5 Ways to Be Socially Responsible in Music

January 15, 2020 Barbie Wong
I am old enough to remember my father playing 8-tracks on our stereo at home. Neil Diamond would sing to us in our living room while my father sat listening with a satisfied smile. Soon, however, technology advanced to cassette tapes and eventually I was relishing the convenience of the Sony Walkman. Back then, if I wanted to hear a particular song, I would have to either
  1. hope that the radio would play it or
  2. purchase the album.
Since then, I have spent hundreds of dollars purchasing music. On average, I spent about $15 per album, amassing over 100 CD’s by the time I was in my early 30’s. Nowadays, I can access almost any song I want on any of my devices. So much has changed, and as I began looking into my music-streaming habits, I did not like what I saw.
I have to confess something: I am a lazy luddite. It’s not that I am opposed to technological advances. I am just too lazy to look into or purchase the latest technology. For years, before I stepped out the door to exercise, I would put on my headphones and strap on a fanny pack that housed a Discman, a portable CD player. It was the upgraded version of the Sony Walkman. When the first iPod first came out, I yawned at its tiny appearance. But my husband was intrigued and he purchased one for me for my birthday. I thanked him but was puzzled. Why would I need this small strange thing when I had my Discman? The iPod sat in its case for several months until I chaperoned a backpacking trip for teens. Through them, I finally saw how easy it was to use the iPod and eventually abandoned my beloved Discman. 
The same thing happened when the iPhone came out. This time, it only sat in its case for for a few weeks and again, I have my husband to thank for coaxing me out of my technology doldrums.
Last year, my husband signed us up for Spotify and I discovered how easy it is to access so much music. Some days, I feel like I am in a candy store as I hop from Mozart to Indonesian gamelan to Lizzo to bossa nova to Yo-Yo Ma. So much music, so little time!
Then, the past few months I began hearing tremors of dissatisfaction from local musicians who have their music on a music streaming service like Spotify, Apple Music, or Amazon music. It turns out that very large artists like Taylor Swift can make money from these streaming services. But if artists are signed to an independent label or not signed at all, their ability to make money from these streaming services are stunningly low. Recently, Cellist Zoe Keating revealed that Spotify pays her $0.00473 per play, which is the same as .473 cents or less than half a cent per play. That’s not even a penny. She has a large following with over 59,000 listeners, but she only made $6,800 in 2019.
I then examined my own music purchasing habits. I have purchased very little music since we signed up for Spotify. When I attend local shows, I would usually purchase a CD from the musician or band, but since I rarely use my beloved CD player, I no longer do that. The musicians I have spoken to say that they used to make a large part of their profit from CD sales. Now, those sales are dwindling.
I brought this up recently when I spoke with PC Muñoz, Director of Education and Community Engagement at The Freight & Salvage, a non-profit community arts organization in Berkeley. He said that the way he gives back to the artist is to contribute directly to their albums. When he finds that he is streaming the music of a particular musician a lot, he will buy their album either physically or digitally. That gave me some hope and it helped me come up with this list on…

How to Be a Socially Responsible Music Consumer

#1) Pay artists directly

Although this may be difficult to figure out, it is the solution that seems the most fair. If you can find out how to send payment to a musician or band, then do it. You will be supporting them most effectively. 

#2) Buy a CD but don’t take it

I figured this out last November when I went to see the Horswovski Trio in San Francisco. I had been listening to their music for weeks on Spotify leading up to their concert. Their breath-taking performance ignited a desire to show my support. Usually, that means buying their CD. But since I had Spotify, I did not need their CD. So I went up to the kind man selling their CD’s and gave him $20. It felt good knowing that I was supporting their music.

#3) Buy a digital album

Remember downloading individual songs from iTunes? Artists can make more money if you purchase their music digitally. If you haven’t already, try Bandcamp. They actually gives artists 85% of the amount you pay. 

#4) Go to their shows

When you buy tickets to a concert, you are supporting that musician. There’s also the added benefit of hearing someone live, an experience that cannot be duplicated on your device.

#5) Tip them

If it is possible at their show, tip them. Remember that the admission fee does not only cover the time the musician spends performing at the show. It also covers the many hours the musician puts into creating and rehearsing for the show. Be generous with them and support their livelihood.
Try these tips out and let me know how it goes. If you have other ideas on how to be a socially responsible music consumer, let me know in the comments below. I am always open to new ideas!
By the way, the photo at the top is the first album I ever purchased, Purple Rain by Prince and the Revolution, when I was 9 years old. It still has the plastic wrapping on it.