As I was sifting through my inbox this morning I came across a message from one of my At Home In The Big Lonesome kickstarter backers who asked me the following question:
I’m 40 something and someone that still buys music…Massive collection of digitized records. But in last few years, because I listen to all that music in playlists and had one too many iTunes library losses… I moved to almost 100% Spotify. Building tons of playlists and constantly mining music to find artists to go see live. Bottom line… how can I just give $ for my perceived value of the music to artists without buying a CD I don’t need anymore? Knowing streaming doesn’t really get $ to artists like buying a physical record but maybe paypal or text to pay or a Merch table / page link to give $ to support intellectual property?
First of all, this person is an angel for even asking this question.
Societally, we tend to place a value on a commodity that is equal to the value that has been set for it in a particular marketplace. In the 90’s, the value that was set for something in my line of work– the compact disc– was a heady $18 or so. There’s a reason why, on Music Row, you’ll hear people wistfully mention “90’s Money”, because the music business was all but printing it in those days. Hand over fist, the business was absolutely killing it. The pricing in those days reflected something that we’ve more famously seen in the fields of tech or real estate at various times over the past few decades: a bubble. Bubbles, as we know, burst.
Enter the rise of file sharing.
When attempts within the music business to wrestle some sort of income away from the “free ninety-nine” mindset finally managed to beat the “free” through the convenience of Apple’s successful iTunes marketplace, it ended up hanging on to the “ninety-nine” part of the deal. That wasn’t a necessarily bad thing as far as price-correction and the overhead of physical product goes. A good living could still be made, and for independent artists like myself the necessity of needing a label to distribute my music to brick and mortar stores suddenly disappeared. I wasn’t moving albums merely from the side of the stage anymore– I was selling MP3’s all around the world without ever having set foot in many of those markets.
The casualties of this shift was, sadly, those brick and mortar record stores. And that is why, as a caveat to this missive I will say that if you’re lucky enough to have a good record store in your neighborhood please, for the love of God, buy music there. Go and talk to fellow music fans about what they like and what they’re listening to. Check out the staff picks. Buy some vinyl, and then stream the songs from that album on your phone as you travel… but for my money, the record store is still the ultimate place of person-to-person musical discovery. Regardless of trends in music consumption that kind of interactive discovery remains a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable thing.
And that leads me to the answer I gave my aforementioned questioning angel.
The fact that he feels that streaming a record doesn’t meet his perceived value of the art he enjoys is great. If more people thought like him artists would be in a far more manageable spot, financially. Artists have always depended on their patrons to make ends meet, and there are, as there has always been, different levels of that patronism. If you’re buying a ticket to a show or grabbing a t-shirt from the merch table afterwards, you, my friend, are a patron of the arts. If you’re purchasing a hat and a sticker from someone’s online store, congratulations– you’re a patron of the arts. These things are all by-products of the actual art, of course, but funding the continuation of that art is what they are designed to do.
But there’s an even more important thing you can do if you feel like the art you are enjoying is undervalued by a particular marketplace, and not only is it easy, but it costs you absolutely nothing to do it.
In my opinion, the best way to add value to something you enjoy is to share it with others.
I’m not talking about the kind of sharing you can do with the click of a button on the litany of social media channels to which you subscribe, although that is always helpful and appreciated. The kind of sharing I’m talking about is far more personal than that.
Reach out to people whom you feel would specifically like the art that you like.
Make it personal. Say, “hey, ____, I am totally in love with this record, and knowing what kind of music you like, I thought that you might really dig this if you haven’t found it already.” That kind of thing. A one-on-one introduction. Not only might the simple act of personally sharing something help you feel as if you’re adding value to the art you can so readily and affordably enjoy, but you get to talk to a friend. Remember when we all talked to each other, rather than at each other?
If someone you reach out to ends up digging what you dig, not only does that give the two of you a connection that you perhaps previously didn’t have, but it in turn expands the possibility that the artist that helped create that connection can sell a concert ticket or a t-shirt or a vinyl record by one person. That’s a big deal. One becomes two. Maybe that person– your new convert– then shares it with a friend he or she thinks might enjoy it in the same way that you did. And suddenly one has become three. And so on.
That’s the very definition of a grass-roots movement, and even though the ease and simplicity of online interaction has increased our overall personal networks, that kind of communication pales in comparison to the personal touches of a grass-roots approach.
So, whatever it is that you are in love with at the moment– a record, a movie, an art exhibition, a necklace, a restaurant, a play… share it with someone if you feel moved to do so.
It feels good, right?