Today's post is by Brian McTear, co-founder of Philadelphia's Weathervane Music Organization -- a nonprofit community that works with independent musicians to support and advance their careers. Weathervane's efforts revolve around a program called the Weathervane Music Project Series: a curated series of audio and video recordings featuring the artists, their music and artfully produced video of the actual recording sessions.
When some people think about the lives of musicians, they may still imagine wild parties and fancy sports cars. There may be a party from time to time, but for most musicians, pursuing their art isn't exactly the fast track to a life of luxury. With the traditional music industry in a state of what could safely be called disarray, there isn't a ready-made recipe for sustainable careers. The good news is that people still put their hearts and souls into making music, and there are still plenty of fans out there that want to support creators. But what's the best way to do so?
With so many things in flux, it's not always easy to know which method of fan support will have the biggest impact. That's why we figured it might be useful to take a look at some of the ways you can support your favorite artists and how it can positively impact those musicians' bottom lines -- directly or indirectly.
- Go see your favorite bands play live. In the music industry, an artist is rarely handed money directly. In pretty much every other situation, a band gets its cut of revenues only after everyone else in line is paid. (And that can be a long line!) But when it comes to playing live, most get paid right when the night is over. Because of this I say that if you are friends with a band and they offer to put you on their guest list, you should. . . Decline! Pay instead! You will show your class in spades.
- When you go see shows, buy hard copies of your favorite bands' music. Most smaller signed artists get "tour support" from their record label in the form of free records to sell at shows. Buying a CD from the band means they can buy gas to get them to the next gig. Conversely, if they don't sell them, all they're really doing is wasting gas driving them around the country. So if you are offered a free CD or vinyl LP (because naturally they want you to hear their music, right?), opt to pay for it. You are doing the right thing, and saving them from themselves.
- Buy your favorite bands' merchandise. Very often, artists pay for their t-shirts themselves, or even MAKE them with their own hands. This means that they did, in fact, shell out the money for materials, and possibly someone else's labor if they used a printer. Help them break even, or maybe even turn a profit! This is another rare opportunity in the scheme of things for the musicians to be first in line. Help them out!
- Purchase downloads legitimately. Purchasing digital downloads from services like iTunes, Amazon, eMusic or Rhapsody also puts money in artists' pockets. When it comes to digital downloads, there's a wide spectrum of rates, and some artists profit more than others. Although there's a common assumption that artists only make pennies on their iTunes or Rhapsody sales, this depends entirely on the label/distribution situation. The more independent an artist is -- and certainly if the artist is unsigned and they self-released using Tune-Core (a service that doesn't take a cut of the sales) the greater the percentage they stand to make from the download.
- Use a legitimate streaming service such as Rhapsody, Napster, Pandora or Spotify (not yet available in the US). If you require an unfathomably large collection of music, this is the way to go. Not only are they safe for your computer, but since these services are properly licensed, the songwriter, publisher, performer and copyright owner (usually a record label) get paid for each stream of their song. It's currently a small amount, but if you play it again and again, it adds up! Beyond payment, there are many valuable statistics and web metrics an artist can access when you use these services. This way, they know where people are digging their stuff and can plan their tours and releases accordingly.
- Contribute to Band Fundraisers -- Gone are the days of record advances, at least for new artists. Unfortunately, this is how they paid to record and to go on tour. Now, many artists are using fundraising sites such as Kickstarter.com to raise money in advance of these activities. Enjoy the opportunity to support the music you love before it even gets made! Another huge class act!
- Subscribe to artists' fan clubs. By doing so, you not only get first access to news and tour dates, you also help to legitimize and support one of the smartest, most industrious things an artist can do for their career.
- Join a band's email list. By simply becoming a fan on their Facebook Fan Page, or their Myspace Page, the artist doesn't have your data, Facebook and Myspace do! If for some reason they lose their account with either, they lose you and you lose them. It's a simple process, and most artists know not to email you constantly!
- Support nonprofits that support musicians. I can truly say that far too few musicians are participating in conversations about where this industry is going. The inevitable result will be that musicians, again, end up at the far end of the line. Organizations such as (..ahem) Future of Music Coalition, Weathervane Music and others are staffed by people who are dedicated to making sure that artists can achieve sustainable and lucrative careers in music.
- Stop using Torrent sites. Go back and buy the records of the artists you fell in love with by using Torrent sites. The simple act of paying for the music that you love will surely buy back your ticket to heaven. And of course, we don't even need to go into the dangers of downloading from Torrent sites, anyway.
Brian McTear is a musician, producer, recording engineer and the owner of Miner Street Recordings, the Philadelphia recording studio revered by independent musicians around the country. In the 13 years that McTear has worked in Philadelphia, he has produced over 100 records, has played a large part in the resurgence and success of the independent music community in Philadelphia, and the national and international success of several recording artists. McTear writes songs and sings in the band Bitter bitter weeks, and plays guitar with The Novenas.