Feeding the starving artists.
December 26, 2006 9:08 PM   Subscribe

What are the most effective ways to monetarily support my favorite artists?

These days, I very rarely purchase CDs. However, when I get interested in a smaller/indie artist, I do my best to buy CDs or other merchandise by them, because I know that monetary support can mean an awful lot to a struggling artist. However, I want to make sure that as much money as possible actually reaches the artist in question.

My preferred course of action is always to buy from the merch table at a performance; there, most, if not all of the profit goes directly to the artist. (Right?) If attending a concert isn't feasible, I see what's available straight from the artist online, if anything; if they're signed to a small record label, I'll try to go directly through the label.

Beyond this, I'm at a loss. I guess my basic question is, is there a way to know which retailers give the largest profit percentage back to the artist? For example, when big box stores (Target, Wal-Mart, etc.) mark down prices, whose profits are consequently decreased? I also know that the larger the record label, the larger cut they take of the earnings, so I'm also wondering if there are any general numbers about some of the bigger labels.

If you have any insights regarding monetary support of other kinds of artists (authors, filmmakers, photographers and so on), I would love to hear them as well. If I'm going to give in to the capitalist system, I figure I might as well do it as effectively as possible. Thanks!
posted by sarahsynonymous to Shopping (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Dear god, apologies for starting two sentences in a row with "However."
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:09 PM on December 26, 2006

Dear god, apologies for starting two sentences in a row with "However."

Would that we all were cursed by such minor mistakes.

As far as your question goes...I remember that some authors started posting links on their websites to their books on Amazon because they actually got more through referrals than they did through royalties. If your artist has a website, use links from that website to purchase their CD.

Also, if you're buying your artist's CD at Walmart, odds are pretty good that a) they aren't suffering too much financially and b) the money they're making is through their publisher or distributor, so the store itself probably has little effect on the artist.

If they're a more indie artist (and sometimes even if they aren't) they may have their album on cdbaby, which gives a lion's share of the profits to the artists.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:21 PM on December 26, 2006

Have you considered just mailing them a cheque?
posted by cillit bang at 9:28 PM on December 26, 2006

Magnatune, although very small, is another retailer with a good and fair financial model.
posted by spasm at 9:34 PM on December 26, 2006

I agree with cillit bang (although I'd send a check instead). If you're serious about supporting art, the most effective way is to give money directly.
See the opening vignette here for an example.
posted by Partial Law at 9:42 PM on December 26, 2006

I'm an indie artist. I do have a donation link on my website, but I'd prefer that someone buy my CD from CD Baby or iTunes. The financial support is really great, but knowing that people are listening to my music is maybe even more important to me at this stage.

Given the choice of 5 people sending me money or 1 person listening to my album and sending a heartfelt email about how it meant something to them, I'd take the latter.
posted by SampleSize at 9:52 PM on December 26, 2006

Indie artists make most of their money from merch at the tables and concert ticket sales.

If you'll wear it around, buy a tshirt.

If you'll play it when friends are present, buy a CD.

If you've got friends who like hearing new bands - buy 2 tickets and bring them. Indie band shows are usually cheap as is, so spending $10 instead of $5 isn't that huge a deal and maybe you'll both end up walking out with a CD and/or tshirt.

Basically, keep doing what you're doing. When in doubt, ask the band, as their profit share of CDs, tshirts etc does vary. Some bands have their CD pressings funded by a small label in which case they actually don't get so much money as they might from say a Tshirt.
posted by twiggy at 10:22 PM on December 26, 2006

As an indie musician, personally I would be weirded out if someone tried to just donate money to me. If the artist has a donate link though, they obviously aren't weirded out by that sort of thing. I think the best way to show your support by attending shows and buying merch and then telling all of your friends to do the same.

While a group that has reached the level that they're shelved in a big box retailer may not be doing well financially (contrary to popular belief), you'll still do better by them by buying their merch directly from them, rather than through the retailer. Odds are the CDs were sold to the retailer at a heavy discount, with money paid by the label (but really, paid indirectly by the band) for shelf placement.

If you want to get to involved in figuring out how to maximize your support for a band, there's way to much to calculate, some venues take a portion of merch sales (smart bands raise prices to compensate for this), some shows pay bands extremely well regardless of the audience, some barely pay.

The other thing you can do is write reviews of works you really like, and other things that get the word out.
posted by drezdn at 12:10 AM on December 27, 2006

The retailers are too far removed from the label (if you're talking indie) to affect the amount that the artist gets. So, regardless of what the price is of the CD, the artist gets the same amount. Buying at Tower vs buying at your local indie store makes no difference to the person whose CD you're buying. However, it does make a difference to the artists you're not buying:

- when you support your megastore, you're supporting all the artists whose work they carry, both the ones you like and dislike, because you're helping keep that store afloat. Same goes for your indie store. And, the indie store is probably supporting more artists you would like that you haven't yet heard so if you're truly interested in indie music, buy there if your choices are stores, even if it means you're paying an extra buck or two.

- as someone mentioned, buy a tshirt. they make good profit on those, especially if bought at a show.

- if you have a set amount that you can spend in general, it is "more important" to buy merch (at shows) from foreign artists than local ones. This is because foreign artists have to pay more to tour in your country than local artists. They all have the same costs once in the country (gas, etc.), but the foreigners have to pay to bring their CDs across the border as well as pay to enter (as they're working--something like a temporary work visa) and, sometimes, pay lawyers and whatnot to do the paperwork (though if the label is big enough they'll cover this).

