David Lowery, alternative rock pioneer and now (I just learned) lecturer in the music business program at the University of Georgia, has written the best thing I’ve ever read about why it’s important to pay for the music you enjoy. I’ve admired Lowery for nearly 20 years now. I’m a bit too young to have been hip to his work in the 80s with Camper Van Beethoven, but Cracker’s Kerosene Hat, with it’s modest hit song “Low,” was one of the rock albums I cut my teeth on in the first part of the 90s. Cracker also remains one of the best bands I’ve had the privilege of seeing play live (with The Eels, no less!).
There’s a backstory to Lowery’s “Letter to Emily,” but don’t worry about it. It stands on its own as an open letter to all of us. Please read this, especially young people. The times are changing, and we need to be intentional about making ethical decisions that support the people who create the things we care about, whether it’s coffee or Tom’s Shoes or your church or music. If the artists you love want to give their music away for free on NoiseTrade or on their own websites, that’s fine, but please compensate them if and when you can. If you hear something on Spotify or Pandora that you really like, download the album from iTunes or Amazon instead of streaming it over and over. It’s the little things that make a difference, especially to artists and creators.
Gloria and I (as The Italics) have 3 songs for free download on NoiseTrade, a site Christian songwriter Derek Webb helped create which gives artists a place to give their music away (facilitating and encouraging generosity from artists) and also gives users a chance to “leave a tip” for the artist via PayPal (facilitating and encouraging generosity from fans). I recently noticed some money in our Paypal account because someone thought those three songs, which we recorded more than 8 years ago for less than $100 per song, was worth leaving us a “tip.” (If our benefactor is reading this – THANK YOU!) I can testify that this makes us want to record more songs and continue to make our art available. It makes us feel that what we do matters. That it is valued by someone. That we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves. That it’s worth trying to carve out time in a life already chock full with three kids, ministry, and teaching for songwriting and recording. And we do this so part-time, so on the side, that it’s almost not worth mentioning. The tip was a symbolically significant gesture for us, but it’s very real for many artists, especially independent artists, who truly rely on fans paying for the music they enjoy, not only to sustain their art so they can keep making albums, but for their very livelihood.
Seriously, read the article. I know it’s long, but it’s important. And consider putting $15 / month in your budget to pay for the music you love. I know most of you spend more than that on coffee, and probably exponentially more than that on your cell phone bill. I believe that art makes the world a better place, so make a decision to do something that directly contributes to that end. Invest in things that matter. Begin to think of yourself as a patron of the arts. We need a more sustainable model, and it begins with taking personal responsibility for our actions and supporting (financially and in other ways) the things that are important to us.
And if you’re looking for a few independent artists worth supporting, might I suggest?:
What do you think about this whole debate? Who are some artists you think are worth my hard-earned money?