Band member Caroline Lavelle finds a lifeline in Patreon
Personally connecting to fans, fuelling her creativity during the pandemic
Monday, March 15, 2021
By Diane Sewell for The Loreena McKennitt Community
Like so many other performing artists, Caroline Lavelle has had to adapt to the changing landscape of the music industry and by extension modify the ways she makes a living. The highly-acclaimed cellist, composer, singer/songwriter, who has been touring and performing with Loreena for over 25 years, has experienced first-hand the seismic shifts in the industry she relies on for her livelihood.
“Caroline is a world-class artist,” says Loreena. “She’s unusually flexible, capable of mastering everything from classical to folk music. It is always an immense pleasure to work with her.”
An accomplished and versatile artist, Caroline’s first paid gig came at age 13 when she was commissioned to play the cello during a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Decades later, she has three solo albums under her belt, her own record label Ringing Tree Records, and is part of the trio, Secret Sky (featuring two of Loreena’s other band members, Brian Hughes and Hugh Marsh). Caroline has also performed with a wide variety of acts, including Radiohead, Peter Gabriel, Nigel Kennedy, Massive Attack, Mary Black and The Chieftains, to name but a few.
Despite these impressive successes, she’s had to constantly adapt to the music industry’s punishing new business model, which has effectively led to the demise of a once more personal and product-dominated business (CDs) in favour of its replacement, a more impersonal and mainly transactional service-based business (streaming).
Caroline’s music is available on a number of streaming platforms, but most of her income –like so many other artists – is tied to live performances. When COVID-19 took centre stage in early 2020, tours and live concerts literally evaporated. According to a recent story on BBC.com, music creators stand to lose two-thirds of their income because of the pandemic.
So while COVID-19 has dried up the biggest source of income for most artists, Caroline has managed to find a kind of lifeboat, with some unexpected benefits. She recently joined a membership-based platform called Patreon. Launched in 2013, it allows fans to pay artists a monthly ‘donation’ in exchange for exclusive content, access to the artist and a variety of “engaging experiences” all in hope of creating a consistent revenue stream for the artist.
“Patreon has been marvellous for me,” says Caroline. “The absence of touring has been very challenging, but getting a small amount every month from Patreon really helps keep the wolf from the door – plus I love working this way, directly with my patrons. It’s also shown me I can write and write and write. I’m finding a voice.
“I’ve also experienced great kindness and interest from people all over the world. This is about so much more than streaming and I feel very safe, very comfortable on this platform. People love the music, but also the community.”
So far, Caroline has posted 12 new original songs on her Patreon page, plus bonus instrumentals. There’s a new song every month, plus weekly bonuses.
The incentive to produce content for Patreon has also stimulated her productivity. “It has stopped me from procrastinating. I’ve been writing a new song every month. In fact, since April 2020 I’ve written two new albums worth of material. I love working this way. Every day I get up and write, plus I’m now taking a mixing/mastering course.” She recently sent some of the new songs to London-based record producer John Reynolds who is now interested in producing her new record – which one of her patrons has generously offered to finance.
In addition to her music, Caroline also posts video walks to the platform where she talks about the history, myths and legends of local landmarks in the south of England where she lives. Always with a charming personal touch, one of them even features an appearance by her mother.
“These are certainly challenging times, but for now Patreon has been good for me. It’s almost like the very old days when musicians had patrons,” she says. “There has been a massive transition within the music industry, there’s no question about that. The changes we’ve seen are crazy.”
Note: This story on Caroline is the first in a series of features profiling musicians who have performed with Loreena.