Jack Conte, probably best known for popularizing the VideoSong music format with his catchy, clever, and well constructed songs, has launched a new service that might change the way artists of all kinds bring home the bacon.

For years now, the issue of easily copied and distributed data has been plaguing artists and other copyright holders. The arrival of data and media sharing systems like BitTorrent and YouTube have been alternately heralded as the death of the music industry as we know it, and as field-levelling tools that would allow new artists of all kinds to connect with their fans.

Either way, many people in film and music have been struggling with the problem of creating new funding models that don’t rely on every fan paying a fixed fee for a CD or DVD, and that allow for fans to freely share media (because they’re doing that anyway) while still letting the artists pay the rent.

I’ve often thought one potential solution, however amusing it may sound, is to return to the centuries old practice of patronage. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, and earlier in Japan and other Southeast Asian countries, it was common for a wealthy individual to support an artist (or two) allowing them to produce plays, music, books, poetry, or paintings that wouldn’t otherwise generate an income for the artist. The model worked because artists could create art for art’s sake without having to worry about whether it could be easily sold, and the patron received recognition for supporting a vital part of society.

Conte seems to agree that this could work again, and has built a service to make it possible. Patreon allows fans to pledge an amount of money they choose, to be paid to their favourite artists every time the artist produces a piece of content. It’s crowd-sourced patronage that Conte likens to an ongoing Kickstarter for smaller projects, and several artists are already using it to get funding that would have been difficult or impossible to get before.