I thought I’d take a break from my usual show previews to talk about something that’s not only near and dear to my heart, but I suspect is near and dear to the hearts of my fellow music lovers. Let’s talk about ways we can all support the bands we love. I don’t mean acts like U2 and Lady Gaga (though I love them both); I mean local and independent acts that aren’t signed to major labels and don’t have 50 million plays on YouTube or Spotify but that also are your reasons for living. These are the musicians who move you, rock your world, are the soundtracks of your life and without whom you can’t imagine living.
So how do you show them you care? I reached out to musicians Spencer Albee, Jonatha Brooke, Samuel James, James Hebert (The Fogcutters), Rob Cimitile (The Builder of The House), Jenny Van West, Greg Klein (Dark Hollow Bottling Company), Griffin Sherry (The Ghost of Paul Revere) and Anna Lombard to hear what they said to say on the matter, and as you can imagine, there was much common ground. Here are some of the best ways to support local and independent acts:
1. BUY THEIR MUSIC
Do most of us stream music via things like Spotify? Sure. But it’s also incredibly important to lay down some actual cash for an actual download from places like iTunes, a physical CD or, my personal favorite, a vinyl album. Van West said that purchasing it directly from the artist at a show is always the best profit margin for the artist. “Plus, you can get your CD signed and make a direct connection with the artist,” she said. Van West thinks it’s always a great idea, and I agree, not to burn copies of CDs for your friends. “It goes without saying that this is so tacky, especially when, for $10, you can download a copy of the album. That effortless-sounding performance you love to listen to on repeat literally represents blood, sweat, tears, time, money and love.” James took this a bit further and suggested buying music via a subscription service. Herbert added that album sales via iTunes and Bandcamp help, but he also encourages fans to hit up local music purveyors like Bull Moose Music. Lombard agreed that it’s great to buy CDs at shows or Bull Moose, and that it’s much better for the artist than buying on iTunes. “I know it’s rare these days for people to want physical CDs because of the ease and accessibility of having the digital copies on iTunes, but as an artist we see so little from digital sales go back into our pickets and the expenses that we put into printing physical copies is so huge, that when you buy then from us at a show, we get to see that return and then the money goes into either more CDs, studio time, mixing and paying out the band.” Cimitile concurred. “You’re basically financing future art and giving encouragement to the artist to spend time making it.”
2. GO TO THEIR SHOWS
Everyone I asked agreed that going to their shows is a big one. “It can be easy to forget the power of being in the room with each other. Live music is a co-created experience with the artist, audience and venue,” said Van West. Sherry added that it’s also helpful to tell your out-of-town friends that a band is coming through their area. Lombard mentioned one that I sometimes forget but is nonetheless part of the mix. “Buying tickets in advance is a great way for artists to be supported because it shows a venue that they have a draw, and there’s always this level of stress leading up to day of show if pre-sale is low.” Also, it often saves you a couple of bucks to buy tickets in advance, so this is a total win-win that we can all keep in mind.
3. SOCIAL MEDIA SHARING
If you’re at all like me, you live on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and this is a fantastic and very easy way to show your favorite bands some love. Lombard said it best: “Sharing event pages that tag the artist — this helps get the event in people’s news feed, and by sharing the artist page, it can help someone discover the artist they may not have been familiar with before, which can ultimately lead to more fans, more likes and more of a buzz.” Albee added, “It’s unbelievable how much this helps.” “Sharing content helps artists get their art in front of new people,” said Rob Cimitile. Jenny Van West also gave a nod to spreading the word on social media platforms. “If you just got back from a live concert that knocked your socks off, tell people not to miss it the next time.”
4. BUY THEIR MERCH
I went for many years without buying a single T-shirt at a show but the floodgates opened about a year ago, and now I’m all about them. I make my purchases either at the show or via the artist’s website. I’ve also developed a bit of a vinyl addiction, and the Fogcutters knit cap got me though this past winter with a smile on my face. Every single purchase helps, even the sticker or button that only costs a dollar or two. Some artists, like Brooke, sell extra special things on their websites. “When people buy hand-written lyrics from me, for instance, it’s an awesome way to support what I do. Sometimes it’s a few of those extra things that get me through the month.” “Anything you’re buying at a show to support the band, literally supports the band and can be dumped right back into more T-shirts, more music, etc.,” said Lombard.
5. CONTACT LOCAL VENUES
Want your favorite band from Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon, to play at your favorite venue? Tell the venue. It never hurts and sometimes can actually help. “Write or call your favorite venues and ask them to please book a particular artist, regardless of where the artist is from. Sometimes that’s how an artist gets known in a particular region, and you could play a role in enriching the artistic fabric of your hometown,” said Van West. She added that when contacting a venue, always include links to the music and artist’s website. I’ll add that it’s a great idea to also include a live performance clip.
6. HELP FUND THEIR RECORDINGS
This is one of my favorite ways to support the independent artists I love, and I’ve done it several times over the past few years. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of money because every single dollar counts. Pledge Music and Kickstarter are two of the most popular platforms artists use, but there are others out there. Most artists offer several levels of support, and what you’re essentially doing is pre-ordering their next album. Typically, the more you are able to give, the more goodies you’ll get in return. This can mean everything from signed copies of the CD when it’s released to show tickets, all sorts of merchandise packages and other awesome incentives. “I have done crowd-funding multiple times, and I can tell you I am moved by tiny contributions as much as the big ones,” said Van West. “If you can’t contribute, write a note and tell them you wish you could. It means a lot.”
7. OFFER MORAL SUPPORT
This might sound silly, but it’s anything but that. If you are moved by someone’s music, let them know. I have caught myself in post-show chatter with artists talking about all sorts of stuff and often have to interrupt myself to rewind the conversation so I can tell them how much I loved their performance. Whether the act is brand new playing their first handful of shows or have been at it for decades, always tell them you appreciate their music. Here’s how: “Send them an email letting them know you like what they’re doing. This means a lot. Trying to make a career out of music is hard enough so hearing that people enjoy the music goes a long way,” said Cimitile. “It really does help keep the artists going. Bits of honest encouragement are felt deeply by anyone, including your favorite musician,” said Van West. Klein suggested a few more ways. “Let us know what you like about our music, hugs and maybe buy us a drink.”