Here’s a fact: it’s hard to be a musician in 2017 and make a living. Furthermore, it is extremely hard to be a progressive rock musician in 2017 and make a living. Many of the bands you know and love are touring on shoestring budgets, eating the cheapest food possible, staying in dive hotels or less than desirable places to save money, and struggling to bring you the music that you love. Have you ever stopped to think about the financial logistics of touring? Or exactly what is necessary to make an album sound any good at all?
Knowing all of that, I’ve decided to do a multi-part series on how to help bands out in a variety of ways. This first article will be specifically about the best ways to help bands make money. Here are a few tips that I’ve learned myself, or have been told from friends of mine who are in bands. If you have any others, please feel free to add them in the comments section.
- First of all, buy albums from bands, either in physical or digital format. If you have listened to a Youtube album or a Spotify album a whole lot, it might be a good time to spend $10 or $15 on the album. Some people will say that’s too much, and those same people will drop $10 at Starbucks. Bands create albums as artistic statements, and often think a lot about order and structure and packaging. Albums have changed my life in positive ways, and I think that it’s worth skipping the extra value meal and buying an album instead. I personally am a fan of buying an actual, physical copy of an album, but in the 21st century, a digital download is probably the more common course of action.
- Many bands that don’t have major label support release their music through their own personal site, or through Bandcamp or other free music distribution outlets. Buying through a band’s website is the most direct way to ensure that they will get paid in full. Most bands that are run independently sell through PayPal or other services. So, go to their website and go to the store section to buy directly from them.
- If they choose to sell through a host music service, there are a variety of different places that you can buy from. iTunes has high availability, but low artist return. Bandcamp takes 15% on digital downloads, and 10% on merch items. Most progressive artists I’ve seen have a Bandcamp, and have confirmed that it is their preferred method. While the band’s website is still the best, Bandcamp seems to be a reasonable alternative. If you are going to buy from a different music distributor, make sure to check the rates beforehand so you can ensure that the biggest share goes to the artist.
- If you attend shows, buy merch! For a long time, I’d avoid the merch tables, because I thought that the prices were ridiculous. I’d say, “Why would I spend $15 for a CD if I could get it on Amazon for a lot cheaper?”. Well, for lots bands, and especially for the smaller bands, the merch money goes directly to them. Sometimes they hire someone to sell merch, and sometimes there is a manager, but regardless, the merch table is a way to buy directly from the band. Because progressive rock is a niche genre, this will be the case with most concerts you’ll attend. Bring friends, and encourage them to buy stuff too. For the bigger progressive rock acts, such as Dream Theater, Steven Wilson, and others, they’re likely using a merchandising company to handle all their costs, but buying merch is still a great way to support the bands you love, even if the merch company takes a % cut.
- Prog bands need help with promotion. Even your favorite bands can use your help. A huge part of why I started Proglodytes in the first place was to help promote artists that I think deserve promotion. Even very popular progressive artists aren’t making a ton of money at what they do. So, do your part in sharing the music that you love with friends. Bring friends to shows, share your favorite artists’ music on social media, and do your part to spread the love! I get all sorts of warm fuzzies when I share an album or a song with someone and it is meaningful to them.
- Albums can be hard to make. There are a lot of things that go into the making of an album. Some albums that we love are the product of hundreds and hundreds of hours of work. And then there is the production staff, the mixing process, audio mastering, etc., who are the unsung heroes behind making an album sound great. To take care of some of these early costs without losing everything they own, lots of artists are turning to pledging sites like PledgeMusic, Kickstarter, and IndieGogo. If you see an artist you love doing a pledge, donate if you can, but share if you can’t. If they’re pledging in the first place, it means that they need the help of as many fans as possible to make their album happen.
- A few artists that I love (Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth and Ben Levin from Bent Knee, Kevin Moore, The Tea Club, Jolly, and others) have started Patreon pages. Patreon is a platform that we’ve discussed here on the blog before, and it allows you to really directly contribute to your favorite artists. There are also a lot of built-in rewards for Patreon contributors. Other artists, such as District 97, have their own Patreon-like platform, called Inside the Vault Club, where you contribute a certain amount per month to get exclusive rewards and benefits.
Is there something I left off? Please leave it in the comments! And, stay tuned for Part 2.
Special thanks to: David Elliott from Bad Elephant Music, Aaron Clift from the Aaron Clift Experiment, Robert Pashman from 3RDegree, and Courtney Swain from Bent Knee for the advice.