Why membership matters for creators and creative businesses

By Julie Schneider

Photo by Jeremy Cohen, featuring RT TV

Learn all about the benefits of a membership-based business from these Patreon creators.

In our series, All About Membership, we cover the essentials of how membership works for creators to help you decide whether it’s right for you.

As a creator, you’ve probably puzzled over how you can sustain your creative work for the long haul in a way that allows you to make the work you’re passionate about and earn more money and connect more with your closest fans (while hearing less from the trolls). Membership is one way that you could connect the dots, melding sound business sense with your creative special sauce.

We asked creators why membership matters to them, their fans, and their creative business. Here’s what they said.

Earning consistent income

Since membership businesses are based on recurring, subscription-style payments from members, this can mean more predictable cash flow for creators. In other words: Once you have a steady base of members, you can anticipate how much money you’ll earn each month and when you’ll see it in your bank account.

Consistent income can make it easier to budget, prepare for future projects, and invest in your business in meaningful ways. Think: hiring staff, renting studio space, paying for health insurance, and buying new gear. The creators behind pop culture podcast RT TV have used their membership revenue to expand their team and move into a new studio. Tina Yu used hers to level up her equipment for filming her art-making workshops. And with their membership income, all three founders of The Fantasy Footballers podcast left their day jobs to devote themselves full-time to their completely independent show.

Making the content you want to create

According to Patreon’s survey of more than 1,500 creators (both on and off Patreon), 73% say they don’t like that algorithms affect the work they put out. Rather than compromising on your creativity to feed a constantly changing algorithm, membership can make it possible to create independent content that directly serves your particular niche or community in a meaningful way. Alayna Joy, who makes frank and funny videos about LGBTQ+ sex and relationships, puts it this way: “Creating content for my audience is the point. I'm not creating it for YouTube. I'm not creating it for advertisers. I'm creating it for my audience: people who want to have these conversations, people who are queer and figuring it out and maybe don't have someone in their life that they can talk to IRL about it.”

Alayna keeps a laser focus on the audience her work is actually intended for. “I choose to continue talking about queer relationships and queer sex, even though I know that there's a likelihood that my revenue from YouTube is going to be lower,” she says. “The reason that I can keep doing that is because I have this community on Patreon.” With membership, she's built an intimate and supportive community with and for her biggest fans. And that brings us to another thing creators love about membership.

Strengthening connections with your fans

For creators, membership opens up a special opportunity to build community with fans and connect with them in a way that remains personal and ripe with creative potential, even at scale. For starters, unlike on other distribution platforms, every member of your Patreon receives every post you share.

Jacob Collier collaborates with his Patreon community in his #IHarmU project.

Membership also enables you to truly build community around your work, to engage with your fans, and to give them opportunities to connect with each other. There are infinite ways creators do this, including setting up members-only Discord servers, organizing collaborative projects, hosting monthly video chats, and giving members shout-outs in newsletters, social media posts, video credits, or liner notes. By joining Noclip’s membership, for example, video game enthusiasts can connect with each other on a dedicated Discord server. And members of fantasy podcast Dungeons and Daddies can connect with the hosts through fan submissions (like suggesting character names), monthly game nights, and credits that can be redeemed for special rewards, like a custom-painted miniature or a personalized audio message.

Sometimes the magic happens literally in harmony with fans. Musician Jacob Collier ran a special offer, a project called #IHarmU where members could submit recordings of themselves singing a short melody. Then, Jacob harmonized with the recording, resulting in beautiful, collaborative fan-creator remixes. For Raye Zaragoza, connecting with fans means thinking of her membership platform as an independent record label, which she’s dubbed Rebel River Records. Through her "demo club," she releases a new song every week and invites members to give her feedback.

“Being able to draw what I want to draw, be my own boss, and have flexibility with my schedule? It's like winning the lottery for me."

Thriving creator-fan connections like these can fuel creative independence. Comedian Dan Cummins, host of the Timesuck podcast, says that membership has enabled him to reinvest in his work and take more creative chances without needing “anyone’s approval other than the audience’s.” The creative business he’s been able to build, he says, “literally would not be possible without fan support.”

Direct access to data and insights

Navigating finicky and unpredictable social media algorithms can feel like an impenetrable black box, making it hard to understand how your content is showing up on feeds and if it’s even reaching your intended audience — a source of frustration for many creators. Seventy percent of surveyed creators say they feel screwed by big tech platforms — and that's a particular challenge because 64% say they primarily rely on these same sites. On Patreon, you have a window into who your fans are and how they engage with your content (and each other). On your insights dashboards, for example, you can track engagement stats, including views, likes, and comments on Patreon posts (which are similar to blog posts and can be shared publicly or restricted to members only) and traffic sources; analyze earnings data; and see a comprehensive breakdown of your current membership count, including how many new members you have and how many have changed levels.

Another upside to membership? Having access to your members’ contact information means you have better control over how you communicate with them and a direct way to stay in touch. Because these are your members, not Patreon’s, you have the chance to make informed, data-backed decisions about how to shape your business and your relationship to your community and fanbase.

Embracing creative independence and flexibility

“Being able to draw what I want to draw, be my own boss, and have flexibility with my schedule? It's like winning the lottery for me,” says Marshall Short, founder of PrintableHeroes, a company devoted to print-ready miniature characters and creatures for tabletop role-playing games.

Churning out new content to chase ad revenue can feel like running on a hamster wheel, but with membership you have the chance to break out of this pattern and take charge of your time. You can define for yourself the scope of your offerings by tailoring your membership levels, pricing, benefits, and cadence of new content to the needs of your business, medium, and modality, as well as your personal schedule and creative workflow.

For Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala, hosts of true-crime podcast RedHanded, membership has been a game-changer, allowing them to expand their control over their show and business and be more creative. “Patreon is one of those rare revenue streams where the more we put in, the more return we see. Just one piece of extra bonus content will see an uptick in our pledge and sales numbers,” says Suruthi. “The beautiful thing is that it’s just you and your fans, and there is no way that Hannah and I would be full-time without Patreon.”

Membership is also adaptable and a fertile ground for experimentation. If you have certain resources and content available now, but in six months, you want to offer something totally new or you have a bright new idea, your membership can evolve just like you.

To learn more about the ins and outs of offering membership, keep reading for Common membership doubts dispelled.

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