Ottawa-born, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sophie D’Orléans launched her first single with a live performance on March 8, 2020, just days before Ottawa Public Health announced the city’s first case of COVID-19. Two weeks later, the city shut down non-essential businesses, declaring a state of emergency.
After spending years studying music and anthropology, rock climbing in British Columbia, and travelling across Latin America, D’Orléans (whose stage name is a nod to her hometown of Orleans) had returned to Ottawa with the intent of delving fully into her music.
“Building an artist’s career takes a long time, so a home community that supports you is really important,” says D’Orléans. “I wanted to move back to somewhere I could see myself staying long term, and that’s what brought me back here.” D’Orléans started teaching music at Mouvement d’implication francophone d’Orléans (MIFO) and slowly integrating into the community. But the whirlwind of lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and reopening plans left her lacking the sense of purpose and drive she derives from performing for a live audience.
“I was kind of in a phase of not finishing songs. I was just starting bits here and there,” says D’Orléans. “When you don’t have any live shows, you miss having people coming up to you saying they liked your song or telling you how your performance moved them. Without that connection, it’s easy to feel like what you’re creating is not life-altering or important.”
D’Orléans tried to engage with her audience through social media platforms, but the medium didn’t satisfy her craving for connection. “When you post on social media, sometimes you get no traction, no comments. You don’t get any feedback and you don’t get to really know how people feel about the song you shared. You never really know if people actually want to support you or if they’re just sharing your post to be nice.”
D’Orléans found hope when she stumbled upon UK artist Orla Gartland’s page on Patreon, an online subscription platform that enables artists to earn a stable income from “Patrons” who pay a monthly fee to receive access to exclusive content. Patreon’s mission resonated with D’Orléans, and in 2021, she launched her own page, The Treehouse. While D’Orléans initially created the page as an experiment, only garnering support from family and friends, at the end of the year, with the end of the pandemic still nowhere in sight, D’Orléans kicked the project into high gear. She hired a graphic designer, HeyJosée, to help her create a unique look for the Treehouse, setting it apart from her Facebook page, Instagram, and website. She created three membership tiers, each providing different rewards to patrons in exchange for their contribution, ranging from receiving access to original song demos to receiving links to monthly live streams, where they can meet, hang out, and listen to her perform her songs live.
D’Orléans has never looked back. The Treehouse has not only allowed her to secure a stable income to fund her projects, but it has also helped her develop new skills, find the motivation to write and record new songs, and even connect with her fans more meaningfully than ever. “It’s a much more direct relationship. When you’re on Patreon and you have people supporting you and contributing financially to your success, it’s such a warm and soft feeling,” says D’Orléans. “It’s a small but tight-knit community, and it gives me hope for my future career. It’s empowering.”
The Treehouse has also helped D’Orléans find pride in her creations and throw them into the world even when she doesn’t feel that they are perfect. “When I record vocals, I’m so picky with every little thing. Patreon has helped me accept that at some point you have to go with the best take and learn to let go. It gives me a reason to finish my songs. I can’t let my patrons down, they’re my team now!”
Although the looming presence of a monthly deliverable might seem intimidating to some, D’Orléans says the benefits of the platform largely outweigh the pressure to produce. “There’s nothing more rewarding than connecting directly with people that believe in your music and that want to help you succeed and want to support you.” D’Orléans’ advice for other artists considering joining Patreon? Focus on the things you’re already doing. “Don’t pick something you have to start doing just so you can have a Patreon. Offer things that you’re already working on. And just go for it! What do you have to lose?”