input on which tiers she could lose or merge. Communicating clearly with members helps them stay involved, and being flexible and adapting helps Megan keep her workflows sustainable.
Seek feedback to establish trust
No matter which decisions Megan needs to make about her Patreon, she always makes sure to get her community's feedback. While trying to come up with marketing strategies to grow her fanbase, she asked members to weigh in. In return, her listeners show her an incredible amount of trust and admiration.
"Occasionally I get a message from somebody who's like, 'Hey, sorry, I haven't reached out in a while and I'm behind on your Patreon songs, but I just wanted to say that I saw you did this thing and I'm proud of you,'" says Megan. "They're just excited for me to be doing the things that make me happy."
Megan intentionally welcomes fan input, through email, Facebook, and comments on her Patreon posts. Listeners chime in with ideas on a range of topics, including how she can find new members, song topics and instrumentation, ways Megan can improve her members' Patreon experience, and more. Megan lets her community's ideas inspire her, combining their feedback with her own needs to cultivate connections that are genuine and long-lasting.
Build deep, meaningful connections
Over the years, Megan has developed special ways for her members to connect with her and each other. A private Facebook group lets listeners stay in touch no matter where they're located, and each month, Megan also hosts a virtual "green room" pre-show event and subsequent tea time where she plays songs from her archives over Zoom.
“In the music business, sometimes it can feel like hardly anyone cares. I've never been a part of something that feels this safe as a creator and also continues to make me feel excited.”
Connecting authentically, communicating clearly, and putting feedback into action has resulted in a lively and connected community. This past year, for instance, a group of her members rented an Airbnb together in Wisconsin to see Megan perform at a festival. In November 2022, when she announced the forthcoming release of California & Other Stories, members told her they wanted to celebrate this milestone with her. So Megan put together a release party in California as well as a virtual party for her far-away fans. People flew from all over the United States to be there, scheduled a dinner to get to know one another, and even brought her baked goods with her album cover printed on top. Megan says,"My heart just exploded with gratitude and joy."
Megan puts a lot of energy and enthusiasm into her relationships with her listeners, and in return, they show up for her again and again. Building authentic, real connections with her fans has not only enabled Megan to make a living; it's given her a community she can depend on. During the pandemic, for instance, when she had to cancel the tours that would have funded the rest of her year, her members were there to catch her. "I had a net," she says. "And not just financially, but emotionally. Just knowing that they were still there felt good."
Lean on a community of fellow creators for support and inspiration
"Being an indie musician is hard," says Megan. "You have no social life, you get rejected a lot, money gets tight, you have weird hours, and no weekends." These realities of her musician life motivate Megan to connect with other creators who get it. She led an A. Club, one of Patreon's peer-led accountability groups, called the Songwriter's Support Club, where a small group of songwriters met up to chat about Patreon, touring, releasing music, mental and physical health, and other aspects of musician life. Megan has mentored about 50 other creators, too — old friends and people she met while touring — and helped them launch and effectively run their membership on Patreon, similar to how a friend helped her get started on Patreon. Sharing tips, tricks, frustrations, and successes with fellow creators has led Megan to new places with her creative and business projects. For example, she has had a friend, who she met through Patreon, sit in on a guitar solo for a Patreon song, and Megan learned time-management skills for an album project from another musician.
"Sometimes you need to call in reinforcements," says Megan. "You need to be like, I can't frickin' do this alone! And then you can make something together that in 14 hours or whatever you'd never be able to do well yourself."
Feeling the personal impact of this type of creator-to-creator support also inspires Megan to participate in Patreon's Creator Ambassador Program. As an ambassador, she gets to test Patreon's new product features, partner on promotional opportunities, represent Patreon in creator communities, both online and offline, and serve as an advocate for fellow creators.
"Things like the Creator Ambassador Program and A. Club really feel like Patreon actually cares that we're there," says Megan. "In the music business, sometimes it can feel like hardly anyone cares. I've never been a part of something that feels this safe as a creator and also continues to make me feel excited."
Recognize milestones, one success at a time
At a recent Tea Time session, Megan celebrated the forthcoming release of her one hundredth song for Patreon members, an upbeat jilted-lover tune called "My Other Lover Jealousy." After she published it to her Patreon, her community promptly showered her with the kind of praise she says she sometimes struggles with accepting. "I am really proud of myself for making a hundred songs," Megan says. "That's a weird feeling for me."
Running a successful Patreon for just over eight years has definitely come with some struggles, like navigating how to manage her time, taking breaks, and self-criticism. But through it all, Megan has found ways to be kind with herself, trust that her members support her, and lean on her community when she doesn't have the answers herself.
"Writing 100 songs and being consistent and making time to create feels very successful," Megan says. "Through Patreon, I got to share my work with these amazing people who wanted to hear the music — whatever I created — and I even got paid to do it, which is wild. Eight years later, I'm still excited about it."
Have a creative milestone you're excited about? Share your experiences and advice with fellow creators on our official Patreon Creator Community Discord server.