Resolution: I’m going to spend $1000 buying albums made by independent musicians.
There’s been a lot of talk about the injustices of the streaming economy, and a lot of hand-wringing about Spotify recently, but if every listener committed to investing a non-trivial amount of money on independent artists and albums each year, the whole world of music-making would be better off. Back in the CD era, I used to spend all my spare cash on albums, why not now?
The twist in this project is that I’d like to build my new record collection from your suggestions. Instead of collecting music the way I did in the past, carefully selecting what I thought would please my very particular taste, I’d like to listen to whatever my network suggests I listen to. That means friends, acquaintances, readers, you.
I’ll do my best to promote each album I buy by favorably reviewing it in person, on Twitter, through this blog, and possibly elsewhere. And while this project lasts, I’ll be listening to my new purchases exclusively, staying away from any “free” content online and any music I had collected in the past.
To anyone who knows of an interesting new album created by an independent musician, tell me about it in a comment here on this blog post, or contact me on Twitter, and I will strongly consider it for purchase. Artists, please don’t be shy about suggesting your own work — I do want to hear from you directly. Wondering what kind of music I like? Read below…
What’s the timeframe?
I’m planning on a six-month timeframe, officially starting March 2022 and ending Aug 2022, though I’ve already bought three albums earlier in 2022 that I’ll be including in the project. I want to have time to get to know each album I buy, so I’d like to cap my purchasing at five albums per week and have it be lower than that most weeks.
How are you tracking your purchases?
I’ll be recording them in this spreadsheet.
What styles of music are you looking for?
I’m hoping for a mix of classical, folk, singer/songwriter, jazz, and world music. I’m also hoping to broaden my horizons and get to know new styles that I wouldn’t typically seek out.
How picky are you?
I’m interested in hearing any albums that were labors of love for their creators, whether the album was made in a bathroom or a professional studio, by a novice singer/songwriter who only plays three chords or by a virtuoso classical musician. In any case where I don’t immediately connect with the music itself, I will try to learn more about the performer and their story of creating the album, and as long as there’s passion and commitment in the story, I will feel happy to have made the investment and included them in this project.
Why are you doing this?
I’m planning to release an album myself (90 minutes of intricate counterpoint performed on clavichord) but I don’t currently have a sizeable audience to release it to. In thinking about how to build an audience for my own work, I began thinking about what I’d love other people to do for me: I’d love them to “tune in” to what I’m trying to achieve, buy my music, take the time to listen to it closely, and tell others about it. This raises the question: am I doing that same thing for other musicians? The answer is: so far no, not really. I’ve been consuming a lot of “free” music online but not buying or promoting many albums or artists. But that “no” leads to a further question: would I like to do it for other musicians? Would I feel excited and proud to support other creators who are taking the bold step of bringing new music into this world? And here the answer is most definitely yes! So I’ve set myself a goal: spend $1000 on independent music and try my best to promote it. Why not do this?
What do you mean by only giving favorable reviews?
I’m of the opinion that if I don’t enjoy a piece of music, this might mean that I’m not the best person to appreciate and comment on it. I might not understand the work, or the work might not be crafted for ears that function like mine. In such a case, describing my lack of pleasure in the work provides no value to anyone. But if I do enjoy a piece of music, this definitely means that I’m a good person to comment on it. And it puts me in a position to provide value to another listener who doesn’t yet know about the work but stands to enjoy it. I want to provide value where I can and stay out of the picture where I can’t. Generally, I will try to buy albums that I think I have a good chance of coming to love; if there are few that I don’t learn to love, I might not say much about them, but I’ll try to keep listening.
What formats will you be purchasing?
I’m generally looking to purchase digital downloads of albums. If a particular album is available only on CD, I’ll still consider it. I’m not currently set up to play vinyl. I’m not looking for streaming offerings. And while I love Patreon, I’m not currently looking to become a Patreon supporter of each artist I listen to. I’m really just hoping to be able to buy an album and download it as WAV, FLAC, MP3, whatever. Best-case scenario is the artist/album is on Bandcamp.
Will you be tipping?
I’m going to keep my purchasing decisions as simple and frictionless as possible by paying the base price that artists request for their album, hoping that artists have set a reasonable base price that does justice to their work.
If I’m a musician and you haven’t bought my album yet, does that mean you don’t want to?
I’m connected to a number of wonderful musicians I haven’t purchased from yet. That’s not because I don’t want to — I do! I’m just getting started with this project and might need a reminder or nudge.
If I’m a musician and you’ve bought my album, how can I help you promote it?
Funny you should ask. What you can do is make sure I know or can find your story of creating the album and your larger story of coming to make music. What obstacles did you overcome to bring this album into the world? What does the album mean to you? When I’m recommending a piece of music, it’s very hard for me to speak engagingly about the technical details of the music. But it’s easy for me to speak engagingly about the artist’s story… if I know it. Tell me.
March 10 Update: I was interviewed by Kevin Alexander for his substack “On Repeat,” just published this morning. I have just received a slew of great recommendations today! I’ve spent $93.44 of the budget so far. Taking stock of the project overall: I’m doing very well in discovering great music. Word is starting to spread. Am sensing that folks who hear about this are curious and want to support it. My challenges so far: creating enough uninterrupted time for listening; also, breaking my old habit of just privately enjoying something — being sure to tell someone else about it!