- sending a cheque is fine, but you have to make sure that you're addressing it to the right person. Sometimes bands have bank accounts and sometimes they don't. Sometimes artists release stuff under their own name and sometimes they do it under a psuedonym that just sounds like a real name. They may not have an account under that name.

- at concerts, if you really like the band, buy extra copies of the cds to give to your friends. TELL the band that you're doing this. They will be delighted.

- you could try and check into how much labels are giving the artists. For instance, unless Touch & Go records has changes their policy, they give 50% of all net profits to the artist. Some labels, though small, operate like majors, only giving a small amount to the band. However, keep in mind that the retail cost of the cd is irrelevant (ie, the artist doesn't get more money if you pay $22 for their cd as opposed to $15). The reason is that the label is selling (usually) to a distributor for $X per cd. The distro is selling to the store (or sometimes another distro) for $X per CD and the store is then marking it up percentage and selling it to you. The label still got $X regardless of what that markup is. (Note, that in some rare instances, a store can deal directly with a label and get deals by buying in bulk, but there's not really a way for you to find that out easily.)

Indie artists make most of their money from merch at the tables and concert ticket sales.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the second part is true. Usually the band will have 2 tiers of payment re: ticket sales. a fixed amount for playing and another amount if X tickets are sold. The exception may be a local opening band who may get $0 for playing unless X number of people come in the door by a predetermined time at which pt they'll get $X. Getting people to concerts early can be very difficult which is why venues will pay extra if the opener can do this (because the people will be able to drink more as they're there for longer).

So, another way to support bands is to get there early--before the first band takes the stage. In addition to supporting them with your presence, you may be rewarding them financially. Plus, you may see some great bands. Some of my fave bands I've seen as openers when I had never heard of them (JSBX, Danko Jones, Black Angels, Lambchop, M Ward, Palace Brothers, Shotmaker, Girls Vs Boys, The Shins...)
posted by dobbs at 7:37 AM on December 27, 2006 [2 favorites]

Some of the clubs I've played in will pay amount x regardless of the amount of people paying to get in (though if x doesn't show up, the club and promoter will be pissed), and then will pay a percentage of the door based on the total ticket sales. In larger clubs, opening bands tend to get paid a seriously small amount, and then make most of their money off of merch sales.

It can get really confusing quickly, especially for opening bands. A group I know very well will be playing a huge show soon, a show that has already sold out, where they are getting roughly $400 to play, from which their manager takes a cut, their sound person takes a cut, and then there's various costs that will rise up, leaving them with $200 or less, hoping to make additional money off CD sales.
posted by drezdn at 7:53 AM on December 27, 2006

Please forgive me for interpreting "monetary support" broadly. My experience is that way leads on to way as far as these things are concerned. To reiterate what several people have said and add a few more ideas, in increasing order of commitment:

Email (or for extra thrillingness, handwrite) a letter or note letting the artist know you love what they're doing. What SampleSize wrote is true for most of the artists I've known: Given the choice of 5 people sending me money or 1 person listening to my album and sending a heartfelt email about how it meant something to them, I'd take the latter.

Direct order from the artist or label site whenever possible. Make mixes for friends and include your favorite songs.

Buy merch and wear it. Buy it as gifts when you can, too.

Go to shows! It's as awful as you'd expect to show up in an unfamiliar city and play to an empty or hostile room. Don't be afraid of being the one dork who stood in front and clapped and danced. I have been that dork, and you get over it, especially when the band gives you a hug afterwards.

If they've got a message/fan board, participate.

When you have more time and talent than money, offer your help. They will not think you are forward or creepy! If you have design talent, small bands often need help with web work, cd art, video, and merch. If you have social gifts, you can help with promotion and getting bodies to shows. If you write well, write posts about them on your own blog or in music or music-friendly communities (last.fm, imeem, Pandora).

Everyone's too cool for myspace now, but just about every small band has a presence there. If you've got a page, friend the artist, leave comments, write to them directly, cite their music on your page.

If a small band you like is playing your town, offer to flyer, call the local stations to request airplay, and if you're up for it, dinner or a place to stay. We've never regretted doing so for others and we've always deeply appreciated like offers.

For local art/photography, a lot of the same stuff applies: buy direct, buy as gifts, attend showcases and openings, check flickr to see if the artist has a page you can link to and leave supportive comments on, and so on.

Sincere thanks for wanting to support the musicians and artists you care about.
posted by melissa may at 9:48 AM on December 27, 2006

A cousin of mine always e-mails or calls when a band he thinks I'd like to hear is coming to town. I wouldn't even know they were coming if he didn't call. We usually go out to dinner first and make a night of it.
You could expand on that and throw "The Band is playing tonight " get togethers, either at your home or just meet at a restaurant first and then go on to the concert.
It seems to me like the more people you can you can get to go see them the better. It's usually more fun to go with a crowd and people are more likely to actually show up if someone else organizes it.
You'll become "The one who comes to all our concerts and always brings 25 people with her".
P.S. This only works if it's the fantastic music that attracts you and not just because you have a crush on the drummer.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:00 PM on December 27, 2006

I am an indie musician, and this may be a rather unpopular opinion, but burn the CD (or a couple of track on a mix) for your friends. I can't tell you how many times people have come to the merch table at shows and said:
"My friend burned me a copy of your CD and I want to buy the real thing. By the way, I brought all of my friends to the show and I play your music for everybody I meet."
Sounds crazy, but people "stealing" music might be the best grass roots promotion a band can find!
posted by TheCoug at 4:05 AM on January 7, 2007

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