The traditional reasoning for buying music used to be “if you want to hear something you like, whenever you want, you need to buy it”. Well, that reasoning doesn't really exist anymore—especially when talking about digital music. We can now hear whatever we want, whenever we want, for the low cost of damn near nothing. So why buy anything?
Obviously, if you want to have something to spin on your record player or pop into your tape deck, you're gonna have to shell out some money for the physical artifact. But what if you don't have a record player or a tape deck and you just listen to music on your computer? What if you already pay a monthly fee for a streaming service and have fairly successfully blocked from your mind the fact that most artists only get a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the $9.99 you're giving to the Spotifys of the world?
Well, here's the little thought experiment I often ask myself when cruising the streets of Bandcamp and thinking those same thoughts…
If I were in a pub or coffee shop with the person/people responsible for the excellent music currently filling my headphones, would I offer to buy them a pint or coffee? If they asked me if I could spot them a couple bucks, would I do that?
I don't know about you, but if I'm out drinking with a buddy, it's a very common practice to say “this one is on me”. And my buddy doesn't even know what a G chord looks like, nor has he ever dropped even a quarter-dope record. Of course, I do this noble gesture of buying the round partly because my buddy has done or will do the same for me, but mostly—what's a couple of bucks between friends?
So with that in mind, and with the distance between an artist and fan being closer than ever, what better way to figuratively say “this one is on me” than giving them some money for their music? It doesn't matter if the artist is not actually your friend (but if they are your actual friend than we shouldn't even be having this talk). This hypothetical artist in question has taken the time to share their thoughts and feelings and stories via the magic of music, and if they've done it in a way that resonates with your heart and mind and gets your toes tapping—well that is at least on the same level of having one of those rare deep conversations or memorable nights out with one of your IRL friends. And that's gotta be worth a pint or two.
When you add in the fact that buying music on a site like Bandcamp will see most of the money going directly to the artist —and you could consider the % Bandcamp takes as the tip you'd leave the friendly barkeep— opening your digital wallet to make an "appreciated gesture" rather than a "personal purchase" feels like a better way to think about these things (especially when the fact that you could technically just listen for free and use the money for a different personal purchase is so selfishly tempting).
So next time you find yourself genuinely enjoying something that has a 'Buy' button you're trying not to make eye contact with, ask yourself the question:
“Would I buy them a pint/coffee if they were here in person?”
Because when you look past the music you're enjoying and realize that there are people on the other side of the digital curtains making that music out in the real world—and they're going about their day to day just like you, struggling with the same struggles you do—doesn't sharing a metaphorical pint together sound nice?
And artists, consider the same analogy when someone buys your music. If you reverse the scenario, there are people a lot like you on the other side of the digital curtains buying your music and listening to it out in the real world (and they're going about their day to days just like you, struggling with the same struggles you do). The fact that they've decided to actually buy your music, when it'd be so easy not to, that means something. So take a minute and say thanks when possible.
Because it's one thing when somebody metaphorically buys an artist a pint for the trouble of filling their head with a beautifully soundtracked internal dialogue, but there still needs to be a “cheers” involved for the circle to be fully complete.