Chances are you have a friend who makes music – or, for that matter, art of any kind.
It’s 2020. By now, you’re fully aware of how difficult it is for artists to find proper compensation from the growing number of streaming platforms available. Despite the accelerated means of distributing content to the world, it’s still just as hard to make a living as an independent artist. And, with all the horror stories of artists who sign on the dotted line only to lose their creative freewill (and themselves in the process), the lure of the major labels becomes increasingly less appealing.
Thankfully, these factors have not prevented creatives from taking risks and making sacrifices in hopes of turning their passion into a career. And this should not be taken lightly. Consider how many artists are writing or recording a song right now. Now think about the small percentage of those songs that will catch any sort of a buzz. Regardless of the medium used to create, artists are small fish in a big ocean. Hopefully anyone truly passionate about their craft is creating from a place other than a desire to earn fame and wealth. That being said, however, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the role we – the fans, consumers and friends of these independent artists – can be of service to the people who provide us with their creative purges.
Go ahead and pat yourself on the back, because you play (or have the potential to play) a much bigger role than you might be giving yourself credit for.
In the 8 years I’ve been active in this field, I’ve seen one group from my early days blow up – like really blow up. And that didn’t happen overnight. But it serves to uphold the point that this is a fucking hard arena to make a name for yourself in. I didn’t start writing about music because I had friends I wanted to cover. But, as my descent into the blogosphere carried on, I became friends with quite a few artists. And most of those artists are independent, usually working a “real” job while they pursue their passion on the side. As friendships grew and my world was opened to more of the inner workings of the creative process and the music industry, I was often plagued with thoughts concerning what I might be able to do to help push ahead the careers of the artists I listen to and those I consider my friends. I wanted to help, to be of service and to do more.
I also noticed how truly unsupportive we are. Usually not out of ill will or malice – simply because we aren’t being mindful of our actions or lack thereof. And I get it because I am it, even when I try not to be. See, it’s easy to fall into the trap of dapping up your friend for their recent record and leaving it at that. But then we turn around and drop real money on tickets to less than intimate concerts or on $50+ dollar tour merchandise. It boils down to the fact it’s so much easier to support artists that have already made it big than to actively support your friend who lacks a following.
But, man, you have the chance to build someone from the ground up. And if you make the conscious effort not to show love now, please don’t go sliding into their DMs when the rest of the world starts to pay attention. Again, it’s hard to break away from the pack and catch a buzz. It’s even harder to flip that buzz into consistent support and a blossoming audience. But it’s not impossible. Any one of your talented friends could be the next individual to turn their passion or their side hustle into festival stages and sold out shows.
Before I get too far off on a tangent, let me reign it in real quick. Do not support your friends or independent artists because you want to feed off their fame if the stars align. That’s whack. Do it because you believe in them, because they are your friend, because they are talented and because you very easily can. Even though it seems easier to support artists who are already on, the simple acts of love you show the independent artist friends of yours go way further than sharing the latest track from today’s biggest stars.
So let’s start there: sharing. If you’re reading this, chances are you have – at the very least – one form of social media. Use it. Whether you’re sharing an artists most recent release, ushering friends/followers to their artist page or simply speaking on their work as a whole. A share goes a long way – something as simple as posting their new song not only gets them views but could earn them a new fan. It’s small ripples, but that’s what keeps the momentum flowing along. It’s great if you’re listening to Friend A’s track or watching Friend B’s new video – why not post that shit to Facebook so a couple of your other friends might catch the wave? We all spend too much time on social media as it is – use it to help support your friends and support those artists who benefit so greatly from an extra set of ears or eyes.
And if you genuinely like their music, what’s stopping you from hitting “like” on their page or clicking that “follow” button? Numbers don’t equate to talent, but it should come as no surprise that quite a few people are drawn to the number game. A page with 100 likes already looks far more “legit” than a page with 10 likes – and those numbers may attract someone else enough to give the artist a listen. Man, I know some of you are liking pages that equate to utter bullshit, so take a couple seconds out of your mindless scrolling to tap into a page that means something to someone in your life.
Beyond the realm of social media, don’t underestimate the power of your voice. Talk that shit up! Keep an album or a track in rotation – let the people in your world know about it. Why are we spending so much time showing our friends that new Cole when they will undoubtedly hear it eventually? Turn up the volume on that latest drop from your friend because you never know if that door will open otherwise. My guy Detelj once kept a Jobo EP in his car stereo for two years straight – he wasn’t always bumping it, but that shit was readily available anytime. Be that grassroots movement IRL as well as online. Spread the word and put people on.
