This is a combination essay and music review. If you’re more interested in Jenny and Tyler’s latest music than the state of the music industry, skip to the paragraph starting with “So you may be thinking”.
I know three things about the current state of the music industry:
1. People want to hear new music.
2. Business models are changing.
3. Music bloggers haven’t stopped writing about music.
The forward-thinking indie-folk/indie-rock duo Jenny & Tyler understand all of these trends and have come up with an impressive way to respond to all three. Album One [Patreon] gives the people what they want in a way that makes monetary sense for the duo and in a format that bloggers can write about. Everybody wins!
The thing J&T use to pull this coup off is right there in the title: Album One [Patreon] is only available if you’re a patron of Jenny and Tyler’s Patreon account. (However, you can see a trailer for the album on Facebook.) For those unfamiliar with Patreon, it’s a subscription service where fans of an artist can pledge to pay money to the artist on a set schedule (per month, per piece of media, etc.) in return for a reward. Jenny and Tyler are using Patreon to record and release a new song at the incredibly prolific rate of one a week, every week. All listeners who subscribe to the Patreon get to hear and download these songs. [I pay $5 a month–roughly $1 per song, or basically iTunes rates. (Remember iTunes? Good times.)] As a result of this process, Jenny and Tyler are guaranteed some monthly income and listeners get 4-5 new Jenny and Tyler songs a month.
So that’s how Jenny and Tyler give the people more new music in a sustainable way. But Patreon music is tough to review: the music lives behind a paywall, arrives incrementally over a long period of time, and often represents the sort of work not really intended for review (such as demos, never-gonna-be-released b-sides, live takes, etc.). To compound these logistical troubles, most music reviewers don’t have enough business income to subscribe to the Patreon account of every band they want to review music from. As such, this is the first Patreon account I’ve ever covered at Independent Clauses, despite the fact that I know the service well enough to fund a non-IC project of my own.
Jenny and Tyler have so far made two savvy moves with their Patreon:
a. releasing high-quality, “real” songs and
b. packaging the first 10 songs they released on Patreon as an album.
In eschewing goofy b-sides, live recordings, listener updates, and other types of content that can all (very satisfyingly) populate a Patreon, they are experimenting with how they get paid for the main work that they do.* Making Patreon central to their work instead of peripheral to it is an important, savvy move. They are certainly not the only people doing this, but it makes the other savvy move even more smart. By packaging their songs released on Patreon as an album, it shows off that the work they are doing on the Patreon is not extraneous to their discography: if you want to be a person following J&T’s full discography, Patreon is the way they are releasing this latest era of their work. It is an important message that helps let people know that the duo is serious about Patreon and hopefully will transform more people who were initially skeptical into subscribers.
The second thing it does is show to the media and bloggers that they want this work to be considered for media in the same way as a studio album. (And I know how to review albums.) The album has credits, liner notes, lyrics, album art, and more–all the materials I would expect from a studio album. I’m picking up this review of my own accord instead of getting a pitch from J&T, but I would love to see musicians compile content from Patreon accounts as J&T have done and then take the next step of pitching it to me for review. I want this to happen because it meets this blog’s goals: it gives me more stuff to review, keeps me on the cutting edge of developments in the field, and allows me to help artists (by promoting the artist’s money-making Patreon). I have always wanted to help artists here at Independent Clauses–in an era where “go buy this” is archaic and press quotes are getting less valuable than they used to be, I’m looking to find the best ways to help artists get up and on in their careers.
So you may be thinking: “Okay, so, cool, music business, yes, neat, but I’m reading a music review blog. Is the music good? Is this just an odds-and-ends affair? Is the quality low?” To wit: yes, no, no. Album One shows off the increasingly mature songwriting and rock-solid production skills of Jenny & Tyler. The song-a-week constraints that they’re working with don’t diminish the quality of the songwriting or recording one bit: instead, these songs are sharp, well-arranged, and carefully developed.
I’ve been following Jenny and Tyler’s career via reviews here at Independent Clauses for a long time. Their earliest work was light, warm, fun folk-pop, while mid-era work such as Faint Not created huge, dramatic towers of sound from folk underpinnings. Album One encompasses both of these poles: “When the Sun Shines Bright” is a beachy, sun-dappled, easygoing tune; highlight “Stars Shone Over Nashville” is about as sonically thundering as anything they’ve yet put together. The rest of the album falls somewhere between: “I Miss You” is as bass-heavy as it is emotionally heavy, opener “Wrote Us a Story” has a romantic lyric and a deftly handled piano/guitar arrangement that sounds bigger than just two instruments, and “Hills and Valleys” is a yearning solo tune with Jenny behind a guitar. The quality of these songs is very high: “Stars Shone,” “Wrote Us a Story” and “When You Awake” are some of the most emotionally moving, melodically interesting songs Jenny and Tyler have yet penned.
But what’s more amazing than the previously-proven fact that Jenny and Tyler can write great songs is that the song-a-week arrangements are often complex, layered, and dense. Patreon supporters are not getting raw demos, scratch tracks, or castoff songs. Tyler is becoming quite adept as a producer and engineer, experimenting with approaches and instruments (like the electronic beats in “Home”) in a satisfying way. The mixes are well-developed, keeping the vocals at the fore but also allowing the instruments to shine. In short, these songs are the real deal.**
This approach to Patreon (and Patreon overall) is not for every artist. Some people permanently need an editor and should not be releasing as much music as Jenny and Tyler are here. But Jenny and Tyler shine in this medium: producing lots of work in a short span of time has tightened their work instead of lessening it. Their musical muscles are trained and flexed here. I’m excited to see what the next album brings. If you’re a fan of emotionally-driven folk-pop with full arrangements, you should be supporting this Patreon and getting Album One. This album specifically is a strong continuation of themes they have developed in their career, and their overall Patreon project is a thoughtful way to develop their career. It helps Jenny and Tyler be more sustainable financially, and you’ll get a lot of Jenny and Tyler music. What isn’t great about that?
*There is a longer discussion to be had here about what the role of the album is in a Patreon world, but that is an essay for another day. Suffice it to say for now: I think that you can do things with studio albums that you can’t do with Patreon albums and vice versa. Both have a place.
**Now, there’s definitely room for “definitive versions” of these songs to appear: there’s more work in a studio that could result in something closer to the hugely coordinated song choices, lyrical themes, and sonic contours of Faint Not. This is a different take on Jenny and Tyler than the studio, and it is fantastic.