25 Creative Ways to Be A Better Music Fan

In a world full of music listeners, how do you stand out from the crowd?

The music industry today is tough.  There are more artists than ever competing for our ears… and the Internet has essentially made buying music an “if you want to” sort of thing (If you haven’t read David Lowery’s diatribe on why we should be buying more music instead of downloading for free, you should).

So, outside of buying our copies of their albums, how do those of us who want to support artists do so?  Yeah, social media.  I get it.  Beyond that.  What can we do?  I’m very lucky to have become part of an incredibly supportive community of music fans, and they’re always coming up with inventive new ways to help our favorite artists along. For those who want to do more but don’t know how, I thought I’d take some of the ideas I’ve used and seen over the years and compile a list of ways to be a better music fan.

What have you got to add?

1.  Write an iTunes/Amazon review of an album.  The algorithms that help an album chart and show up in Google searches are a closely held secret.  However, reviews are a key part of the formula.  Keep ’em short, sweet and punchy!
2.  Make an iTunes Ping playlist/Spotify playlist/Mix CD with your favorite artists. Use social media to talk about your playlist or send copies of the CD out to your friends!  For many people, playlists are a great way to find new music.
3.  Your favorite artist is in town? Buy them dinner!  Pick up the check if you see them at your favorite restaurant before the show.
4.  Write a blog post about the artist. Subjective reviews are the easiest; if you’re going to write something newsy, make sure to double and triple check all your facts!
5.  Fuel them up/buy an oil change with gift cards. A lot of artists wrack up 3,000 miles on their vehicle in a typical week.  With gas still above $3 a gallon most everywhere, fuel bills and car repairs can add up quick.  Gift cards for these things are gold!  National chains are best (so they’ll work no matter where they are), but if your band is only touring regionally, local chains can work, too.
6.  Make care packages for touring musicians!  Care packages are a super fun way to let your favorite artists know how much you appreciate their music and their touring effort.  Load up a bag or basket with goodies you know they’ll love – or be able to put to good use.  Some things I’ve used before: card games, cookies, candy, music, Fix-a-Flat, Silly Putty, frisbees, fruit, restaurant gift cards, books and magazines, trial size toiletries, and bottled water.
7.  Leave behind a CD in a rental car.  I’ve left mix CDs behind and actual purchased CDs.  Both can be effective. Caveat:  Rental car companies do clean cars out between uses.  Put a little sticky note on it asking the rental car cleaners to leave it there for the next renter.  No one ever has good music when they need it.
8.  Put those hotel rewards points to use and gift a night at a nice hotel.  If you’re a frequent traveler (or an infrequent one) and have rewards points you can part with, saving the band a few bucks will earn you big gratitude.
9.  Offer up your couch or guest room for the night.  Imagine you’re a touring musician.  Hotel rooms in not-so-scary parts of cities run $75 and up a night. You’re on tour for 5 weeks.  The cost of rooms along could break the bank.  A little hospitality goes a long way.
10. Send a random email to tell them what the music means to you.  The little things matter.
11. Buy extra copies of an album and give it away to friends for no good reason.  It puts money in your favorite artists’ pockets AND it makes other people feel good.  Win-win.
12. Post on Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest when a new album comes out…and include the link!  Don’t make your friends and family work to find the music…make it easy for them to buy. I usually post both the Amazon and iTunes links (hint:  to get an iTunes link for an album, click on the little arrow next to the album price and select “Copy Link.”)
13. Host a house party with your favorite musician as the musical entertainment. Lots of independent artists are more than happy to play at your home.  Negotiate a price with the artists and then ask your friends and family to pitch in a “cover charge” to cover the cost.
14. The tried and true bumper sticker works better today than ever before. Everyone’s on the hunt to find the next new “it” band before their friends do.  Help them out and promote your favorites on your car!
15. At a live show, thank them for coming to your city.  Let them know you appreciate the effort they took to come see you.  Bonus:  artists remember this kind of thing and it might be the difference between them picking your city over another on their next tour.
16. Buy an extra ticket for a show and leave it at the door.  Tell the door guy to give it to someone who doesn’t have a ticket or use social media to give it away to the first person to grab it (thanks for the idea, Riz!).
17. Clip restaurant coupons for their favorite places and give them to them when they play your city.  Saving money is ALWAYS a good thing.
18. Get your friends together for pre-show drinks/dinner and invite the artist to stop by.  It’s a great way for them to meet some of their fans (or soon to be fans) one-on-one!
19.  Check-in at a live show using Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever your friends are using.  Make them want to be at that show with you!
20.  Use your birthday as a way to get your family and friends to contribute to a Kickstarter or PledgeMusic campaign.  You really don’t need another pair of running socks, anyway.
21.  Give the gift of Sharpies.  Yes, it’s true, I’m a Sharpie fanatic.  But for touring musicians, these perma-pens have a mysterious way of disappearing.  They can never have enough!  And…if you want to get really fancy, get them some customized ones.
22. Use lyrics to make artwork and graphics.  You don’t have to be DaVinci to make cool artwork these days.  All you need are some basic computer tools.  Make customized Facebook cover photos with lyrics (make sure you put the band’s name in there).  Take your digital photos and use Photoshop or Paint to add your favorite lyric to your favorite buddy photo.  Print it out and frame it as a gift.  You’re getting the word out there about the artist…and giving a unique, customized gift in the process.
23.  Ask the street team or artist about helping out with selling merch at a show.  Many artists tour without crew, so having an extra set of hands to help out is very appreciated (and many artists will offer you free entry into the show as thanks).  Caveat:  in some bigger venues, this could mean that you actually don’t get to see the show, so make sure to ask ahead of time if you have to staff the table during the show.
24.  Randomly give away a copy of an album on social media.  This is one of my favorites!  On the day an album is released, tweet, Facebook or whatever that you’ll give away a copy of the album to the first person to message you.  iTunes or Amazon gift the music to them.  You’ll put a smile on someone’s face, I guarantee it!
25.  Roadtrip for a show in another city.  Keep an eye on your favorite musicians touring schedules.  Know that a city won’t bring in a crowd for them?  Never seen them in their hometown?  Trust me, hometown shows are ALWAYS worth the trip.  Show up unexpectedly.  Get your friends together and make it a weekend adventure.  New cities often bring new setlists and surprises!

