How to be A Hero For Independent Music

Small venues are closing.  The Label system is kicking and screaming.  No one’s quite sure what anything means. Music  is “free”, but at what cost and to whom? You like music.  You want to help. Here’s some ideas about how you can add your veggie to the soup:

  1. Buy music as directly as you can from the artist.  If you can’t get it at a show, buy it through their website. The fewer people/machines in the middle, the more money goes directly to the artist.  The more ENERGY goes to the artist, too, as it feels pretty good to be looked in the eye as someone hands you their money and says, “I loved your show.  I can’t wait to listen to this album.” That’s gas in the tank in all the ways.

  2. If you listen to a song or an album frequently on a streaming platform, please buy it from the artist in addition.  These platforms pay fractions of cents for every listen and artists still need to pay the same amount to produce each track, regardless of how much we get paid for you to listen to them.  

  3. Go to shows.  Buy tickets to said shows.  If you know you’re going, buy your tickets in advance.  (I can’t overstate how helpful this last piece is.)

  4. Invite friends to shows - as in, physically bring them with you.  Maybe buy more than your ticket (if you can) and then have your friends reimburse you.  A concert ticket makes a great gift; I do not remember anything anyone gave me for my thirteenth birthday, but I certainly remember seeing Dar Williams open for Joan Baez at the Wiltern that year.

  5. Invite friends to shows via social media.  Sure, share the event, but actually invite people, too.  Message, text, call, send a pigeon, even better. Is someone you love playing in your town?  Invite your community. Is someone you love playing in some random place where you know two people?  Invite those two people. Augmenting the numbers online where people like venue owners and booking agents can see the numbers actually helps artists get hired.  

  6. Speaking of which: this Independent Musician you love, have you liked all their social media?  (Facebook, IG, Twitter, YouTube, etc.?) Great. Thank you. Now invite your friends to like their social media.  The point here is two-fold: you can help this artist’s numbers, for the free price of three minutes and feeling good about yourself.  The REAL point here is also the real point of social media: here’s music you love and you can open other people’s eyes and ears to it.  Everyone wins and the music spreads.

  7. Do you have a dollar?  Do you have a favorite musician?  Do they have a Patreon account? Do you see where we’re heading with this line of questions?

  8. Did you use a song (music, lyrics, both) somewhere?  Did you ask? Please credit the artist up, down, and sideways, AND be sure to pave roads for others to find their way to the artist, themselves.  

  9. Host a house concert.  If you’re at a loss as to how to do this, sit tight as my wee tome “So You Wanna Host a House Concert?”.   Ask people who have hosted before. Here’s what they might tell you: it takes a little work, probably both more and less than you expect, and it’s a ton of fun.  

  10. Have a couch?  Have an extra bedroom?  Going out of town and need someone to check in on your cat?  Love to cook? Have a musician friend on The Road? Hosting a touring musician can be an enormous boon to them - and fun for you.  You just saved that person upwards of $100 - which might be more than they made that night. If you can feed them, so much the better.  Please note: it would be kind of that musician to offer you a ticket to their show - that may or may not be possible for them, depending on if the venue offers them comps (complimentary tickets), or how many.  Feel free to just ask them and be gracious about their answer. Further, the musician may be zonked and show-stoned after their performance. Don’t expect hanging out. On the other hand, the musician may be zany and gab-ready after their show; if you’re not, don’t feel like you have to host the after-after-party.  Just be upfront with what you need, take care of yourself, and everything will go smoother. (Now we’re getting into self-help. Perhaps I should charge more for this…)

  11. If there’s a venue you think would be a good spot for an artist you love, tell them.  “Them” being the venue and the artist. If you have a legitimate way to make this connection, even better!  But even simply telling them each about the other could help.

  12. Share and invite people to the crowdfunding campaigns of the musicians you enjoy.  To repeat: this serves the actual, connective purpose of social media and more people get to hear the music. Again: Invite them individually on whatever platform (s) you use - sharing isn’t all that helpful without the individual nudge.  (Like when there’s an emergency you don’t yell to heaven, you look someone in the eye and say, “Barbara, CALL 911.” Assuming, of course, that the person’s name is actually Barbara.)

  13. If you’re using streaming apps to make playlists, add smaller artists in with larger ones.  It gets people into the algorithms and heard. There’s women on that playlist, right? How about artists of color?  Thought so - right on.

  14. Suggest artists to radio, djs, etc.  Since you bought their CD at that show you went to, you’ve probably also digitized it.  No one uses coasters (no GF has been able to disabuse me of this notion); send the CD (mailing a CD costs less than $3, media rate) to that DJ with a note saying you love the artist, include the genre and potential similar sounds, maybe even the best track.  Once again, you get to feel good about being a Hero for Music for the cost of a few bucks and the removal of a coaster.

  15. If you find yourself somewhere with live music playing and there’s a tip jar and you don’t hate the music, please leave a tip.  If you like the music, leave a bigger tip. If you LOVE the music….you get the picture. So few people seem to know this important truth:  If there is a tip jar in front of a musician, chances are they’re not getting paid by the establishment.  (Or, if they are - which is very kind and pretty unusual - it’s not much.  Maybe enough to cover gas. Definitely not enough to cover Life.) Think of it this way: did you stay for one song?  Leave at least a dollar (the cost of buying a song online). If you stayed for any real length of time, especially if you were really listening and not just feeling unwillingly musically accosted, you might consider leaving an amount equal to that of the cost of a concert ticket - as in, $5-20 dollars.  Does this sound crazy? How much did you spend on your last caffeinated beverage? Ok, I thought so. (Also see Numbers 4, 5, and 6 re: invitations and social media.)

Let’s be mycelial.  Spread the word, spread the love, share the resources, share the music.  Get evangelical for the artists you love and the music they make. And let’s have some fun.

(And if you’ve got more suggestions, bring ‘em on!)