Dear Independent Artist:
I am a huge fan of music – all kinds of music. Music is such an important part of my life that I seek it out. I don’t listen to the radio much so I scour around the Internet for something new to latch on to. I ask friends. I read mp3 blogs. I follow sites like Pitchfork. I’ll go just about anywhere to get at some new music that I can enjoy, connect with and fold into my life’s soundtrack.
I don’t buy CD’s. I haven’t purchased a CD in a really long time. I really don’t have any use for them. I don’t even own a CD player. I’ve got a laptop. I’ve got desktop speakers. I’ve got an iPod. I need your music in a DRM-free digital form. My music moves around. I also want to share your music with my friends. Besides, very little of what I want today – with the exception of the occasional hankering for classic rock – is available at Best Buy or Circuit City. So even if I were into CD’s as a technology, none of what I want can be found at retail stores.
But even if they did have your music in stock, I wouldn’t bother buying the CD’s. I want to have your music the moment I realize it’s something I want to possess. The moment after I discover it. Better yet, I wouldn’t mind having it before I even realize that I want it. In fact, that’s pretty much what happens today. A friend will pass along a folder of MP3’s. I’ll check it out. If I like it, I’ll keep it. If I don’t, I’ll just delete it.
So there’s a twisted irony here. Even for the music I like, I’m often not paying for your music. Why? Because it’s actually harder to support you – the artist – than to get your music without supporting you. Think about that. It takes more work on my part to support you. On occasion, I’ve liked someone’s music so much that I bought a few copies of your album and never opened them or given them to friends as gifts. I’m not sure what else to do.
I’m lucky enough to live in New York City. It’s a great place to find just about any flavor of live music – big or small. I constantly scour sites like Pollstar and Sonic Living to find out when you’re going to be in town next. I want to come to your shows and support you. I’ve heard that touring is just about the only way a small artist makes money (though I don’t know that for sure).
I want to support you. Especially if your music means something to me. But it’s actually hard to do that in this digital age. I don’t want iTunes because I don’t want limitations (limitations I’m not even entirely clear about) and your music isn’t in the shopping mall shops and Walmart’s. And like I said, CD’s are relatively useless to me.
What it comes down to is this: I want to give you some money. I’m not entirely sure what I’m willing to pay. I’m pretty sure it’ll vary depending on who you are and how much I like your music. There’s a good change that an album of yours that was recently released is lousy – to me at least. Then again, your album may be amazing. Or it may just have a few worthwhile tracks. For the artists that contribute to improving my life, I’d like to support you in some way but it’s hard to do.
Imagine a world where the notion of purchasing music is entirely thrown out the window. Instead, artists put music out there (you’re pretty much doing that today anyway) and a system exists whereby the people that latch on can give something to the artists. This isn’t about a commercial transaction or gaining rights to copyrighted work. This is about bypassing the purchase process altogether and rewarding you – the artist. It’s a sort of Paypal for artists. It’s about decoupling the commercial transaction around obtaining music and focusing on the inimitable relationship between artist and music fan. There are at least ten artists I enjoy today that should get some of my money – at least more than I’ve given them so far.
I really love Album X, and I’d give the artist $7 in a heartbeat if it was easy to do so. I only liked 3-4 songs on Album Y, so I’m only going to donate $3 to that artist’s cause. There’s a massive amount of good will out there that artists never get to cash in because there is no simple mechanism to do so.
It is, in effect, donationware for music. And music, unlike software or desktop wallpapers, evokes emotion and loyalty. Software has users. Music has fans. We are fans that want to see more of your music. That want you to have enough money to tour. To keep doing what you’re doing. We would kill to have an MP3 of an acoustic session you did last weekend – no matter how sloppy it is. We want to support you so you can keep sharing more of your creations.
So come on Independent Artist, show me an easier way to support you. I’ll keep coming to your shows, but the other ways to help you are just too difficult and rife with all sorts of unnecessary hurdles. Let’s short circuit everything and go straight to you. I just want to give something back to you – the artist – for enriching my life.
A Big Independent Music Fan