What’s On Your Workout Playlist? Vol 2.

A good running playlist (and the promise of a beer afterwards) will get me through any race happy! Virginia Beach Rock n' Roll Half-Marathon September 2008

We’re down to less than 12 weeks before the Savannah Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon – time for the serious training to kick in. This will be my fifth half and while running and I will never be besties, I do get a huge sense of accomplishment out of it.

However, I would not be able to run a foot without my trusty little iPod Shuffle and my favorite Philips earbuds (which I fear may die before the half…dang fraying wires). Forget my carb count and food intake, how much water I’ve consumed, or how much sleep I got the night before – the key to my success on long runs is my running playlist. Unlike a lot of runners, I don’t craft my playlists around BPM; I more or less go with songs I love, things that inspire me, that bring back good memories (so that when I’m cursing the hill at mile 8, at least I’m doing it with a smile!).

I like to run to the same playlist so that I know where I should be…you know, when “Pumped Up Kicks” is on, I should be at roughly 3.5 miles. That kind of thing. But, as my training moves along and I figure out where I’m hitting walls and when I’m on cruise control, my playlist evolves to help give me the boosts that I need – or remind me to slow it down. There’s nothing better than hearing Moby’s, “Bodyrock” at mile 9 when I’m flagging and re-finding my groove!

So, as previously promised, I’m posting the updated & revised version of my playlist here. From the search stats on the blog, I’ve figured out that a LOT of people are looking for workout and running playlist songs, so I’m happy to share so that maybe one of you will find something new. I’ve linked every song to its iTunes, Amazon and/or Bandcamp page for quick and easy buying (after all that running, I know, it’s too much effort to have to track down these tunes!). There are even a handful that are available for free download – take advantage of these aritsts’ generosity and pick up some tunes for your running playlist!

Let me know if you have any great additions for me or if you find something new here that’s been a great addition to your playlist!

Happy running!

A birthday wish…and the present is for you!

It’s now 12:47 AM, August 3rd.  Officially my birthday.  37.  Damn.

My friends, who I adore, keep asking me what I want to do to celebrate and this year … well, frankly, I feel like I’ve been given a lot already.  My mom beating cancer, for one.  Getting closer with my family over the last year. Truly amazing friends who are supportive, creative, hilarious, and bring all sorts of goodness to my life.  A good year at work.  I honestly have everything I could possibly want or need.

So I started thinking…what would I do if I had extra birthday wishes?  Beyond health and happiness for everyone that I love, what are the things that make me happiest?  And the answer was easy:  Music.

I have taken so much joy, love, comfort, camraderie, strength, inspiration, hope and happiness from music.  I wish there was a way I could give back to all of the artists whose songs have done this for me.  I try to find ways to do it…they are small, but I like to think every once in awhile I make a difference. It will never balance out, though.  It always seems like I’ll take more than I’m ever able to give back.

