By: Andrew Remillard, pianist and Laura JH Ball, composer
Recently, the San Antonio Symphony closed its doors for good after the musicians refused a 50% cut in pay. This is not some start up orchestra; they had been around for 83 years and were in a major metropolitan area. If you think things are difficult at the top of the field, let me tell you about how the rest of us live!
Covid has been an unmitigated disaster for all musicians, especially those depending upon live performances. Not only did they not work for most of two years, but an untold number of performance supporting organizations (see above) had to closed their doors.
Most of us moved what we could onto various interweb venues and social media. While many of you have done what you could to support your favorite musicians as we have tried to look for new ways to showcase our art, there are a few very common mistakes many people make which actually hurts your musician friends quite a bit and many new ways you can help.
I have seen a lot of ink spilled bemoaning the changes and challenges we all face, but very little on how best to actually support the arts. So, here are some simple ways you can help your favorite artist:
Actually listen to the video!
If you “like” a recent video, actually listen to it! Did you know Facebook (FB), YouTube (YT), et al., are designed by engineers? Do you know what engineers like? Data, and lots of it! I know how many views came from my latest post on Facebook, and when I received 50 “likes” compared to only 10 views on my video it was quite a bit discouraging, to say the least.
Listen for more than 30 seconds!
If you do listen… Thanks! Your FB “like” (which takes a fraction of a second) doesn’t really do me any good if you never actually listen to the video. But please listen for more than 30 seconds. In a recent conversation I had with a composer friend of mine, she saw the discrepancy between the apparent support she received on FB which never translates into anything meaningful on YT.
If you bale out on her 8 min video after 30 seconds you indicate to YT that this is a bad video, and it should not be suggested to anybody else. Did you know we can see exactly how long people listened to our videos? We see a chart showing where people dropped out. When it goes from 100% to 5% in 30 seconds that video is heading to the ash heap of videos. It would be better if you didn’t listen at all than only listen for such a short period. Please, hit play and let it play. It is possible to keep the video playing as you do other things online. It could make the difference between life and death for the artist! (If that’s the gift God gave someone, it sure seems a waste if it’s never enjoyed or appreciated). Not to mention, you may actually discover that you really like the video.
Financially Support Your Artist!
Did you know almost all media sites have options to directly support your artist? Do you have any idea what it would mean to a starving artist–or one who is stuck doing some menial, unrelated job instead of creating their art–to have a hundred people send them a few bucks each month? An important consideration in this “micro gifting” action is that at least half the first dollar will be consumed in fees. If you gave a dollar a week for a year, your artist may only net $20 – $25 dollars. The rest went to processing fees. (This is true for all credit card processing; small transactions are very expensive for the merchant.) If you made a one-time $50 gift, the artist would clear maybe $45 after fees. Most media sites will split the gift with the artist (which is fair since it cost them to set up the option itself). Check with the artist as to the preferred means of support.
Tell the World About Your Artists!
By all means, tell the world about your artist! Word of mouth has always been the best way to support your artist. Share their latest videos on your social media, like and comment on their video directly (this does help a lot with the algorithms) and buy their merchandise.
If you don’t support your favorite artists, they may lose motivation to create as well as the financial capability to do so, and there will be far less beauty in the world. Every hour they spend working on a different job to pay the rent is an hour not creating their next masterpiece. And I think that is a big part of the problem. The average person has no idea how long it took my composer friend to write her latest symphonic work–a couple hundred hours spread over several months. Would you make that effort so that only a handful of people took the time to actually listen to it in full, and instead simply pressed “like” and moved on?
It is Far More Work and Less Financially Rewarding Than You May Think
In my own case, with 6000+ hymns recorded, 200+ solo works recorded, and even with the royalties from a couple of movie deals, my hymn recordings have earned me maybe $1 an hour. I am not sure the solo work is much more than a couple of cents an hour. So, if you are wondering if that $5 gift is appreciated, you can bet your bottom dollar it is!
None of us do this only for the money. We are not deluded into thinking art will pay all the bills unless we’re in that tiny fraction of a percent that “hit it big” with producers and publishers. However, we still must eat and pay the rent, and we still want to feel like our gifts are meaningful to the world.
For those who create for non-monetary reasons, the impetus may be to share their gift with others for the purpose of simply adding beauty to the oft harsh world. Again, if people don’t intentionally set aside time to actually listen all the way through, these artists may never achieve that goal or feel appreciated for their extremely hard work. Many suffer needlessly with depression or existential emptiness because of this.
Most of us easily spend 10 minutes daily scrolling silly memes on social media. Wouldn’t it be a generous gift to an artist if you could instead, schedule or set aside that same 10 minutes to fully immerse yourself in your favorite artists’ creations? What seems like a very short, easy piano piece to you may have taken the artist well over a week’s worth of work to create, refine, and engrave–and that’s still no guarantee it will ever be performed live! Add to that, many artists spend thousands of dollars of their own money for equipment/instruments, maintenance, tutoring/school tuition, expensive notation and playback programs (often subscription-based), specialized computers with multiple, large monitors, studio space, etc.
In summary, our plea really boils down to this: if we want art to thrive or exist at all, we must be mindful of the incredible effort and sacrifice it takes to create it. We must make the time to do a little more than casually and lazily click “like” on a social media post or YouTube video. We need to remember that musical artists weren’t given their incredible talent for it to sit in an archive, untouched, because few will sacrifice a fraction of their time to even listen all the way through.
Set an intention. If you think the world would be a dull, lifeless place without beautiful music, you are the key to preventing that fate. Yes, click “like,” “love,” or comment on any of your favorite artists’ posts or videos. But then, actually schedule time to fully listen. After that, consider sharing this material with other friends and colleagues–or even with the general public! And, if there’s also an option to do so, donate even a small amount to the artist or clean up and attend a live concert. I guarantee any of the above would be deeply appreciated and would go a long way to helping that artist succeed, whether monetarily or existentially. Thank you for reading and considering how you can concretely help your favorite artists thrive!
Thank you for this post, Andrew. My daughter is due to go to university (UK) to further her music career (possibly in production, although she plays 3 instruments), and your heartfelt words have helped me understand about the world she is hoping to enter. We’ve seen a few other young and very talented musicians struggle, too, over the last couple of years. Thank you for your work – I’ve copied this post into a Google calendar entry to remind me of it regularly, and will look up your playlists for when I have a need for background music to keep me company. I’m used to audiobooks in the background; I find video too distracting to work to.
The Lord bless you and yours
Thank-you for your very kind works. Yes, your daughter will have to come to accept a reality far different than she imagined. It takes a healthy dose of entrepreneurialism to make it as an artist. This is one thing universities rarely understand or teach.