5 Ways to Help Your Favorite Artist(s) in 2024 (and four of them cost $0!)

These are definitely some of the most challenging times many of us artists have faced. I have always been able to “read the tea leaves” sufficiently to plan my own individual course over the coming 1 to 3 years. Along that journey I've been fortunate to have attracted a small but enthusiastic cadre of supporters who've made my life in music be my livelihood for nearly 30 years. 

A sober assessment of the current climate for independent music must consider the impacts of the pandemic on smaller sized performing arts venues and audiences, and how streaming changed recorded music from something you own into something you essentially rent.  And for the first time, my tea leaves aren't revealing much about where things are going in the near future.

Most of us don't pursue this life in the creative performing arts solely because we crave the spotlight, and certainly not for illusions of riches and fame. I know personally I do it because I can't NOT do it. Although it is my calling, I am also a small business, and I have always looked at other successful small businesses locally and farther afield for insights and ideas.

One key thing I've observed is that thriving small businesses often do so because of the personality and style of their public figures. Over the last decade, my friends built a boutique distillery from a local industrial park garage into a downtown anchor with international distribution, in large part due to how social media allowed you to get to know them, their philosophy about the craft, and in turn help grow their brand and reach enthusiastic new customers. 

People who have gotten to know me through my work know that my musical journey overlaps with a variety of interests. Most fans of artists in my "folk/roots" genre know that our business has changed a lot in the past few years, and it hasn't been great for a lot of us. Many of “my people” have been happy to help me bring projects to life, in some way little or large that fits with their own lives and values. 

For me, "giving up" simply isn't an option, so 2024's mantra must be “Let's find a way.” That starts with understanding the lay of the land.

Where We've Been

I came of age during what I think of as the “Golden Era of DIY” (Do It Yourself), where artists could make their own recordings, collect their royalties, and sell directly to their fans. My northwestern Virginia home is within a day's drive of nearly 120 million people, from New England to Chicago and much of the southeast. I made a healthy living performing and selling recordings over a week or two of touring several times a year in different directions, and building an email list of people who were enthusiastic about the experience they'd just enjoyed. 

About a quarter of my income was album sales - primarily directly to people at performances. I wasn't getting rich, but it was reward for dedicating myself to the calling of a performing songwriter. 

For many of us, the mechanics of building an audience in a new town have changed completely in the last 2 decades. Where a day-of-the-show radio interview and an article or two in the local paper could fill a sizable percentage of the seats, now it is a smattering from many directions; a couple saw it in the paper, a few are on the artist's mailing list or social feed, a couple others saw a flyer, another saw it on Facebook, and so on. As many of us are essentially one-person operations, this means a whole lot more work to do for a less reliable outcome. And since our income for a show often is tied to attendance, we have a lot at stake in the success of our outreach.

Where Did All the Shows Go?

Many performing artists have made their livelihood in some similar fashion as me, but since the pandemic we are finding that "the scene" has changed considerably. The intimate listening rooms, small theaters and house concert series that have been staples of that scene were hard hit during the pandemic and many of those that survived have been slow to return to capacity. Largely because the audience numbers continue to lag, many artists who filled bigger venues "in the Before Times" have been downsizing, and this in turn reduces bookings for artists who played those smaller venues. 

Understandably, many presenters and concert hosts have been discouraged by these struggles.  Several mainstay folk and roots music festivals have gone on hiatus, pared down, or called it quits completely. Yet despite these daunting market forces, the supply of talented artists remains far in surplus of existing venue and festival opportunities.

About the Music

Music streaming obviously changed the recording world. From a corporate business standpoint, the jury is still considering if that model can be sufficiently profitable for the long term. Spotify laying off 17% of its workforce in a cost-cutting move in late 2023 was notable in many ways, including that severance packages were orders of magnitude greater than the royalties they would pay out to most of us indie musicians over many years. 

Thoughtful music fans have rightly been concerned about the impact of streaming, especially on their favorite bands at the local and regional level. As the table below of early 2023 data indicates, it takes thousands of streams to earn royalties equivalent to a single CD or album download sale, which obviously doesn't easily make up for several hundred dollars in recording sales at a single concert. 

Industry experts will tell you that merchandise is the way for artists to make up that lost revenue. For artists with younger fanbases and legacy bands from decades ago that may well be true. 

"My people" tend to be of the “mature” demographic, with enough disposable income to seek out and enjoy experiences more than acquiring things. Maybe this is the time for me to lead one of those fantastic-looking music tours to Ireland or Scotland!

What Does Music Mean to Us Now?

