Since the pandemic began, there’s been a lot of talk about supporting local business. There’s been less about supporting local artists who, in 2020, have faced an uphill battle wherein most of their revenue streams — touring, merchandising, festivals, even the venues where they might someday play — were snatched away and are likely among the last to return in full swing.
For musicians, especially those starting out, making a living from music alone was a challenge long before COVID-19. But the pandemic has made it much harder to do so, and the near future looks bleak, too. Without meaningful support from fans and community, artists will struggle to keep doing what they do best.
Manitoba Music executive director Sean McManus says giving that support can have a major impact on artists’ well-being, and their bottom line, so in that spirit, the local non-profit is in the midst of a blitz to encourage Manitobans to keep their favourite musicians and bands going.
"There’s just so much uncertainty," says McManus. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to help.
Buying music and merch
Much of an artist’s expenses go into producing their music, McManus says, but without touring and live shows to promote that work, it’s very difficult to earn money off that investment.
"The expectation of a lot of music fans these days is to go on the internet (and find music free)," he says. Streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music allow artists to grow their influence, but they are far from democratic: according to Spotify’s second-quarter results, the company’s revenue grew by 13 per cent over 2019, but much of that money is distributed to global stars such as Bad Bunny, whose work was streamed over eight billion times.
Soundcharts, a music industry analysis blog, calculated last year that the top streaming services issue payouts ranging from $0.0032 to $0.00436 per stream. That’s great when you get eight billion streams,but not quite as profitable when you get 2,000. So buying music directly from local artists, their labels or local music stores can more directly lead to financial gain for musicians and adjacent groups, and lead to more opportunities down the road.
McManus says many local bands have created their own web stores on sites such as Bandcamp, offering fans the opportunity to purchase physical and digital copies of music and merchandise, as well. You don’t even have to wait in line at the merch table to see if a T-shirt is available in your size. These purchases have a cascading effect: the people who make the merchandise are artists and the people who work to make the music happen stand to gain, too.
Stream and share, follow artists
Streaming is not a perfect system, but it does have its perks, offering artists a way to get discovered by fans, promoters, labels and other artists, and giving fans a way to explore much more music than they could fit on a shelf.
"Being on Spotify or Apple Music and streaming, especially with a paid account, helps out artists even more, and liking, following and sharing music helps the artist’s algorithm and that helps more people listen to it," McManus says. "That helps generate revenue in the long term for artists, as well."
Beyond revenue, following an artist online on streaming platforms and social media is a way for them to grow their audience and maintain connections with their fans. Plus, since the pandemic began, many artists have made great strides in creating digital content, including livestream shows, often free of charge. Tuning in, engaging with the artist and clicking "like" or "share" can go a long way.
Plus, listening to one local artist often leads listeners down a rabbit hole of artists from similar genres, labels or locales: your favourite new band could be one click away. Manitoba Music’s social media regularly shares new music and updates from local artists’ work, as do music publications such as Stylus magazine and university radio stations CKUW and UMFM.
And if you’re not a social media or streaming-service user, call into your radio station to request local tunes, McManus says.
Buy a ticket, attend a virtual concert
The artists wish you could be in the same room as them, but for the time being, that’s not an option. However, virtual concerts are a solid alternative: you can eat your own food or drink your own beer while listening to artists such as William Prince (who just played a virtual show from the West End Cultural Centre) play directly to you (tickets were $25). So keep an eye out for live shows, such as Dec. 21’s free Winter Solstice show with Rhonda Head and Miriam Hughes, streaming on Facebook on the MoonVoices page.
Following Manitoba Music on social media, artists or individual venues is a good way to keep abreast of when shows are happening.
Tell an artist you’re listening
"Even if you’ve done your Christmas shopping or your holiday shopping, or are unable to buy a piece of merch or a CD or album, reach out to an artist and let them know you’re listening to them," McManus says.
"It’s a pretty lonely time for artists right now, so as we go through the winter, we’re going to be really focused on making sure we stay connected and that we’re doing OK."
That doesn’t cost a thing, but it can make a big difference, he says.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.