In the wake of Emily White-gate, everyone has an opinion about money and music. Let’s turn those into an actual set of ethical, practical guidelines that reasonable music fans can turn to, rub their 8” beards and say, “Why yes, I do really love this band and I would like them to be able to make more music! I guess I should give them some money.” I’m just a journalist who loves bands and wants them to keep being bands: please take everything with a grain of salt.
This is a living document: please send suggestions and edits to rawkblog at gmail.com or add in your reblogs.
Let’s start by acknowledging some reasonable facts:
* As outlined by Travis Morrison, people have always stolen recorded music; our appetites for it generally exceed our funds. Let’s just accept this and move on.
* Many so-called music pirates still pay for music. Lots of it, in fact. The biggest offenders’ hard drives are littered with thousands of hoarded albums they will never listen to. That is not a lost sale. The problem is not piracy: the problem is piracy to the exclusion of purchases — as exemplified by Ms. White. If you know people like that, send this to them.
* People spend much more time on legal alternatives ranging from YouTube to Spotify. These alternatives pay artists — barely. Let’s admit that listening to Spotify for free is, while the best thing to ever happen to music listeners in the history of human civilization, a negligible way to actually support artists. These services may be a solution at some future date, but are not now, nor will they be unless consumers opt to pay much, much more. Spotify is a service for consumers and venture capitalists and major label execs, not bands.
* Music takes time and money to make. At an extreme end, yes, Kreayshawn and Grimes can make a track and a video on a laptop someone’s parents purchased in a couple hours. If this is the kind of music you want, and not the next OK Computer, you can close your browser tab right now. Even the most lo-fi music requires hours of writing and rehearsing and gear — from there, costs extend to studio time, engineers, session musicians, graphic design, management, publicity, product manufacturing, t-shirts, venue staff, a booking agent and so on. Even Fugazi has a website to pay for. Also: how about rent? Or dinner? Artists are people with the same needs as us: let’s respect that.
* Let’s agree that makers of great music, the kind that soundtracks our lives and makes us feel something powerful, deserve to be treated as professionals, not people with an especially cool hobby.
* As Chris Ott notes, as an artistic product, music is priceless; as a digital one, it’s worthless. We, as supporters of art, must make the conscious decision to sustain it.
With all that said, here is what I intend to do. Will you join me?
* I will buy my favorite two albums per month, in a way that most directly benefits the artist or their label. (Vinyl is great, but be aware everyone gets a slimmer profit margin on it.) I may buy MP3s from Amazon that I already have and delete them — this is more eco-friendly than chucking the CD, at least. This comes out to 24 albums a year, a large enough number to cover both the year’s better releases and the amount of albums one might realistically listen to thoroughly during that span.
* If a great band offers a pay-what-you-want option, I will give more than they ask.
* If torn between two releases, I will consider who needs the money more — no offense to R. Kelly.
* If I listen to an album five times on a streaming service or via piracy, I will buy it. If I listen to a song 10 times on a streaming service or via piracy, I will buy it. Feel free to adjust these numbers to your liking. Two ways to track this: create a smart playlist in iTunes or sync your Spotify account to the stats-keeping service Last.fm. I have become convinced that if Spotify added buy links and a pop-up reminder to support bands once listeners hit these tallies, payments could drastically increase.
* If I’m “planning” to buy something, I will buy it today, during the album cycle, when the numbers matter most.
* Many of us are bloggers, and receive press tickets and albums for free. Any album or song that goes on a year-end list will be paid for. At a guest-listed show — assuming it’s good and the shirt’s not ugly — I will buy an item of merch.
* I recognize that blogging, reviewing and word of mouth are helpful but by no means replacements for actually giving a band a dollar. We are rapidly becoming a world of influencers with no one left to subsidize (and thus justify) our so-called curation: we’re responsible, too.
In making these suggestions to consumers, I will also make some for bands:
* Price your music fairly. $9.99 feels like a lot for a digital album — even $7.99 feels easier to spring for. We’re struggling, too. Add an “or more” option: someone will give you more.
* People like Kickstarter because they like supporting you and seeing the money go directly into the process. Don’t be scared of this. Don’t take advantage of it with bullshit prizes, either. If you can’t afford to tour everywhere, figure out where your fans are. How? Ask them, on the Internet.
* Give us the extras. Live shows, b-sides, demos, acoustic versions, radio performances. We want it all. Sell them, if you want, but do us a favor and make them easy to get from you. Bradford Cox gives everything away and will have a career forever. (He is also a genius, to be fair.)
* You’re in a band: it’s supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to be entertaining us. Complaining about money makes us not want to give you any. Being transparent about your costs is another story.
* If you’re not making enough money on your music, it’s your fault — or your publicist’s, or your label’s, or somebody on your team. You know this is true because other people have found a way to do it: what are they doing differently? Maybe you spent too much on making your album. Maybe you need to get some more influential bloggers to root for you. Maybe you’re making moody art and they’re making pop for the clubs. If that’s not what you want to do, set your expectations accordingly. The entire world is your possible fan base: keep finding them. It’s also not the worst thing ever to be proud of your records and that time you opened for the Walkmen and call it a day: even NBA players retire.
* Have a website that doesn’t suck where people can listen to your music and give you money for it. Make it easy. (Get to know Bandcamp, Soundcloud and so on.) Put up a donation button — you can do it with PayPal. It will take you two minutes and any dollar you make on it is a bonus.
* Live within your means. Don’t buy dumb shit. Don’t rack up credit card debt. Sublet your apartment when you’re on tour. Ask fans if you can crash on their floor — they’ll say yes, and make you breakfast, too.
* Chances are high that your music sucks. Work on that.
* If a car company wants to license your stupid song, just do it and treat yourself to a new van or some decent hotel rooms on the next tour. Donate it to charity, even. If you’re going to be snobby about it, remember that 1,000 bands would be happy to have the money you’ve just funneled into a music supervisor’s copycat library. You can’t control the way people are going to discover your music: if you turn down Starbucks, they will still add your new single on their playlist. (This really happens.)
There it is. Did we save music?!?!?! Let me know: rawkblog at gmail dot com.
(Related: 14 Ways to Not Be a Terrible Music Fan)
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