Why Does Being Your Friend Mean Buying Your Album?

by Carly Schorman

I love my artist friends. And, when I really think about it, most of my friends are artists. Musicians, illustrators, painters, more musicians, potters, writers, and even more musicians.  Like attracts like, they say, and I’ve definitely surrounded myself with a number of creative individuals I respect not only for their staunch, albeit often unconventional, sense of morality as well as their commitment to sustaining a vibrant artistic life.

And it might surprise you to discover that these people rarely ask me for money to support their artistic endeavors.

Maybe that’s because they know that I have my own projects that I’m trying to fund. Or, more likely, it’s because they know that the cost of living has steadily continued to rise over the past two decades while income has remained relatively stagnant [see more here] which leaves little room for investment in the arts, especially for people on the hustle. Or maybe it just feels weird to them going around asking their friends for money in order to get their passion projects made.

The fact is, I was born into that strange microcosm that landed me right in between Gen X and Millennials; an age group sometimes referred to as “Xennials” which I think is dumb and derivative so I’m going to ignore the term for the rest of this essay. But, as Merriam-Webster joked on Twitter, I am too young for Voltron and too old for Power Rangers. It was Thundercats all the way. Hoooo!

So, what does my age really have to do with me as an art aficionado and music lover? It means I’m tired of people exploiting their friends in order to get their art made. And, yes, I do think of it as “exploiting friends.” Allow me to explain why I think that and why a lot of my Gen X friends would probably agree with me.

In Music Industry terms, I came from an era before the rise of crowdsource fundraising, but after video killed the radio star. A time when people still hoped that eventually fans, not friends, would finance their artist lifestyle.

Okay, but let’s got back to those sullen, yearn-for-nothing Gen Xers that I hold so dear to my heart. They emerged from the womb fed on the crushed hopes of hippie parents. They make art for art’s sake. With no expectation of reward or return. Sure, they might get frustrated from time to time when they see others climbing out of the pit of the unknown to gain rank (or label offers) in the knowledge that their band is just as good, if not better, than those schmoes who just signed with so-and-so or landed a booking agent to help set up a tour or whatever. But are they banner waving and asking everyone they know for ten bucks so they can keep making their art? Generally, no. At least, not in my experience. Gen Xers are more likely to have mortgages and friends with kids (or kids). They know that people might have to direct their funding in other directions so their “buy if you can” generally is more of a suggestion than a directive.

But they almost always expect money in exchange for something more than a promise. Like a CD or a t-shirt or even a sticker.

The Millennial view tends to be more supportive. Loving, even. “Support your artist friends,” is a motto we’ve all seen. And, to a large extent, I can agree with the sentiment. Go to shows, encourage creation, give feedback when it’s requested and hugs when self-doubt sets in. But does “support” also have to mean money? Because it seems like a lot of artists hinge their worth on their ability to gather funding from a community of friends and fans that usually don’t have the extra financial flow in order to make their dreams come true.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of supporting the arts. I think everyone should contribute to their local arts community whether it’s by getting out to shows or purchasing work directly from artists and illustrators or buying local albums at your neighborhood record store or even getting a membership to a museum.

I even have a monthly budget that I can spend on “scene support” that I consider not only a tithing to my preferred religious organization, but also a way to contribute to the artists that I really like. I buy the albums I want to listen to, the buttons I want to wear, and the artwork I want to hang on my wall, funds permitting. And that’s also not to say, I won’t drop five or ten bucks in a jar for a touring band or maybe buy a t-shirt I know isn’t going to fit me to give to someone else if a local act is gearing up for a project and in need of funds, but I also don’t feel pressured into make the contribution of some obligation to my “friends”.

If you enjoy a podcast or a band or an artist, buy their shit. Support the work they do so they can continue to do it. But, if you’re an artist or musician lamenting the struggle of the day-to-day drudgery that must be endured and and considering hosting a fundraiser so you might make the leap to full-time creator status, please consider a few key points…

First, are you asking for money from friends or fans? This is an important distinction to make (and one I plan to return to in my next essay). If you have the fanbase to support your efforts as an artist, that is one thing. If you’re secretly hoping your friends, your favorite auntie, and maybe a couple people you knew in high school might kick in, we’re already heading toward some tumultuous waters.

Crowdsourcing can be a great way for bands to get major projects underway. It can be the means for an illustrator or writer to finally get that book in print. Or a way for a band to finally secure some studio time. There are lots of reasons to crowdsource funds for a creative undertaking. But, all too often, the expectation that it is an artist’s friends and not their fans who should be helping them achieve their financials goals to get their art made.

There’s an industry saying that it takes 1,000 fans to make a career out of your art. Not friends. Not family members. Not people you know on Facebook and invite to support your personal dream. Fans, meaning people that support your artwork. Friends love you for you. Friends will buy you coffee, but fans will buy your album. Sure, friends can (and often will) do the same, but don’t set that expectation. Or you might find yourself with fewer real friends.