Fans Have A Responsibility To Financially Support Their Favourite Independent Artists

Words: Yemi Abiade

When Little Simz took to Twitter in April to publicly announce her inability to commence her tour of the USA due to her reality that such a tour would “leave me in a huge deficit,” it struck a chord with many fans and music industry observers invested in her journey.

Here was one of the UK’s greatest rappers ever, off the back of an incredibly successful album—2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (SIMBI), for which she won the Brit Award for Best New Artist and two Ivor Novello Awards earlier this year, not to mention her continuing role in Netflix’s Top Boy—restricted from reaching her fanbase across the pond and building on her growing stardom due to financial limitations. For many, it illuminated the confines of an industry that has long been lopsided, an environment where independent artists like Simz must scratch and claw for everything they have without the monetary backing of a major record label. For those in the know, it confirmed what was already worrying knowledge.

The life of an independent artist is anything but easy. Whether self-releasing music or signed to an independent label, artists find themselves mostly financially autonomous, using their own funds—earned by streaming income, sales from merch and other bundles—in order to see out their career in the way they see fit. With this creative freedom and control comes years of grind. For Simz, an ever present in the scene for the best part of a decade, it wasn’t until her 2019 album, Grey Area, that wider British music began to acknowledge her powers, crystalising last year with SIMBI, enabling her access to audiences beyond the confines of the UK. Despite this, the undertones of the underground hustle continue to rise to the surface, resulting in a refreshing transparency from Simz herself.

Was it too early for her to embark on a tour this expansive? Perhaps. Her presence in America has grown over the years with performances at Coachella and a number of sets in 2019, and she ingratiated herself further in 2021 with appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, watched by millions every night. Despite this, the decision to take her powers out on US shores again— presumably for an extended period of time—may have come an album cycle too early, or evidently, was not financially viable. But it displays Simz’s admirable desire to bring the best of herself wherever she goes and her refusal to compromise, a strong sign of the DIY spirit that has brought her to new levels of acclaim.

The rapper’s financial situation must be placed in the wider framework of music consumption and revenue. The modern era of streaming, which has long overtaken the age of buying physical albums—a lucrative one for signed and independent musicians—has hit artists’ pockets hard on all levels of the ladder. A Ditto report from May 2022 reported that Spotify pays artists between $0.003 - $0.005 per stream on average, so less than one penny, while Apple Music revealed in 2021 that its pay per play rate was a derisory $0.01, a dire situation for artists of all disciplines. We’ve seen heavyweights such as Taylor Swift call out this unfair system over the years, but the status quo is the status quo now.

While platforms such as Bandcamp have taken tremendous steps to pay artists what they’re owed with their Bandcamp Fridays initiative, also enabling direct artist-to-fan interaction, the reality is a large majority of average music consumers rely on the likes of Spotify and Apple Music to listen to the latest releases. It leaves independent artists in a strange position: the major streaming services pay very little but also serve as a platform for many casual fans to hear them. It means that, in the long-run, it most likely benefits them to keep their music on these platforms, for matters of awareness, on top of the added pressure to be an ever-present on social media to keep their names in the public consciousness and convert casual fans into devoted ones.

I could be here all day outlining the ways in which the industry at large needs to do better by artists—particularly as it pertains to streaming—but there is a discussion to be had about the role fans could play in easing their financial burden also. We have perhaps been spoiled by the easy access to music that streaming has enabled, comfortable in a space where a simple monthly subscription to a service means we’re not spending large amounts on the music we love. We’re all guilty of that in some way, but we can change for the better. Whether through buying their music, merch or concert tickets to see them perform live, these are financial contributions that go directly to artists themselves, unsliced by the streaming machine. These proceeds aid not only their creative ambition but their financial security, allowing further freedom to create bespoke, unforgettable experiences for their fans.

These musicians strive to give the best version of themselves to us at any and every point, so it partly lies with us to ensure that they are properly compensated, if only to ensure that they’re still able to do what they do. The same way that we flock to the latest Corteiz drop, ready and willing to part with our money, we owe our favourite artists that same level of zeal. As the ways we consume music have transformed, we must also readjust our priorities where we can and find ways to help. Streaming services aren’t fit for purpose in their current form, but we can turn the tide to relieve artists’ financial pressures, if only a small portion of it. For artists like Little Simz, this could prove the difference between touring the world, creating art to last a lifetime, and pondering what could’ve been.

Posted on June 27, 2022