Radical Acts of Patronage
These days, buying an album is a radical act of patronage.
Way back when, my mother and her younger brother waited in line to buy the new Beatles album on the day it came out. Aside from the radio, that was the only way to hear the music. You had to actually go to the store and exchange money for the physical product. Then you would take it home, place it carefully on the player, and listen. Now this method seems incredibly antiquated. I have access to almost every piece of recorded music in the world from the device upon which I am currently writing this column. If that doesn’t blow your mind, then I don’t know what will.
Spotify, YouTube, Apple Music, and a number of smaller streaming services are giving you a universe of options to listen to at any moment. If you’d like to hear the album my old band recorded live on community radio in 2004, go ahead. I am not actually suggesting you do that, but that and any other record can be in your ears in a matter of seconds. This is a relatively new development in the music industry. It has happened in the span of my short career — within the past 10 years.
For that reason, every time you buy a musician’s album in physical form, you’re committing a radical act of patronage. If you spend $15 on a compact disc or $25 on a beautiful piece of vinyl, you are actively participating in their bottom line. You are helping them pay their mortgage or put food on their table or ensure them the ability to continue playing music. Buy a T-shirt and you’re contributing toward paying off a musician’s student loans. It’s not always an instant transaction; it may take a few days to receive a record in the mail. You might have to wait until an artist comes to your town — but then it’s a very meaningful interaction, complete with a signature.
Just like going to a mom-and-pop shop for your holiday gifts instead of ordering everything on Amazon, think of musicians as local businesses. Your dollar is your vote and it has an inherent value.
At this time of year, when Americans consume more of everything from food to toys, it behooves your community as a whole to spend some of that vote on the little guy. I’m not saying you should pass up Adele’s new album, which is outselling even Taylor Swift’s 1989, but you should also take a chance on a smaller musician. Go to the website of an artist your friend’s friend told you about and buy an album. Their family will thank you.
Happy holidays from ours to yours.