Saying the music industry is complex is an understatement. Theoretically, it shouldn’t be more complicated than artists creating a product (records, live performances, merchandising) and selling it to the public. But In practice, there are managers and record labels and distributors and streaming services and writers and promoters and producers and copyrights—oh, so many copyrights.
So when you buy a ticket to see your favorite artist on tour, it’s fair to ask whose pocket that money is going into—is it theirs or somebody else’s? How much are they getting? And how do you make sure they get the biggest cut?
Different singers and bands have different deals with different actors in the industry, so unfortunately the answer to all of those questions is: it depends. But as a fan, you do actually have the power to ensure that most of the pennies you spend on what you love helps your favorite artists to continue doing what they do best.
Buy tickets and merch
Regardless of the popularity of an artist, they’re not getting rich solely from people streaming their greatest hits.
Depending on the platform you use (and whether you’re a paying subscriber or piggybacking on that free trial), artists may receive as little as $0.0011 per stream. The Taylor Swifts and Beyoncés of the world do tend to get a bigger slice, but the average is still around 16 percent. That makes our first piece of advice an easy one: support them offline.
“Artists will make the largest portion of their income from merch or live shows,” says Corey Crossfield, founder of Evoke Music Management, a small music managing and consulting company in Los Angeles. “Attending the shows and buying your favorite item from their merch table is a fantastic way to support them.”
And when you buy merchandise, make sure to get it from their official website or the merch table at a show. These shops are usually run by an artist’s team or record label, so profits usually don’t have to be distributed into too many hands before the band gets their cut, says Michael Sherman, manager and director of business development at Feature.fm, a marketing and advertising platform for artists, labels, and producers.
Figure out your artists’ main platforms and channels
And if you can’t get to shows or are running out of drawer space for hoodies, there are other ways to support artists directly (or close to it). This is easier than ever these days, as fans can have one-on-one conversations with a globally famous artist online. Platforms like Instagram and Twitter—particularly their direct messaging features—have helped break down the walls that separated artists from their fanbase, Sherman explains.
“Being able to communicate with someone that was historically, seemingly far away—that changed everything,” he says.
Whether it’s TikTok, Facebook, or an official mailing list, all artists have a platform they prefer when it comes to connecting with their audience. The closer that contact, Sherman says, the easier it’ll be for you to support them, as you’ll know whatever products or content you find there most likely came directly from the artist.
“Bandcamp is great if a band is releasing physical items—t-shirts, vinyl—or for selling music directly to fans,” says Crossfield.
Sherman also says Bandcamp is a great way to get money directly into your favorite artists’ pockets.
“The distributors that labels use don’t deliver to Bandcamp because it’s not a monetized channel,” he explains. “It’s just the artist uploading their content, or sometimes labels on behalf of the artists. There are very few intermediaries in that system.”
A lot of an artists’ budget goes to promotion, be that advertising or promoting a song, a video, or a tour. A great way to save them that money is to give them direct access to you by sharing your phone number and email address.
“If you follow the artist on any social media platform, there is a chance you will only catch a fraction of the content they post because of algorithms and how much those social media platforms control content surfacing to followers,” says Crossfield.
But if your favorite artists can contact you directly, they only need to send you a text or email to let you know what they’re up to. Simple as that. Going to the artist’s official website and signing up for their mailing list may be the best option.
“It’s a better way to manage your relationships,” adds Sherman. “It’s sustainable and it doesn’t rely on any of the platforms capturing this information and sharing it with the artists.”
Just give them money
Maybe the simplest one yet: if you want to keep your favorite band making music, become a patron.
But these days, you don’t have to be a rich renaissance aristocrat to do it. Now, platforms like Patreon and Kickstarter, as well as features like Spotify’s tip jars, allow you to give as much or as little as you want directly to artists. Sometimes you’ll get something in exchange—like exclusive songs or a dedicated letter or video—and sometimes you won’t, but you’ll always get the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting an artistic project just because you love it.
One complicating factor is that artists’ presence on these platforms is not widespread yet, Sherman says. But as the music industry focuses its attention on the big moneymakers and starting a career from scratch gets harder, more musicians are turning directly to their fans to make their projects come alive.
In short, being a fan is easy—it’s just a matter of truly loving a silly piece of music or band very, very much, and putting your money where your ear is.