Thursday, September 15, 2011

Peer2Peer Pressure: How to Support Your Favorite Indie Artist

10 Simple Steps to Support your Favorite Artists

When The Musical Disconnect first started I had several readers ask me to provide some suggestions about what they could do to support their favorite DIY or Indie musicians. Now that we have looked at some of the challenges facing artists in today's music environment, this might be a good time to look at what you can do to help. Most of these suggestions will seem pretty obvious, because they are. As with many things, the best answers to a problem are the most obvious.

The following suggestions are not complete by any means, but they touch on the most important things you can do as a music fan to help your favorite artists.

#1. Buy Directly From the Artist
Whenever possible, buy directly from the artist, either in person or through their website. This is the #1 way you can support an artist. The artist gets a higher percentage of the sale, which they will use beyond covering the cost of manufacturing the CD, but towards living expenses, like paying rent or a mortgage, buying food, car payments, gas, heating and cooling, etc. As an added benefit they get to see who is buying their music and where their buyers are from. This comes in handy when they decide to plan a tour for example. The more buyers in your area, the higher the chances they will set up performances and workshops in your area. Buying directly from an artist pays major dividends.

#2. Buy Physical Products
Usually this means buying a CD, a video, a book and nowadays it could even mean buying vinyl. Artists always make a better margin on physical product. Digital Downloads, while having less costs associated their distribution, still generate less income than physical product.

I know that for some people this is hard to do. We live in a culture of instant gratification which iTunes and other digital retail outlets cater to, but this happens at the expense of the artist.

#3. Don’t “Share” Music by Copying It
Making copies of your CDs, or legally purchased downloads, for friends literally takes sales, and therefore income, away from that artist whose music you are sharing. Selling music is still the main way an artist generates income and makes a living. At worst “sharing” is just a euphemism for something else.

Don’t believe the hype. Musicians, especially Indie musicians, make most of their income through music sales. Not touring, or selling merchandise. Most small genre musicians can’t afford the personnel, time and capital to put together a large tour (not to mention their audience is most likely small) and they certainly don’t make any money from selling Tee Shirts. This is even more true of artists that do not work in the four most popular styles of Rock, Pop, Hip Hop and Country. The more esoteric the genre, the less likely the audience is buying merchandise.

How do you know if it is legal, and therefore won’t hurt the artist, to make a copy of music you have purchased for yourself? There is a very simple guideline you can follow:
  • If the copy is for yourself that’s okay.
  • If the copy is for someone else, that’s not okay.

#4. Don’t Accept Copies of Music From Other People
If some one offers to make you a copy of a CD or some downloaded songs just say “No thanks”. Tell them, “That is not cool!”, and let them know that you respect the artist and the all the effort that they put in to making the music to accept an illegal copy.

If You Just Have to Buy Digital
I realize that a lot of people only buy digital now. There are many different reasons, but whatever they, how you choose to buy digital music still makes a big difference.

#5. Buy Digitally Direct
If the artist sells downloads on their site purchase it directly from them. True you might have to do a little more work to get it into iTunes but who would you rather give your money to? The artist or Steve Jobs? (Even if he's not running Apple he's still making money from the company.) In case you don’t know, iTunes takes 30% off the top of any money you spend in the iTunes store. Then the digital distributor takes their cut. Then if the artist is signed to a label they take their cut. It is only after all this that the artist gets what’s left over. Trust me, it isn’t much.

#6. Buy the Album, Not Just Individual Songs
Allow for the distinct possibility that just because a song does not grab you right away doesn’t mean it won’t later. Plus you like this artist, right? Then support their entire effort, and trust that they put a lot of time and energy into creating an album and making it a transforming experience. Sure there might be songs that never grab you, but nowadays you can easily skip a song or not include it in a playlist.

Albums, whether in physical or digital form, cost less money than a meal at a non fast-food restaurant. People don't think twice about spending $20 on a meal they can only enjoy once, but quibble over the cost of an album that they will enjoy for years. A Musical Disconnect.

The bottom line is that artists cannot earn a living from selling individual songs.

#7. iTunes verses Other Online Music Stores
If the artist doesn’t sell digital downloads directly from their own website then TMD recommends you buy from iTunes. For regular readers of this blog this might come as a surprise. We are not usually very supportive of Apple. Nevertheless they are who we recommend, and here is why:

  1. You know they are operating legally.
  2. They generally sell for the fixed price of $9.99 per album, which means the artist will get a better payment. (Other discount sites don’t pay full price to the artist and may, in fact, not be licensed [legal] and in truth pay the artist nothing.) Logically, the less you pay, the less the artist makes.

Remember that just because you purchase your music in a digital format you still should not make copies for others nor should you accept copies from others. This doesn’t change just because the delivery system is different.