Now, let’s take a look at some financial points. My math may be wrong but I think it takes about 230 streams for an artist to earn $1 from Spotify. So, you’ll need about 336,000 streams to earn minimum wage. As many of us know, minimum wage is hardly a livable wage. I consider myself an optimist but good fucking luck, friends. These numbers vary based on the streaming platform you’re looking at but the end result stays consistent across the board – independent artists, especially the ones closest to you, aren’t flipping their passion into a viable career with numbers like that. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to work around this wildly disproportionate system of streaming revenue.
See, there’s the old “stream an album even when you aren’t actively listening” technique. Let it play on mute while you sleep, etc., etc. But maybe we can consider putting our money to better use.
This is where you lose a lot of people – we’re all struggling, money is getting more difficult to come by, bills add up. And, at the end of the day, the major streaming platforms have made listening to whatever music you want undeniably easier and more convenient. I’m already paying roughly $10 a month for the service, so that’s my investment in all the artists and music. Right? I mean, I guess. And I get it.
Regardless, consider the trivial spending we all take part in. And consider the huge impact you might have on your friend – their motivation, their emotional state, etc. – if you were to purchase their album off Bandcamp instead of relying on Spotify or Apple Music to stream it for you. When you see your friend post a link to their project on Bandcamp, please don’t ask them if it’s on whatever your streaming service of choice is. Most of us don’t realize how much of an unintentional slap in the face that is. With Bandcamp, a lot of artists allow you to pay what you want/can – so you can buy the entire project for $1 or you can slip them a $10. Or, if you’re in the position to do so and you’re feeling generous, send over $20. Even paying one single dollar bill, you get the entire project and your friend makes in one moment what it would have taken 230 streams to earn.
My sister cuts my hair. I’ve known her forever. We’re family. I still pay for the cut. And tip her. Just because this person is your friend or your family, don’t disrespect their work, effort, time or energy by acting all sorts of entitled. Be a better friend by being a fan. Pay them for their music because, I promise you, they could absolutely use that money. If they invest in merchandise, buy a shirt, buy a sweater, buy a hat, buy some stickers. Do not…DO NOT….ask them to hook you up for free. It’s disrespectful, it’s rude and, bottom line, you’re being an asshole. Support their passion. Support their dreams. Support their art. If Friend A is dedicating their life to making music – if that’s what they want to make their career – then I’m going to do what I can to help lift them up. Just because their dream doesn’t fit the box society likes to condition around us does not make their dream any less real than anybody else’s.
On that note, wear their gear if you fuck with the design. You know how many people have asked about the bear on my sweatshirt? Or about the hand logo I’ve got plastered on my phone or laptop? Merchandise is marketing and it’s another way for you to spread the word about your friend’s art, music, etc.
For better or worse, money talks. So be a fan of your friends and don’t be entitled. The same goes for concerts – if your dude is performing and tickets cost $5…pay $5. Don’t ask to go to the show for free. Buy a ticket, go to the show and be right up front to show your love and support. Make noise, sing along, wild out – be. a. fan. And SHARE the life out of the flyers – both online and IRL, depending on where they exist.
Perhaps most importantly, always be honest with your friends. Again, this goes back to a key concept – don’t support them simply because they are your friend. Support them if and because you genuinely support the art they are creating. The worst thing you can do is hype your boy up when they don’t deserve it. A whole lotta yes men surrounding an individual who really needed to hear a few people saying “no” is a recipe for disaster. If someone plays you a track and you don’t vibe with it, let them know. Constructive feedback is love. Hyping up your friend who actually needs to go back to the drawing board and work on their craft is not. I got into a nasty habit when I first started writing where I was so eager to build relationships and get posts out that I’d share anything my friends were sending me. In the end, it hurt my credibility and it built up egos that needed to be humbled. Without question, this was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned and I certainly learned it the hard way. Be a real friend and keep it a buck. If someone gets their ego hurt, you’re doing them a favor in the long run. Keeping it real with your friends does not equate to shitting on their dreams or smothering their passions – it’s just a simple reminder that there is still work to do and lessons to learn. There’s no rush to get music out to the world and it’ll better serve them in the end if they wait until they’re cooking up something worth sharing.
If you dig an artist, forget that you know them for a moment. Put people on, share their music, buy their merch and invest your money and energy into them. Then remember they’re your friend, remember the love you have for them. And go even harder in your support.
Be a friend to your artist friends by remembering to be a fan.