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Ever since Napster and other file-sharing options hit the scene, it’s no secret that musicians have had an increasingly difficult time selling their music.

In fact, it goes back a lot further than that. Musicians and artists in general have pretty much always lived the Top Ramen life, since long before Top Ramen existed. I’m sure the bards and troubadours of old had their own version of it. Cup-o-Barley, or something like that.

But we’re getting sidetracked. The point is that musicians, painters, writers, and a host of other creatives tend to have a hard time getting by. The question now is, how can you as an appreciator of the arts help to support the artists you love?

Here are a few suggestions.

Be smart about who you support

Led Zeppelin does not need you to buy their umpteenth greatest hits album, but there is some indie act out there for which a record sale can mean the difference between eating for a day or not.

There is a likely chance that you have somewhat limited finances yourself, meaning you have to pick and choose who you support carefully.

Led Zeppelin does not need you to buy their umpteenth greatest hits album, but there is some indie act out there for which a record sale can mean the difference between eating for a day or not. Go out of your way to throw your support behind unknown or independent acts that don’t have a massive media machine promoting them.

And you can parse things ever further than that. The pay-gap doesn’t discriminate between industries, and the fact is that pasty dudes like myself tend to make more money in the arts than women or people of color. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t support artists who are white or male, but I am saying that you should be mindful of who you’re giving your money to.

Support independent artists. Support female artists. Support artists of color. Support artists from the LGBTQ community.

In other words, support the artists who need it the most.

Buy some sh#t

On the note of giving money to artists – do that.

Don’t try to get into the show for free. Don’t offer to buy a musician a drink when they’d rather you put that $5 in their gas tank by buying an album. Buy their t-shirts and buy their patches and buy them dinner.

Don’t offer to buy a musician a drink when they’d rather you put that $5 in their gas tank by buying an album.

If you like an author (a living author), buy their book new instead of used. If you need something to decorate your home, buy a piece of work from a local painter or sculptor, or commission something specifically made for you. Pick up jewelry and clothing from local designers. Etcetera, etcetera.

You get the point. If you want an artist to succeed, help them by paying them for their work.

Help with the buzz

…a few hundred or even few dozen social media followers can make the difference when it comes to getting club promoters to book you.

Back in the day you spread the word by simply telling everyone you could about the new artist you found, but things have gotten more technical.

Those stupid little Facebook “likes” matter. Having been in a working band myself, I can tell you from personal experience that a few hundred or even few dozen social media followers can make the difference when it comes to getting club promoters to book you.

Join an artist’s mailing list and stay up-to-date on the latest news. Share that news on your social channels. Be a self-proclaimed member of the promotion team.

Attend events, performances, gallery showings, film premiers, book readings, whatever. Show up and be a body. Fill out the numbers. Help to show both the artist and the world that someone cares.

Caring is contagious. We are social animals, and we will lemming our way to the gig if only you’ll lead us to it.

Support their dumb crowdsourcing thing

I know, we’re all sick of these and everybody hates them. But one of the best uses for Kickstarter and Indiegogo and such involves funding specific artist projects.

An independent band isn’t going to make enough from $60 bar gigs to pay for a recording session, or for repairs when a van or amp breaks down. A self-published author generally must publish in bulk, which has a hefty price tag for someone who’s selling a handful of books a month. An aspiring director has a range of equipment to buy, and oftentimes they need funding for ancillary artists like actors and so forth.

Over the past decade, artists have grappled with historic levels of economic uncertainty and discord and federal funding for the arts is under attack. In the end, if we’re going to ensure that the arts we love thrive, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

When the artists you respect start crowdfunding for these kinds of one-off expenses, throw what you can in the proverbial hat. It makes a difference.

That’s kind of the bottom-line point – everything you can do makes a difference. Every dollar you spend, every event you attend, every new fan you bring into the fold. It all adds up.

Artists have always faced an uphill battle, but new obstacles are being thrown in their way. Emerging technologies have been both a gift and a curse. Over the past decade, artists have grappled with historic levels of economic uncertainty and discord and federal funding for the arts is under attack. In the end, if we’re going to ensure that the arts we love thrive, we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

Perhaps Voltaire put it best: “We must cultivate our garden.”

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