Patreon: The Bane of YouTube, or today’s Bar Cover?

I recently decided to cancel my Patreon donation to two bigger YouTube channels.  It wasn’t that I was unhappy with the content they were producing, quite the contrary, they produce excellent videos and I hope nothing but the best.  I decided that my low budget of $6 a month was better put to use helping a small but supremely talented YouTube content creator whose content I regularly consume.  I figure my $6 split between the two big channels means a lot less to them than $6 to a smaller channel who is still getting it’s start.  I’m not saying that the bigger channels don’t value my contribution, it’s just a drop in the bucket to their $800 a month already contributed by countless other viewers compared to the mere $20-something bucks the smaller channel is receiving.  You may ask: is that smaller channel begging me for their money? I absolutely do not feel that way.

Before I started making videos on YouTube and writing articles for Gaming Rebellion, I was (well, still am, just not as active) in a small-time hard rock band that played several times a year at different venues across metro St. Louis.  Very often, I would push to play free shows just for exposure, but my other band-mates who had been in the game a lot longer than me, were focused on making a few bucks at every performance.  I always thought of this as some sort of begging, asking a bar owner to pay us money, or asking patrons to pay a cover, to watch us play music that wasn’t the Foo Fighters or Metallica.  I was fresh out of Active Duty Army, and I don’t think I’d ever paid a cover to get into a small-time show at a bar before.

After a couple of mildly successful gigs spanning the course of a year, the band wanted to record.  Recording means paying someone money to listen to you play your songs over and over again instrument by instrument until you get it all right, then they have to edit it all together and fix any mistakes that you may have (absolutely likely) made.  It isn’t inexpensive.  In fact, we paid quite a LOT of money to several different producers to record songs for us.  We’re still not finished with the album we set off to make a few years ago.  Partly due to finances, and largely due to time.  The great part about this whole process, or what we’ve finished so far, is that a lot of the cost was cushioned by all that bar money we made playing gigs.  On top of that, the bar money would go to helping with instrument maintenance cost and gas.

We started sending out demo disks to try and get the attention of a record company.  We put our videos on YouTube and spammed social media.  We never got anywhere, and as the band members started taking on more responsibilities in their personal lives, the band took a backseat.  While we still have yet to finish the album, the whole experience is one I’ll never regret, and while at times frustrating, it was a lot of fun.

I’m getting off track a bit, but my point is this: people willingly gave us money to watch us play music at bars. I can guarantee you that no one misses that $2 to $5 bucks it cost to get into those shows we played at today.  We didn’t get rich off the money, and all it did was to help some of the costs of playing in a band, so we could continue to play out and show people a good time.  We played a lot of free shows that the same people came to, and we were always grateful of everything we earned.  I can’t see how this is any different from people asking for donations on Patreon or through Twitch streams, or what have you.

There are plenty of cases where people just set up a Patreon, a KickStarter, or a GoFundMe account without any proven track record of producing quality material.  While I’ve only seen a handful of these, I completely agree that this is kind of silly, but they are paid exactly for the content they produce, which is nothing.  But the entire train of thought that says content creators who set up a Patreon and ask for donations are “e-begging” is a bit misguided.  While the Patreon model can be misused or even abused, it’s certainly no different from paying a cover to get into a bar to see that local band you like.  Likely, that band you like has played countless free shows, some of which you likely attended.  The difference here is, you don’t have to pay the cover.  The cover is absolutely optional.  If you like the YouTuber’s videos enough to watch, but not enough to pay, you don’t have to pay, and that YouTuber isn’t going to think any less of you or judge you for not doing so.

One point of contention is: why would you pay someone to do what you also do yourself?  Well, first of all, you don’t have to.  Second, because maybe you just want to “buy them a beer” or “coffee” or whatever because you respect them or have a friendship with them.  Third: maybe you see something special in their content that could conceivably become a bigger thing, and you want to help foster that growth and encourage them to succeed.  If you’d rather put those dollars to use on your own content, by all means, do so.  ESPECIALLY if you don’t have a lot of money to help other people’s causes.  Look out for number one, but don’t get jealous when people are paying your fellow YouTuber money when you didn’t even bother to ask.

Maybe your argument is that content creators should create content purely because they love doing it, with no thought of making money for themselves.  Well, unfortunately the world we live in requires money and time.  I can tell you that it takes me at least 2 weeks to record, write, voice, edit, and polish my YouTube videos.  On top of that, I also regularly write 1000+ word articles.  This takes a TON of time.  While I absolutely love what I’m doing, sometimes it’s kind of hard to justify the time I put into it not only to myself, but my loved ones, when I’m not actually generating any income from it.  I don’t personally have a current Patreon page, but I absolutely know that others who do feel similarly to me.  They love what they create, they love the relationships they make when creating and producing content, they love the attention they get from making content (oh yeah, you can’t deny that one. If you’re putting something out on YouTube, you’re looking for attention. Don’t try to argue that.), but as the old adage goes: time = money.  If I’m not seeing any kind of return on the amount of work I put into my content, I may just have to let it go and get back to yard work in the evening.   While that return may be purely the social enjoyment of making lots of new friends (which I have and I love all of them), sometimes it would be nice for at least a bit of monetary gain to offset the costs.

In some cases, content creators start their journey into the YouTubez specifically just because they want to share things that they love.  That’s great! That’s what I did! That’s probably what YOU did…you know, if you make YouTube videos.  Some of these YouTubers start making stuff that gets attention.  They get better and better.  They start to realize that they may actually have some sort of future in this.  They don’t expect a free ride, because they put a ton of work into their content.  Maybe they don’t think the Patreon will completely fund them. I mean, it’s not sustainable, but maybe they see it as a launch pad to a better future.  You know what you can put on a marketing resume?

Built social media platform to talk about video games and video game related issues, and successfully garnered income.

I don’t know, I don’t write resume’s for a living, but I think you get the point.

If you think that any of this is still some kind of shady business, then just don’t donate.  You can always just justify others giving by saying “people can do with their money what they choose”.  In the end, it’s YOUR money.  Most content creators aren’t going bat an eye on someone who doesn’t want to give them money, in fact, a lot probably don’t even expect to make any money off of donations in the first place! Sure, you have your dickheads out there, but I’m sure you can weed those out from the people who are genuinely grateful for any and all support they get, monetary or otherwise.

Lots of people are just asking for money, but that doesn’t cheapen the quality content that others are making and putting a lot of legitimate effort into.  If you think your money isn’t going to the content that is being created, pull your donation.  If you think it’s going towards someone who is just trying to slack off on their civic responsibilities and just play video games for a living without actually producing anything of any real value or quality, don’t give them money.  If you don’t think that anything involving making video games is valuable to a community or whatever…don’t give them money.

I think the whole question is this: do you value what content creators are putting out there as a genuine form of entertainment?  Or do you just see this as some passing fad or a hobby that’s gone out of control?  The future is here, folks, and more and more people watch YouTube as their chosen form of entertainment over cable TV. Nice thing is: you don’t have to pay for YouTube outside of your Internet cost, but you still have to pay for cable TV and Netflix.  The money you may or may not choose to donate goes toward shows you want to watch, unlike with cable TV, where you’ll pay a ton for a huge amount of crappy content, and you don’t really get a lot of options on where to pick and choose.  Whatever.  I’m getting off my soapbox.



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