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Patronism Interview, Part One: Founder John Pointer on His Platform’s Origins

by WAMM on June 9, 2011 · 6 comments

The concept of patronage is enjoying one hell of a comeback.

Despite being almost as old as art itself, the rise of direct to fan strategies and a hunger for alternative business models has begun to lead more and more pop artists and indie music business professionals to seek out steady streams of income for support, rather than living and dying on sales, touring, and merch.

This, John Pointer hopes, is where Patronism comes in.

The Patronism platform, which is currently in beta, is designed to modernize one of the oldest paradigms of support for the arts. Fans pledge monthly donations, and in exchange gets access to a steady trickle of exclusive content: music, video, images, literally anything that an artist can think of.

So where does one get the idea to make an old concept seem new? I recently sat down with Pointer, Patronism’s founder, to talk about his hopes for the platform, and here’s what happened.

I think it’s amazing that people are thinking seriously about supporting music in this way again. Where did you get the idea to start Patronism?
Basically, there were three separate paths that converged. First, digital distribution was the future, and that was something that I saw as soon as Napster launched in 1997. I recognized it was really bad news for people whose business was distribution of product. But it was really good news for those of us who couldn’t get onto those distribution platforms for lack of a clear way to market us to the masses. So basically your followers became your distributors. Awesome. That’s great for me. But monetizing it: not so easy.

So first was digital distribution. The second was a comment my dad made. I had a couple of nationally distributed television commercials, starting in around 2003, and was making a lot of money for the first time in my life. But because of all the strange things I do with music, commercials are more adventurous with music than record labels. Because they want to attract attention, whereas ironically, record labels want to not attract attention. They want to just slip into your life and fit in everywhere and have 99% of the public try and buy you. Commercials want to get a really emotional response out of you, and so they pick more interesting things than a commercial record label, normally. So it was a natural fit that I wound up doing these commercials. But that’s capitalizing on my skills, it’s not really expressing my heart, and at that moment my dad really changed the music industry for me with one small phrase.

He was really proud of me, and he said, “Oh Johnny, I always told you I’d drive your limo when you were famous.” And I said, “Famous, schmamous, Dad, I just wish I could make a living.” To which he responded, “Johnny, artists have never made a living. They’ve always had patrons.” And that was important to me, but I didn’t know what to do with it yet. That was the second element

A reminder that donating to a good cause can be its own reward: the Obama-Biden campaign

The third element came together in 2008, y’know we had the presidential elections, and the country was separated, and we all had our sparring partners, and I was supporting Obama and cheering for him and funding him. But one of my more conservative friends said something that was really interesting, too, when he said, “You’re not going to get what you paid for with that guy.” And that struck me as odd, because [it seemed to me that] I get what I paid for as I pay him. And that really opened my eyes.

I thought, “Why is that?” Giving him money is what I get for my money. What is that? How does that equation work? And then I realized that because I believed in what he’s doing, and there’s a part of me that wanted to feel alive through resonating with it, and the best way to do that is to make sure he can still do it. So I give him the money knowing that it’s going toward his being able to continue to do the thing I think is cool. And of course it immediately snapped into my head that that is what musicians do.

Patronage is the act of creating meaning in your life through supporting something that is meaningful to you, and then digital distribution puts it all on one platform, so that’s how Patronism was born. Digital distribution, ongoing revenue stream, and the difference between patronage and consumption. Those were the three things that launched Patronism.

Next: Part two.

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