4 Free or Low-Cost Ways to Support the Professional Musician in Your Life

Normandie Wilson - Pyragraph

Photo courtesy of Normandie Wilson.

Today’s music economy/ecosystem/business model is changing and evolving faster than bacteria on poorly-stored food. If you make music for a living, you know that support from your friends, family and fans is what gets you through each day. If you care about a musician, you may not always know the best way to support them, especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet. Trust me, there’s a lot more that you can do besides emptying your PayPal balance into a Kickstarter campaign.

Hearing messages of support from friends has been the most important fuel for my creative fire.

My job as a musician is difficult and often misunderstood. I’m stressed, tired and busier than almost anyone else I know (except my friends who are also in bands). Despite the challenges, I love what I do, or else I wouldn’t work my tail off to make it happen. There are some days when my to-do list seems insurmountable, and I wonder why I do what I do. Throughout my career, there have been so many people who have offered me support through both the good times and the bad. The discussion around supporting musicians nowadays often revolves around money, but it’s often emotional and physical support that enables us to have the confidence to keep doing what we do. Here are some of my favorite ways people have shown me support that didn’t involve the exchanging of money.

1. Stop by a show every now and again.

No, really. Just do it. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it’s the #1 thing you can do to support the artist in your life. Every musician you know regularly has shows, openings and gigs without charge, where the only costs involved are gas money/transit fare and your time. Make a point of showing up for them. I work weekly in the same locations, and it means the world to me when my friends stop in. I love to see people, even if it’s just to wave “hello” as they’re passing through.

Simply showing up for your favorite artist says a lot. When my friends stop in once a month or so, it lets me know that they haven’t forgotten me. It lets me know they understand I work almost every single Saturday for four hours at a time. It shows me they care enough to take an hour or two out of their life to come say hello to me. I get it—you have a stressful job, kids that need a sitter, personal errands to run, etc. Your life is busy; so is mine. The best way to show us that you care is to find a way to make it to a show every so often.

2. Post about us on social media or share an email with a friend.

This is another fabulous way to support your favorite musician. This takes even less time than going to a show, and absolutely no money at all. You have lots of friends around the world who are probably into some of the same music that you are. Musicians spend a lot of money and a lot of time managing and operating our social media efforts. It can cost upwards of $400 to hire someone to manage and promote your shows and posts online, and I have to set aside three to four hours per week just to deal with Facebook, Twitter and email. As a friend with a working email account and a social media profile, you can help a musician do this for free! And as an added bonus, your recommendation of us will carry much more weight, as it’s coming from an authentic place.

You don’t need to be a marketing expert to do this “right”; a simple post saying, “Hey, my friend Dave is in a really cool band. Check him out,” can do wonders. If you forward one of our email campaigns to a friend, even better; the person on the receiving end can read our words directly, and all you have to do is click “send.”

If you have $5 or $10, and want to buy one of our albums for someone as a gift, that works too. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most musicians will be happy to give you CDs for free or at cost if you tell us that you want to give them to your friends and family. A few months ago, I met a guy from Baltimore at a show I played in San Diego. My latest album is all about revenge and anger, and he told me some stories about his divorce over a glass of wine. He said, “I’ve never heard a song that described how I was feeling so well.” When this guy emailed me and asked me to send him some extra CDs for his friends in Baltimore, what do you think I did? I marched to the post office and mailed him 10 CDs at no cost, straight to his doorstep. I feel extremely confident he’s passing them out amongst his friends this very second. He is doing for me what no ad campaign can do. If you can help a musician friend like that, they’ll never ever forget it.

another day at the office

3. Leave assumptions and comparisons about the “musician lifestyle” at the door.

Musicians and artists have lives, day jobs, kids, hobbies, doctor’s appointments, car troubles, family issues, and errands just like you do. It’s very tempting for people to think that pro musicians have luxurious days, where we spend most of our hours without commitments, floating around on the winds of inspiration and day-drinking. Ha! Those of us who are in the midst of making the transition often still have our 9-5 jobs, and many of us who are seasoned pros still have to work a part-time job or odd errands from time to time to make ends meet. It may appear on social media that our life is a lot better than yours, but that’s probably just the result of our branding and marketing. It’s hurtful when people assume I’m not working as hard as they are, or that gigging musicians are somehow slackers and ne’er-do-goods because we’re in the trenches of a career that has a distinctly non-linear path. I understand if you’re sick and tired of being asked to donate to someone’s $20k+ Kickstarter every month. I am too.

If you’re feeling jealous of your favorite musician and their “lifestyle,” remember that the median income for musicians in the United States hovers around $30k/year. I did my taxes last week and definitely fell short in 2014. It’s often a long slog before our career efforts finally start to pay off. Being a musician is rewarding for sure, but involves a massive amount of sacrifice in the areas of time and money.

I have the utmost appreciation for my friends who are considerate of my finances and also of the sacrifices I have to make for my dream. Even my architect friend who works 60-hour weeks and 14-hour days on the regular is sometimes in awe of my schedule. The mutual respect goes both ways though; I make a huge effort not to compare my lifestyle to my friends’. I would never tell my friend with a new baby that my life is harder than hers, and I also won’t compare preparing for a very important show to a friend who’s preparing a pitch for $250k of investment money. Maybe this sounds weird, but I believe the stress of my career has made me much more considerate. I try my hardest to remember that we’re all in this together as friends.

4. Tell us that you support us.

This is the simplest and most important thing you can do for an artist. Let us know you support us and believe in us. It costs you nothing (three to four bucks if you send a card). Artists are notoriously sensitive people. We often have to be. Our lifestyle depends upon us being in touch with our inner muse and higher voices and visions. A lot of us struggle with depression, financial security, and various insecurities and setbacks that are unique to the artist’s way. To know that your friends and family believe in you is huge. It’s far more important than any show of material support. We can internalize all the support from our friends and family and use it to make our next masterpiece.

Hearing messages of support from friends has been the most important fuel for my creative fire. I especially love hearing from old friends who’ve watched me grow and evolve over the past ten years or so. It means so much when friends who don’t even like my style of music go out of their way to tell me that they believe in me, and that they’re proud of me. That’s real encouragement, and no amount of money can buy it.

How have your friends and family encouraged you on your path? Share in the comments or on Twitter: @pyragraph and @normandiewilson.

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About Normandie Wilson

Normandie Wilson is a singer, pianist, composer, multi-disciplinary artist, and fashionista living and working in sunny San Diego. She has released 11 albums of original music since 2007, along with a (hilarious) book about her experiences in the music industry. Normandie plays with San Diego bands Blue Velvet, Casino Royale, and occasionally with SoCal indie-pop mariachi legends Red Pony Clock. After years of extensive national and international DIY touring with her music, she recently stepped into the life of a working musician, and boy—it’s nice to be able to write off wigs, makeup, and pantyhose on your taxes. Normandie also devotes her time to creating visual art, working in photography, painting, and stained glass. She loves to write about what really happens when you’re working at a piano bar and the lessons she’s learned from the untamed no-man’s land we call the “New Music Frontier.” Normandie’s music blogs have shaken the internet up since 2012, and she is excerpted in the latest book from indie music guru Martin Atkins. You can step into her fabulous online world at her website.

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