Yes, musicians appreciate your business—any purchase of concert tickets, CDs, downloads, or other merch helps them keep making music. But beyond spending your hard-earned cash, there are lots of ways you can support artists that don't cost a cent yet make a real difference. Here are 15 ideas.
Note: Since posting this, I've gotten a bunch of great suggestions for additions, and I've incorporated some below. Thanks, all. Also, I hope it's clear that these suggestions are for musicians as well as music fans. We're all in this together, and good things happen when we look beyond self promotion and help each other out however we can. I made this list as a reminder to myself as much as for others.
Most musicians these days rely on social media for spreading the word about what they do, and you can really help the cause by sharing their posts. Whenever you pass along an artist's video, photo, show announcement, crowd-funding campaign, etc., you amplify his or her voice. You give credibility, too—this isn't self promotion.
Add your own personal note to the share, and be sure to tag the appropriate musician page/account. That way the artist will be notified of your post, and others can easily follow the trail to the source.
Like a video on YouTube? Say so in the comments (and give it a thumbs up too). Same goes for a Facebook post or Instagram image. The more engagement a post gets, the more likely it is to engage others.
Be an official follower/fan/subscriber/tracker on whatever social media channels an artist uses—Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Bandsintown, etc.
You may wind up becoming Facebook friends with artists you've met or just admire, and that's great. But be sure to like their musician pages as well. That's an important show of support, and folks like venue bookers do look at the number of page likes as a measure of a musician's popularity.
4. Join the email list.
I know, we all get too much email. But the email list is a lifeline for indie musicians—it's still one of the best and most economical ways to stay in touch with fans. I'm on the email lists for scores of musicians, and none of them are spammers either. They send newsletters sparingly and often share good stories and tips on other music they love along with their own news.
5. Tell a friend.
Is the artist performing in a city where you have friends or family who might appreciate the music? Let them know, whether privately or in a public post. Include a link to a video so they can check out the music for themselves.
6. Write reviews.
Good, thoughtful music reviews are so valuable and can be hard to come by. If you love an album, take a few minutes and write a customer review for Amazon, iTunes, or another store. Or, at the very least, rate the album/song.
7. Make requests.
Wish you could hear an artist at your local venue or on your favorite radio show? Let the venue or host know. And then let the artist know you did so (see #13).
8. Make playlists and stations.
If you use Spotify, make a public playlist that includes the artist's songs alongside other favorites, and share that. On Pandora, build a station around the artist's music—you may discover some other great new music too.
If, say, you want a CD or a guitar lesson from a musician, and you have something of value to offer in return, ask about making some sort of trade. I love doing this—my favorite such transaction was when my dog's vet offered to waive the fee for a vaccination in return for a couple CDs.
10. Put up posters.
When a musician has a show in your neck of the woods, it's a big help if you can put up even a few posters in good locations like music stores, cafés, community centers, and libraries. Sharing a poster on your virtual wall—on Facebook, Instagram, etc.—is good too (and, as mentioned above, be sure to tag the artist).
11. Pass the hat.
At an awful lot of grassroots gigs, musicians are paid by tips, and oftentimes the venue does nothing to encourage or collect them. This is a big drag for the performer—while trying to play a show, it can be distracting or downright uncomfortable to ask for tips over the microphone. Plus, the artist's own solicitation doesn't work nearly as well as when someone else takes the hat or bucket, walks around the room with a smile, and collects donations while the music plays. The artist may not have a friend in the room to do this. Be that friend.
Performers often need other kinds of help at a gig, such as setting up, selling merch, or working the door, and would be happy to offer a comp ticket or other perq in return. Ask how you can chip in.
13. Suggest venues.
If you see gaps in an artist's tour itinerary and have ideas for stops that might work out along the way, let him or her know. Suggestions of house concert series and off-the-beaten-track venues are especially welcome. And, per #7, let the venue know too.
14. Put 'em up.
For less established artists on the road, paying for accommodations is a real budget killer—it'll quickly put a tour in the red. If you've got a room or a couch to spare, offer it to a grateful troubadour. (And if your offer is accepted, be respectful of his or her need for downtime, privacy, and sleep.)
15. Host a house concert or workshop.
You'd be surprised how simple—and how incredibly rewarding—hosting a house concert can be (here's a guide to the basics). And you don't need to spend money. If you want to have food or drink, make it a potluck. Or, if you want to buy some supplies, it's perfectly OK to take some money from the door to cover expenses—just let the performer know that in advance.
Also, many musicians teach workshops on songwriting, instrumental skills, singing, and more. If you'd love to learn from an artist and know others who feel the same, ask about having a workshop in your home. I've had wonderful experiences teaching guitar and songwriting workshops with small groups sitting around the living room.
Help on the way
If you'd like to support an artist but aren't sure what type of help is needed the most, just ask. And if you two come up with something that belongs on this list, let me know!