#8. What about Internet Radio and Streaming?
If you have followed our posts about streaming, then you know that we do not like streaming services. The payments to artists are just too low. Each individual stream pays the right holder of a song 1/3 of a penny.

TMD discourages the use of streaming sites. Radio sites like Pandora pay roughly the same even though the payments are set up by statute.

Here Are Some Secondary Ways You Can Help

#9. Join the Club
An easy way to support your favorite artists to sign up for their mailing list, go to their gigs, tell your friends about them and post positive reviews of their stuff on sites like Amazon.

People value the opinion of their friends, family and co-workers. If they see you being passionate about an artist they’ll want to check out that artist and see what all the fuss is about. Your word of mouth is the best advertising any artist could ask for.

#10. Peer2Peer Pressure
New Music Gurus love to say that the world is changing and there is a new paradigm for music now. Any quick review of history will show how this kind of talk is nothing new and in fact hurts rational thinking.

Think about some past so-called paradigms. For instance, when I was a kid, smoking was considered healthy and relaxing, almost a tonic. Drunk driving was just “one of those things...” As recently as a few generations ago children worked in sweat shops in the U.S. (they still do in other countries). Cities in the western U.S were lawless and much more dangerous than they are today. Pirate ships at one time plied the coast of the eastern sea board and the Gulf of Mexico. Worst of all for the majority of the time that people of European descent have been living in North America slavery was practiced in the U.S.

While these and other things aren’t equal in how bad they were, they were (are) all bad. However, they are also no longer socially acceptable or legal. But just how did these “cats” get back into the bag? Over time attitudes toward these things have changed to the point where they are no longer acceptable to our society. The things themselves didn’t change, people’s minds did. At first just one person spoke out. Then two people spoke out. They grew to a small group, which grew to a larger segment of society. Finally enough people said “No more!” to these things and laws were passed prohibiting these actions. Beyond the law, the majority of society no longer tolerates these practices.

If someone started suggesting that we should reenact slavery, or that smoking was good and even children should do it, or that drunk driving was an individual choice and okay to do, or that children should go back to working in sweat shops in this country, or that gun fights on the streets of Tucson, Phoenix, Los Angeles and Durango are not a bad thing, or that piracy on the high seas is just fine, they would not be tolerated in our society and would be considered a psychopath.

I'm sure there are people that believe we should go back to doing these types of behavior, but they don't generally talk about it in the open. Why? Peer Pressure.

While most people think of peer pressure as a bad thing that kids do to other kids, the truth is we all either do it, or are influenced by it, everyday. The entire advertising industry is based on it.

So don’t fool yourself into thinking that we live in a new paradigm, or a new era, which suddenly makes the theft of music, books, videos, movies and all other intellectual property an acceptable practice. This type of behavior has always been against the foundation of all human civilization.

The toll is not just on the artists. It’s on their families, the companies that provide support services to them, the places that sell their products, the festivals, the clubs, the graphic artists, the promoters, the distributors, the music review writers. An entire industry. The pirates of the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard were shut down because of the economic toll that they inflicted on the U.S. Today digital pirates are taking a toll on the main copyright businesses of music, film, television, computer software and newspapers. The first four industries in that list account for 6.5% of the U.S. GDP.1 That's 6.5% of our economy! Artists create jobs, encourage trade and unify our culture. In today’s economic climate we need to create more jobs, grow our economy and produce something that is bought overseas -our culture, not lose entire industries to piracy.

So speak up. Let people know your views. Stand your ground. Be a role model for your family, kids, friends and co-workers. Show by example that you believe artists deserve to be paid for their work, just like anybody else.

It is just common sense.

1. Stephen I Siwek, Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy: The 2003-2007 Report. Prepared for the International Intellectual Property Alliance, June 2009.


  1. I don't agree with point 2! As an artist who sells both downloads and physical CDs, I can assure you we always make more from downloads (even via itunes). This is because the physical production costs are relatively high for small runs (and not many of us sell thousands of CDs nowadays) as are the shipping costs and retailer's margin.

  2. Perhaps in your case you make more money via iTunes, but that is certainly not my case. Remember, I'm talking about selling direct to the end customer, not to a retailer or a wholesaler. In those instances my margins are always better.

    No where did I suggest people buy from a brick and mortar retailer. It was buy direct from the artist.

  3. Thank you for the suggestion to buy the whole album instead of individual songs. I recently had a long road trip and was going to download some favorite songs to my shuffle for the trip, but based upon your suggestion I bought the CDs the songs were on instead. I found songs on those new CDs that I actually liked better than the songs I was going to download, and I may never have discovered them without your suggestion to buy the whole CD. Thank you!