How You Can Give Back To The Musicians You Love
By Ellie Rogers
Here at Rock & Blues Muse we all have something in common: we love great music.
Sometimes, however, it’s easy to get into lazy habits and routines with our music consumption, and there’s always more we can do to be better fans to our favourite artists.
If your New Year’s Resolution for 2023 is to try and do just a little bit more to support the bands and musicians you love, we’ve got you covered with this list of 8 simple ideas and practical steps that can make a real, meaningful difference.
We would not have been able to make this feature without a little help from our friends. So, for taking the time to contribute with their expertise and experiences, we would like to thank:
– Guitarist Matthew Stubbs of Boston-based blues trio GA-20
– Finnish blues phenomena Erja Lyytinen
– Guitarist, singer and Gulf Coast Records co-owner Mike Zito
– Troy Redfern – Britain’s ‘King of Slide’
Be sure to check out our reviews and interviews featuring these four amazing musicians, and read on to brush up on how else you can give back this coming year…
1) Spread the Word
Everyone we spoke to for this piece was more or less unified on this point, but we’ll borrow a few choice words from the eminently quotable Mike Zito to sum things up: “Word of mouth is worth a million dollars in this game.”
Whether you’ve stumbled across a new artist online, seen an up-and-coming band at a local venue or been unexpectedly blown away by a support act, the best thing you can do to help that artist on their journey is to tell your friends. Text them, tweet them, tag them in a post on social media, call them, get them over to listen to the record – however you want to do it, just be sure to pass on the excitement you felt when you first heard that band.
GA-20 are one of the most talked about bands on the scene right now and since their 2019 debut Lonely Soul, they’ve soared through the ranks, bringing an injection of retro indie cool to the blues – both on record and live on stage. Guitarist Matthew Stubbs kindly spoke to us about the impact that grassroots fan support has had on their rapid ascent:
“Word of mouth is huge for us. With the massive reach of social media, there is a real ability for people to spread the word. We’re on the road a lot and people say all the time that someone told them, “you have to check out GA-20.” That’s so valuable.”
Feeling like you’re part of a movement or community is also an awesome fan experience, and it’s worth remembering that your actions can make a very real difference to an up and coming band – and these gestures don’t go unnoticed. “Go live on Instagram or post a pic at a show,” says Stubbs. “If you bought a shirt, wear it! Then post a pic and tag us (we love that!). Put on our record at a party. Message your favourite venue or festival and tell them you’d like to see us there!”
Even when money is tight, he reminds us that “These other non-financial forms of support are really important.”
2) Like, Follow and Sign Up
A little bit of administration goes a long way. If you already know you like a band in the real world, take a moment to check whether you’ve extended this support to the social media sphere and be sure to “like” your favourite artists’ Facebook pages, follow them on Instagram and Twitter and sign up to their email mailing lists.
“Supportive comments and feedback on social media is like mental capital goods,” says Erja Lyytinen. “It enriches both the fans and the artists.”
As such, you’ll become part of the community, get tour and music release news ahead of everybody else, but – most importantly – you’ll be helping your favourite artists demonstrate to labels, venues and promoters that they have a sizable, growing and engaged fanbase. This is absolutely essential for any band looking to play bigger venues, get signed or make the step towards getting management or PR representation.
If you’d like to go for a slightly different route, many artists now run subscription-based support plans on platforms like Patreon, where you can get exclusive monthly content for a (usually) small monthly fee.
3) Go to Gigs
Rocket science this may not be, but the best and most fun way to show your support for the bands you love is to show up!
“Getting the opportunity for people to hear our music, or to see us live, is the number one goal for us,” says Matthew Stubbs of GA-20. “Nothing beats having a room full of people excited to hear you play. It’s the reason we do this.”
For the most part, touring returned to “normal” in 2022, but many grassroots venues are still experiencing lower ticket sales and attendance levels for live music shows than before the pandemic. People’s habits have changed, and the impact is being felt across the whole ecosystem of the live entertainment industry. By going to a show, you’ll not only be directly supporting the band you love, but you’ll be supporting the whole essential infrastructure that every grassroots artist comes up through.
Since the pandemic, it has also become more important than ever to book tickets in advance if you intend on going to a show. As Erja Lyytinen explains: “Because of the pandemic and the increasing economic crisis, consumers are a lot more cautious today and might leave the decision of buying the ticket until they get to the door. This brings problems: when the promoters and bands can’t predict if the shows will be profitable, shows might get cancelled or postponed.”
What’s the only thing better than booking a ticket advance? Booking two tickets in advance and taking a friend along with you to the show.
4) Stream Music
Streaming is an exceptionally convenient way to consume music. We all do it, but we don’t always think about it, or the ways in which it has revolutionised the industry.
On the positive side, streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal are great tools for artists to be able get themselves out there and get heard – potentially by millions of people – without the financial outlay of producing physical products. Artist recommendations and curated playlists make discovering new music a breeze for listeners, and they offer great positioning opportunities for artists, as well as increasing their chances of being spotted by labels and promoters. Having a healthy play count goes a long way towards helping bands stand out.
But the reality about streaming, as Mike Zito puts, is: “It’s music on demand and it’s amazing but the money is not always great.”
Since the platform started in 2006, Spotify has racked up 456 million monthly active users and 195 million of them pay even for their subscriptions. But, Spotify pays between $0.001 and $0.008 per stream to artists – meaning that an artist that succeeds in generating one million streams, will only earn between $1,000 and $8,000. It’s a piece of the financial puzzle, but it’s by no means the full picture.
