When the UK lockdown began in late March, a lot of musicians lost the majority – if not all – of their income. I was in a position to help, so I started buying an album every single Monday.
I lasted about 12 weeks before I stopped.
What was it like, and why did I stop doing it every single week? Here’s my thoughts on what I learned.
How Much New Music Did I Buy?
According to iTunes, I ended up buying 195 individual tracks. It would have been higher, but some of the music I sought out wasn’t available to buy (?!?), and one week I bought a musician’s Kemper profiles and impulse responses instead.
Finding New Music Is Hard
Well, perhaps, more accurately, finding new music that I like is hard.
In the old days of MTV, and before that music radio, there were plenty of gatekeepers (ie DJs and music TV producers) who did a pretty useful job of making sure that they uncovered and aired great music for their audiences.
Yes, gatekeepers / gatekeeping is also a bad thing, and many of our musicians today are able to give it a proper go because it’s now down to their ability to build an audience.
I just don’t know how to find them. Where do I go to find great musicians, great songwriting and great performances?
It isn’t social media.
Trying to find something as simple as music during historical times is proving nigh-on impossible for me. My social media feeds simply can’t keep pace with the latest death toll, the latest outrage by Trump, the latest incompetence by Johnson, and so on. YouTube’s not much help either any more: Google has a real problem with recommending alt-right click bait videos over other forms of content.
At one point, I was buying music literally by looking up music industry award nominees, and picking a couple of artists by random. And it showed: looking at iTunes, I haven’t given a 5 star rating to any of the new (to me) music that I’ve bought during this period.
An Album A Week Is Exhausting
I haven’t listened to everything that I’ve bought during this time. And the songs I have listened to? I couldn’t pick any of them out of a crowd, because I haven’t listened to them properly.
I’ve simply struggled to make the time to kick back and do nothing else but listen to the new (to me) music that I’ve bought.
In the past, I’d listen to music in the car, or during the commute to work. Well, the car hasn’t moved in months thanks to the lockdown, and it’s been a few years now since I last had to commute to work.
It’s a major reason why I stopped buying music every week. I just wasn’t getting any pleasure from the music itself.
Has It Actually Helped?
I’m sure it has. I’m not sure if it’s helped everyone, though.
Every week, I sent out a tweet telling my friends what I’d bought. The main idea was to try and encourage them to do something similar, and I’m delighted that some of them have. I also tagged every artist if they had a Twitter account, again so that my friends could see which artist’s music I was trying that week.
If I remember correctly, only two of the tagged artists engaged at all with those tweets: Bronwen Lewis and Rhett Shull.
Watching my favourite YouTubers establish themselves as professional artists over the years, I’ve noticed a general trend: when they reach a certain audience size, a certain level of security, they switch from interacting with their audience to becoming broadcasters.
This is an observation, not a criticism.
It has made me question my actions. Am I actually helping? Have I been picking artists who don’t really need this support in this way? There’s always going to be other artists who need the support more; that’s not the issue. But maybe the artists I’ve chosen are doing alright, and/or selling albums just doesn’t help them enough?
That’s the other reason I’ve stopped. I started doing this to help others, but if it doesn’t actually help, I feel that I should find a different way to help – or simply do a better job of finding the artists who need this help.
I’d Rather Buy Music Than Merch
If you’re an artist who makes more from your merch – your clothing line, or the knick-knacks that you sell – I’m sorry. If I buy your merch when I don’t have a use for it, all I’m doing is creating more landfill. That’s something that just isn’t for me.
I’d rather buy your music. Even if I don’t like it, it won’t end up in landfill.
If you sell music-related merch that I can use – Kemper profiles, impulse responses, D&M Drive pedals – then I’m more than happy to buy something like that instead to help you.
I can’t go to your gigs, so I want to find another way to help.
These are just my personal thoughts, about something I tried to do to help musicians during the worst public health crisis for 100 years, and the worst economic crisis for over 300 years.
I thought it would be a way to help people facing a suddenly-uncertain future. I’ve come away from it full of doubt about whether I actually managed to help much at all.