People say the silliest things, don’t they? “Is anyone sitting here?” “It’ll be in the last place you look.” “No deal is better than a bad deal.” We’re idiots. And we’re particularly fond of saying stupid things to musicians. An informal survey I just conducted on Facebook revealed that some audience members think it’s appropriate to be critical or rude to artists they’ve just watched. “I could see what you were trying to do.” “Do you do any cheerful songs?” “Do you really talk like that or are you putting it on?” It’s the music equivalent of negging – that misogynistic pick-up technique designed to undermine confidence and demand attention. Faint praise is just as unwelcome. “I like the instrumentals best.” “That was lovely, why don’t you sing them in English?” “I don’t usually like female artists, but I actually enjoyed it.”
Overwhelming anecdotal evidence suggests women have it worse. “The boots you wore tonight were very sexy.” “You have a fantastic sexuality on stage. It’s the way you wiggle.” “You ladies’ harmonies give me a tingle.” Stop doing this. If you wouldn’t say it to a woman in the street, don’t say it to a woman after a gig she’s just played. And if you would say it to a woman in the street, stop doing that too. And before you write in and complain, I know it’s not just men. But it is mostly men. Men are shit.
But there’s another thing people need to stop saying to musicians that spans the gender divide. It goes a little something like this: “How much is your album? £10? I’ll get it on Spotify, it’s free there.” “My husband and I have stopped buying CDs so we’ll just stream it on Spotify.” “That was a terrific show. Are you on Spotify?”
Other music streaming services are available and none of them pay the artist close to what they’d earn if you gave them actual cash for their records, either. Like, such a tiny amount that if you found it in your pocket you’d rather pop it in the tin of a charity you didn’t like than have it clanking around uselessly against your keys. If you genuinely can’t afford to buy someone’s album in a physical or downloadable format, that’s fine; we’re none of us getting any richer. But telling an artist that you’re choosing to stream rather than buy is so insensitive it should set off an arsehole alarm somewhere in the building.
This isn’t an argument against streaming. There are pros as well as cons that I don’t have room to debate here. This is a plea to understand that if you see a musician selling their own releases then it’s likely they don’t have much money and are relying on people who like their music to buy it. As the acclaimed bassist Steve Lawson wrote on Twitter: “You’re not paying for this album, you’re paying for the next one. All record buying is crowd funding.”
I propose that musicians place a ‘Spotify jar’ on their merch table. It could work like an honesty box for anyone who doesn’t want to take home a copy of your record but is planning to listen to your music as if they own it. If we want nice things, we have to pay the people who make them.