Supporting independent music during Coronavirus

Supporting independent music during Coronavirus

I’m sure there will be – already has been – a flurry of articles just like this one about the impact of Coronavirus on independent music. This perhaps reflects some of the thinking, but deliberately stays away from discussing the approach of different governments and countries to the pandemic or offering a view on what we should do as individuals and communities (I’m a music journalist after all, not an epidemiologist).

Hand drawn image with words LA Show Cancelled

This is about how the pandemic has a knock-on effect to music, musicians, and the industry of all levels which supports them. The cancellations of festivals and gigs will impact not only directly on musicians through loss of bookings, but the organisers, the crew, those who cover the events. While the effect can be seen clearly at the top of the industry as large-scale events and tours are pulled, the grassroots is just as much at risk even if those gatherings haven’t yet been subject to mandatory cancellation.

We should be prepared for the impact of this to be felt for a long time, and accept that some smaller businesses – venues, record shops, and labels – may not make it through. But with so much still unknown and the situation changing quickly as well as the advice which goes with it, what can we do as individuals to show and give practical support across music. Somewhat ironically community is more important as we all go through social distancing so take some of the tips below and play your part in the music community.

Buy independent and direct from musicians

This is the most straightforward advice – buy from musicians and independents. Whether it’s downloading music from Bandcamp (the most direct and fair way for artists to be paid for their music, in general), or buying merch that money will help musicians. Bonus points if the artist you are buying from has got their merch from a small, independent, and ethical supplier.

Most artists have a merch option attached to their Bandcamp profile so you can also check out their music and download or subscribe at the same time. And don’t forget many independent record shops (and book stores for you biographies and music books) have a mail order option and also need your support right now.

Get ethical with your streaming

There’s going to be many others who are financially impacted by the pandemic so you may not be in a position to give your money directly to musicians in this way. Don’t feel bad about that but think about how you can change up how you stream to be as supportive as you can.

That means recognising platforms like Spotify are not paying artists fairly, and are not likely to change that behaviour in the short-term. Listening for free can help you discover new music (it’s a whole other discussion about how the algorithm is primed to serve you up more of the same, rather than have you explore broadly) but for the artist this is best paired with a purchase, or from a platform which is approaching streaming payments ethically. If you haven’t already, this is a great time to check our Resonate (and if you’re an artist or label a good time to tick getting your music on there off the to do list).

If you are going to stream from Spotify then make sure you follow artists and don’t just stream – this helps send the right signals to the algorithm and can help with playlist spots, which can generate higher numbers of streams, meaning a few more pennies headed toward the artist. If you’ve streamed something more than five times…consider making a direct financial contribution to the artist by downloading or buying merch.

Buy tickets (yes, really)

Who knows how long this will last and when it’ll be ok to go to shows again – but in the meantime trust that time will come and buy tickets for shows which are announced by your favourite artists. If the show gets postponed your ticket is likely to still be valid, but if you’re offered a refund consider whether you could donate that money to the artist or the venue instead.

At the grassroots many venues are on a knife edge financially so having continued support and cashflow through hopeful ticket sales may be what means they are still there when we are able to start going to shows again.

Take out a membership

Full disclosure – the label I run is supported by a membership model so of course I’m going to mention this. Reckless Yes memberships mean fans get to discover new bands while saving money, but that as a label we can reduce the costs of releases for artists, do more for them, and importantly make sure they’re paid fairly. You can find Reckless Yes memberships here. We’re not the only label offering this – check out Last Night From Glasgow, Gringo Records, Specialist Subject and others too.

Individual artists may also have a patronage model where you can get exclusive or new music and content in return for a monthly or one-off fee. Amanda Palmer is probably the most famous of musicians working this model, and it’s well worth taking a look at how independent artists like Laura Kidd (formerly performing as She Makes War), Bugeye, and Steve Lawson (Solo Bass Steve) are building these direct communities of their fans and supporting themselves too.

Share online

If you can’t do anything else right now then support independent musicians, labels, shops and publications by sharing their stuff online. Curate playlists and share them with your friends and encourage them to support however they can. This is free, takes very little effort but can help musicians to find new fans. Some artists are doing free live streams where their shows have been cancelled so if you can, join in by watching and sharing, and maybe go back to the top of the list and buy something afterwards if you can.

However you’re able to show your support it’s important we’re kind to each other, don’t fall into a mental health black hole through too much social media or being too isolated, and we follow hygiene advice on social distancing and hand washing.

 

As a freelancer we’re already seeing an impact on our work and income so if you’ve enjoyed this or other articles on Popoptica you can buy us a virtual coffee via Ko-fi – every donation helps us to do what we do. We’d love it if you shared on social media too – and do join the conversation with us on Twitter and Facebook.

Image credit: “Colossus of Roads” by FunGi_ (Trading) is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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Sarah Lay

Sarah Lay is editor of Popoptica.
A long-standing music journalist she's also co-founder of independent record label Reckless Yes, an author of novels, and when not messing around with words and music, a digital strategist.
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