But maybe there is a bigger question to consider. If our Alexa or Google home is serving up music as the soundtrack to whatever other things we're doing, are we even listening the same way? Do we still form deep connections with songs that speak to us? Can a playlist replace the mix tape that we labored over to be the soundtrack of that part of our lives? 

I like albums, and I love MAKING albums. Is there any place anymore for a collection of songs bundled with artwork, images and words to read, or are we permanently going to be dissociated from the essence of the creative work?


What We Can Do About It

While these are some of the present challenges I face along with many of my friends and fellow performers, I have to believe that there are still ways to move forward. We remain a people of stories, and my whisky-making friends built a hugely successful international brand around their story. I'd like to think music still brings you into an artist's story, even as we share other stories with you through our melodies, beats and lyrics. 

In 2024 an “independent artist” is more than ever completely dependent on our supporters. It is inescapable that money does make the music world go round, but that's far from the only way you can lend a hand. Here are FIVE ways where you can make a difference - maybe a sizable impact - and four of them require little beyond your enthusiasm and a few moments of your time.

1. Join their EMAIL LIST (and follow on social media).

The Number One Thing for us artists is being able to get the vitals about shows and new projects directly to you. Social media is great for lots of things, but it's become less reliable as a primary conduit to your eyes and ears. An artist's email list is really the most direct way for us to communicate with you, even though email may be less relevant than texting for a lot of people now. Maybe I'm old school, but mass texting feels intrusive when I get one. With email, all we have to do is get past spam filters - and stand out enough in your crowded inbox to be read.

2. "Word of Mouth" - like, share, favorite, comment, review. 

It's really simple; tell your friends about artists you like. Your friend groups online and "in the real world" include people who trust your judgement and share some overlapping values or tastes.  It only takes a few moments to comment on a social media post, or write a nice review of a song, album or show on Amazon, Apple Music, etc. Your words might inspire someone to press the play button and hear me for the first time.

Music discovery is the main reason most artists encourage people to stream our music; we hope that driving the numbers up will convince the algorithms to let more people hear us, and in turn new listeners want to learn more about us. You help even more when you create and share playlists, recommend songs or suggest our music to other playlist curators. 

Which is another reason why you matter - your voice!  

3. Encourage Your Favorite Artists! 

Even if I don't get to answer every comment, email or social media message, they matter too! It is so easy to literally be isolated with our work for long stretches away from that precious audience feedback, especially in the wake of the pandemic shutdown. 

The good vibes that come from your kind words are the stuff that gets us through those dark periods of self-doubt or economic struggle, and man, they are a fantastic life raft indeed.

4. Participate

You can be an important advocate for your favorite artists! Your enthusiasm may be contagious with your friends, but it is also in a group of people. If music is medicine for the soul, then write yourself a bigger prescription and come catch a show or livestream. For me and my fellow artists, that also means going out to support our music community whenever we can - a rising tide indeed will float more of our boats, and a healthy local music scene is partly our responsibility too.

Different people do different things - some show up every time I come through their town, some buy each new recording, still others tune in for most every livestream. Many wonderful things happened because someone introduced my music to a local venue or possible concert host, or put me in touch with someone at their local school or library to do a program. 

It's not all the same people doing ALL of those things, but the common denominator is that they've grown to know me as a person a bit (that infamous “branding”), and they want to see me continuing to make my particular music (may every artist be so lucky!). 

Sharing your concert photos, surveys to get audience feedback, volunteering when there's an opportunity; these are some ways that help me while showing how you value my work (that helps with #3 above too).

 5. Contribute When You Can

The upshot of the last ten years is that the modern indie music business resembles medieval times, where artists were patronized by the support of some noble king or duke to create art on their behalf. Now in addition to helping us reach new listeners via the previous four items, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding harness the financial support of a hopefully sizable group of enthusiastic fans to bring the next project to life, through companies like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Some fans chip in because they like you and want to help, while others like helping to make a piece of art they can own too.

There are many ways to donate a little or a lot; direct monthly support through entities like Patreon or Venmo, helping to fund a specific project campaign, buying music or show tickets for yourself and friends.  Consider hiring us directly to do a special event (house concerts are fabulous!), create a video as part of a campaign or cause, or even write a song for a special someone. Every bit helps, and every bit is appreciated. 

Now is the Best Time!

Now really is the best time to lend a hand, and there's a lot you can do with just a few moments of your time. I intend to update this document as needed to when new opportunities arise. My big goal is helping music fans and listeners appreciate their importance to us; your emotional investment in us matters now more than ever! I've got stories yet to find, and stories yet to tell. 

Thanks for caring enough to read this far, and thanks a ton for your support of me and my work.

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