As Erja Lyytinen suggests, “The best scenario would be if fans would buy the physical product and alongside that, they would stream the music, too.”
5) Buy Music
Whether physical formats or digital downloads are more your thing, committing to the music you love by actually buying a copy will always mean a lot to artists of any level – whether that means charting on Billboard, financial stability or simply keeping the show on the road.
“The days of artists becoming rich and famous from massive album sales are pretty much over,” says GA-20’s Matthew Stubbs. “That said, for a band at our level, buying an album at our merch table or from our webstore actually makes a huge difference. That money goes directly to the expenses incurred on tour, like gas and hotel rooms. It’s not an understatement to say that without fans buying our physical music it might not be possible to tour at all.”
The platform you buy from also makes a difference, and shopping small and buying direct will typically be the best options if you want to see a greater percentage of your cash go to the artist.
More and more up and coming musicians are turning to Bandcamp as their platform of choice for self-retailing music because it takes a smaller revenue share (10-15%) from sales than most other platforms and offers some cool features, too.
For example, artists can set a minimum price for their products, but Bandcamp also offers the “Name Your Price” function for fans to top up their purchase if they can afford to give a little more. It also offers a ‘send as gift’ function (as does iTunes) so you can send your new favourite album as a high quality file download directly to a friend’s inbox – great if you’re feeling generous!
Lastly, the platform regularly waives its revenue share on ‘Bandcamp Fridays’, which typically take place on the first Friday of the month. So, if there’s a record you know you want to buy, think about waiting until the next Bandcamp Friday and you’ll know that 100% of the money you pay will go straight to the artist you care about.
6) Buy Some Merch
In recent years, merch sales have become increasingly important revenue streams for up and coming artists. Even unsigned bands will often have an array of CDs, vinyl, tees, badges, stickers, art prints, tote bags, guitar picks, handmade jewellery – you name it – on sale at their shows and via their online stores because, the uncomfortable truth is: it’s not easy to make a living from gigging and streaming revenues alone.
As Mike Zito puts it, “People buying music at the stores or at the shows is paramount to the touring artists. It not only helps keep the show on the road, it helps the artist to continue to be able to make new music.”
One of the hardest touring blues musicians on the British scene, Troy Redfern, also shared his perspective with us on the existential importance that selling physical products has for his operation:
“For me personally, it makes all the difference because if it wasn’t for people buying CDs, vinyl, t-shirts and merch in general, I wouldn’t be able to carry on making music. During the support tours I’ve done, the merch has basically paid for travel, hotels, paying the people I take out on the road – the musicians I pay.”
2022 has been a banner year for Redfern, who released The Wings of Salvation to critical acclaim, won the HRH Blues Award, starred on the cover of Blues In Britain Magazine and gigged the length and breadth of the United Kingdom more than once. Even for artists of this calibre, every merch sale counts.
“Without people coming to the merch stand and buying merch,” he tells us, “It would cost me money to tour instead of making a bit of money and being able to pay people to make it all work. People buying physical products makes the whole thing work. Without that, it stops.”
It’s always best to buy direct from the artist if you can, and you’ll often end up getting your vinyl or t-shirt slightly cheaper at a show than you will by buying through a third party store.
7) Support Crowdfunding Campaigns
In recent years, crowdfunding has become an important alternative to label deals for independent artists who want to record, produce and release their music without compensating on quality or professionalism.
In a nutshell, crowdfunding means getting a small amount of support from a large number of people, and it means bands can avoid having to seek a huge advance from one source, like a record label or a loan, which inevitably has to be paid back at an agreed revenue share of sales.
Pledging towards a campaign is an incredibly meaningful and direct way for music fans to show support for the artists they love – and it usually means getting some pretty cool perks and rewards for doing so.
Both Erja Lyytinen and Troy Redfern ran crowdfunding campaigns to support their recent albums, Waiting For The Daylight and The Wings of Salvation respectively – with pledge rewards including everything from signed vinyls, to private slide guitar lessons and house concerts, depending on the level of investment.
“If you don’t have big record selling numbers or streams, and you are an artist just starting up, there simply isn’t much money coming from anywhere to finance the first years of building your career, especially if you don’t have a record company, who is investing in you,” says Lyytinen.
“Record companies are also nowadays taking their slices out of the income that gigs generate.”
With self-starting possibilities now more democratised than ever, she suggests, “You don’t even need a record company, whereas back in the day, this was essential to get your music to be heard.”
On a fundamental level, being a music fan is about being part of a community, and there is perhaps nothing more rewarding than seeing an album that you and a group of like-minded fans helped fund come into fruition.
Most major platforms like IndieGoGo, KickStarter and GoFundMe will allow you to browse all active music-based campaigns, so if you like the idea of giving in this way, you can get started right away!
8) Vote for Your Favourite Bands in Polls and Competitions
Being able to announce that they have won or been nominated for a particular award or competition will always be a nice jolt of momentum in the career of any up-and-coming artist, and a lot of the time, you can have your say.
It’s worth keeping an eye out for annual fixtures and ‘best of the year’ polls where public votes are counted alongside judging panels and the opinions of industry experts. Again, a good way to stay in the loop about these things is to follow your favourite artists on social media and be sure to stay engaged with their posts and announcements so you know when to spring into action.
This also applies to live events such as Battle of The Bands competitions, or having your say with the many major festivals who run competitions every year to put new artists on their stages.