If you’re not into music, let me tell you this:  it is not easy to be a musician these days.  There are more artists than ever fighting for a piece of the pie.  Audiences listen to a greater number of artists than they’ve ever listened to – and that also means their dollars are divided up into smaller amounts for each artist.  If you ask me, I think the days of the superstar musician are over.  We’ll never see another Michael Jackson again.  Musicians now are like the rest of us, going out there and making music just to earn a living.  Yet music is the one “consumable” that no one wants to pay for.  We think we’re entitled to get it for free. Honestly, how fair is that?  Do we expect to walk into a Best Buy and just be able to pick a Wii up off the shelf for free?  Then, add in touring costs.  Think about it – my car costs $43 to fill up; what do you think a six-passenger van costs to fuel and maintain? Add in food, lodging, and equipment costs (guitar strings are NOT cheap!), and the fact that on a Tuesday night in East Bijip, North Carolina you might play for an audience of 20 people, and have to split the cover charge with the opening band.  Then there are the costs of making a record (studio time, getting it pressed, art, photography), promoting yourself, and buying merchandise which you hopefully can sell back and maybe make a buck or two for every CD or t-shirt you sell. Add up all of this and you can see how being a musician must really be a labor of love – because most artists aren’t making money.  Most are losing it.  To make music.  For you to listen to.

Which brings me to my birthday wish.  One of my favorite bands of all time – Alpha Rev – is making a new EP.  They’re doing it on their own.  No record label support.  Just a bunch of guys making music because they love it and they want their fans to hear it.  And they do make beautiful music.  Music with meaning, heart, emotion and depth.  They’ve asked their fans to help fund the record, and they are 81% of the way to their goal.  They’ve got 26 days left to raise the rest of the money, or they lose it all.

So…that’s what I want for my birthday.  I want Alpha Rev to reach their goal.  It’s a selfish wish, really, because in the end, I get new Alpha Rev music.  But it’s also a gift to you.  Because if you help them, they’re going to give you their music.  It’s a totally win-win situation. Oh, one more thing (they’re just that awesome of a group), the guys are also giving part of the money they raise to two charities (read more about them here).  So I guess that makes it a win-win-win.

Can you help me make my birthday wish come true?  Check out Alpha Rev’s Pledge Music page. Give ’em a few bucks.  It’ll be the best birthday present ever.  I swear.

You’re A Friend of Mine

A very large part of my heart belongs to a man named Bruce Springsteen and his band, a little group of folks we like to call E Street.  Bruce and E Street were my first true loves.  So when Clarence Clemons passed away nearly two weeks ago, I wept.  Bruce and the band have been such a huge part of my life for so very long that it was like losing a friend.  A legendary, sax-shredding friend.

And then today, the Springsteen camp published the text of Bruce’s eulogy for Clarence and I found myself in tears again.  I cannot profess to fathom the depth of their 40-year friendship, but the feeling of loss that Bruce’s words convey is palpable.  And the thing that makes it so human – so real – is that Bruce makes it perfectly clear that Clarence wasn’t perfect, and that neither is Bruce…but that their friendship could have surmounted any odds, because…well, that’s what friends do.  They see you for who you really are and love the hell out of you for every single one of your flaws.

If you don’t want to read the full text of the eulogy, here are some of my favorite parts.

Today I see his sons Nicky, Chuck, Christopher and Jarod sitting here and I see in them the reflection of a lot of C’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his sweetness, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his handsomeness, and his goodness. But, as you boys know your pop was a not a day at the beach. “C” lived a life where he did what he wanted to do and he let the chips, human and otherwise, fall where they may. Like a lot of us your pop was capable of great magic and also of making quite an amazing mess. This was just the nature of your daddy and my beautiful friend. Clarence’s unconditional love, which was very real, came with a lot of conditions. Your pop was a major project and always a work in progress. “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went A… B…. C…. D. It was always A… J…. C…. Z… Q… I….! That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world. I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt, but your father also carried a lot of love with him, and I know he loved each of you very very dearly.

Standing next to Clarence was like standing next to the baddest ass on the planet. You were proud, you were strong, you were excited and laughing with what might happen, with what together, you might be able to do. You felt like no matter what the day or the night brought, nothing was going to touch you. Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety, and in some funny way we became each other’s protectors; I think perhaps I protected “C” from a world where it still wasn’t so easy to be big and black. Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it. Clarence’s celebrity and size did not make him immune. I think perhaps “C” protected me from a world where it wasn’t always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either. But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music.

I try to be good about telling my friends that I love them, doing things to let them know how important they are to me, even if it’s just hanging out and having a beer.  But even though I try, I know I don’t do it enough.  So I just wanted to tell you all here, publicly, that I love you, and thank you for loving me and all my faults, even when I’m not so easy to love.  Because when I’m standing next to you gals and guys (and you know who you are), we are some of the baddest asses on the planet.  You fill my life with laughter, adventures, heart, joy, support, hangovers, personalized Sharpies, music, passions (both shared and individual), in-depth discussions on just about anything on earth, shoulders to cry on, hands to hold, and most of all, love.

Thank you for the gifts of you…Here’s to us.