Ten Steps to Mastering the Digital Music Revolution – For Fans

When musicians are working hard to get their music “out there” they think up lots of strategies. Sometimes they give away music or do house shows for small groups of people. The thing is most of those musicians are real life artists, pouring their hearts and souls into the music they create. Our attitude as listeners (even snarky reviewers) ought to be respectful. It’s not about the money or the fame; it’s about having the decency to give artists their due. Throw a buck in the busking bucket, if you will.

With that attitude in mind, as well as a dash of adventure, here are a few tips for making the most out of this remarkable time that we’re living in:

1) Don’t be afraid to give an album a chance. – One of the biggest problems we have in the current music landscape is a general unwillingness to listen to an entire album. When it comes to independent artists in particular, rather than playing out the “one song” you know from them, kick in a few extra bucks and buy the full album. It makes all the difference for the artist.

2) Don’t be afraid to move on from an album. – Yes, this is polar opposite advice from my initial point, but the thing about the Digital Music Revolution is that there’s just a lot of music out there. And a lot of it, frankly, is not any good. So when you’re throwing your support around (whether that’s 5 albums a year, or 50), throw it toward the best. Software like bandcamp, soundcloud, and reverbnation often give us a chance to hear a band before we buy the full album. Take advantage of that opportunity and know what you’re getting.

3) Read blogs that write about music. – Obviously we’re fans of what we do around here, but read other blogs too. You may not like every writer on a site, but you might find one person that just “gets” your music taste. Bookmark or subscribe to the blog. Like them on Facebook. Follow their work because ultimately they will help you be a savvier music fan and music buyer.

4) Share music with your friends. – Remember back in elementary school when you shared with people? The whole point of sharing is an EXCHANGE. You can play with my toy if you let me play with yours. In our music world, people often have “their” music on their own playing devices. They describe types of music or specific bands they enjoy and leave it there. Don’t be that person! Tell people what you like and describe music to each other. Share tastes and bands. It helps bands. I can also safely say it’s really rewarding to help someone come to a new love via a band. Sometimes hooking a person up with a new band or artist can last longer than setting them up with a blind date. Almost always.

5) Be an active listener. – One of the worst elements of the Digital Music Revolution is its relative passivity. Avoid Pandora and Spotify. Instead, engage with music in an active way. Choose music wisely, rather than using it as background noise for your busy life. Actually listen to the lyrics, feel the sounds, and react to them genuinely. It will change the way you understand music in myriad ways.

6) Go see live music. A lot. – Yes, you can listen to music on your iPhone, iPad, iMac, and iDontLeaveMyHouse. But you should go hear the twang of guitar strings live. Go hear the real cracks in a tour-worn voice. See the colors of your favorite artists’ hair. Go buy an album from real artists. This may not seem like a piece of advice for the Digital Music Revolution, but it absolutely is. This whole revolution can only be successful if fans attend shows. Music is lovely and enjoyable through headphones, but it is (as hard as it may be for me to admit) only a shadow of the real thing. Live music causes deep, personal, and important changes. It’s culture and it’s necessary. You can’t skip out on what is genuine and beautiful.

7) Take advantage of distance. – One of the advantages of the Digital Music Revolution is that it does not limit us to the bands that are only in our hometown. We can listen to bands across the world and enjoy their art in a way that people had trouble doing even 100 years ago. It’s a beautiful time to be alive that we can collaborate internationally. Take advantage of how the digital format closes that distance.

8) Attend festivals. – Festivals draw huge crowds of like-minded music fans. Oftentimes there are themes or similar styles at festivals, so if a band you like is going to one, check it out. You will at least get to hear one band you like and will probably find others in the process. Again it might seem like a silly thing to say in a post about the DIGITAL revolution, but it’s important to engage with these bands when they are on tour to help support them giving away free music.

9) When bands give music away free, pass the buck. – In other words, when you get something for nothing do the band a favor and spread the word. The reason bands give away music is not that they’ve suddenly struck it rich. They are trying to advertise. If you just throw that free music on your ipod and never tell anyone, you’re not helping the music prosper and the band will eventually have to break up, so they won’t make more music.

10) Remember that you matter. – You matter in every sense. From every listen, every download, and every time you share a song your participation in this “market” is important. When you decide to help a band by listening and sharing their music, you make an investment into their success. Likewise, when you decide to scrobble or stream an album and not support the band financially, you are equally involved. If every music fan would take ownership of his or her place in the music landscape, we would have a much more peaceful place.

BONUS: Be positive. This isn’t really tips for success so much as tips to make our lives easier. If a band puts out a track you don’t like, save yourself the trouble and click “next.” Posting on YouTube or Facebook that you hate how the band has changed… or how they should fire the drummer/lead singer or whatever is not productive. Criticism can be helpful when it’s well framed in constructive terms, but being a fanboy-turned-hater doesn’t help anyone. Oh, and shocker, the bands read those comments and it hurts them to have their art (which is to say their heart) smashes mercilessly by someone so cowardly to insult the music on the internet. Support what you love. Ignore what you don’t.

If you follow these tips, you’ll find yourself really enjoying the current music landscape. Instead of lamenting the failure of the top 40, enjoy the hidden gems of independent music and help it spread among the discerning ears of our passionate music fan base.

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