Austin-based bedroom pop band TC Superstar, soon to be playing Austin City Limits, turned to subscription-platform Patreon in a unique way to fund itself during the pandemic.
TC Superstar’s sound is influenced by 80s synthwave and 70s dance music, and they were a finalist in 2019 in Austin Music Awards’ “Best New Austin Band” category. Half the band is musicians, and the other half are dancers who graduated from the University of Texas’ dance school. The audience joins in the dancing at their shows, making them a performance group in addition to a band.
Before Covid-19, the band earned about 90 percent of its revenue from live shows, TC Superstar frontman Connor McCampbell said. They also hosted dance classes at McCampbell’s house, where attendees could learn the choreography that accompanies their music.
“I think part of our larger mission or goal is to bring dance more into the live music scene,” McCampbell said. “That was definitely a bit of the impetus to start the dance classes. Also, we were kind of asking ourselves, you know, ‘What do we have that people are interested in? What skill sets do we have that we can leverage?’”
When the pandemic began, the group initially focused on raising money to support local venues and their staff. They did three performances, live-streamed on Instagram in April and May of 2020.
“That was pretty successful, so we started doing live stream shows where if you became a (subscriber on) Patreon for $10 a month, then you gained access to all of these live stream shows,” said Emily DiFranco, one of TC’s dancers who runs their Patreon.
They decided on $10 because it was about how much people would pay to attend one of their in-person shows before the pandemic.
The band turned to their fans on Instagram (4.2k followers) for support and built up their Patreon page to 22 subscribers. For comparison, Austin-based electronic band Bronze Whale has five Patreon subscribers.
“We had maybe 50 bucks a month or something worth of Patreons before the pandemic,” McCampbell said. “We tried to set one up awhile ago, and never really put much time into it. But in the last year, we kind of doubled down on our energies, started repurposing some old content and trying to find ways to do little remote live streams or that kind of stuff just for Patreon.”
In addition to the live stream performances,TC’s Patreon subscribers gain access to virtual dance classes, behind-the-scenes photos, the band’s documentary from their first tour, early releases of new music, and other exclusive content.
DiFranco said that some of the band’s subscribers don’t care about the exclusive content—they are just there because it is an easy way to support the band. Though they don’t have a huge amount of subscribers, their subscribers are loyal fans, mainly in the higher-paying brackets ($20 per month and $50 per month) on Patreon.
“These people are supporting us and we have to give them something,” DiFranco said. “So we’ve done our best. We also have done improv jam live streams… It’s an hour of Connor, Julio, and Aaron just improvising on different keyboards, synths, pianos. And then me and (head dancer/choreographer) LB did improvised dance.”
DiFranco said the band also did a “show-and-tell,” where members of the band would go on and post something about themselves or a project that they worked on.
Patreon has now become their largest source of funding.
“We just keep asking the Patreons, like ‘What do y’all want?’” McCampbell said. “And a lot of it, I think, is just that it’s really nice to have a private chat with the band, hanging out and talking with everybody after the livestream or something like that.”
Aside from Patreon, the band makes about $100 per month on merchandise, McCampbell said. The money they make goes to paying off their van and other band expenses; the band members don’t collect income off of it. They all have full-time jobs outside of TC.
“Retail, gig work, design, education, hospitality, we do it all,” McCampbell said.
(Connor) buys a new synth for every album so it doesn’t sound the same. It’s still TC, but it’s just like the next chapter.
-Emily DiFranco, dancer and Patreon operator, TC Superstar
The band will receive $1,000 to play ACL plus some tickets.
In the coming months, TC Superstar plans to release a new album called, “As Seen on TV,” and begin playing live shows again.
In comparison to their last album, “R&D,” DiFranco said the new album is different sonically.
“It still tells a story the same way that R&D did,” DiFranco said. “Connor is always onto the next thing. He buys a new synth for every album so it doesn’t sound the same. It’s still TC, but it’s just like the next chapter. There’s a new color palette, so I’m really excited.”
And as far as what the “TC” stands for in the band’s name, which some have speculated is a reference to their first hit song, “Toyota Corolla,” McCampbell leaves it a mystery.
“You know, that’s the million-dollar question: What came first, the chicken or the egg?” McCampbell said.
Curious about the top Patreon-creators making it in Austin? Read about them here.