Outreach Must Be An Imperative of Independent Music

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite sites on all of the interweb called Daytrotter made a bold decision. The Illinois-based studio that records and distributes short audio performances with independent artists started charging to access their sessions. All they are asking for this is a measly $2 a month, which I will gladfully hand over for the countless sessions of great music Daytrotter provides, and I would recommend to anyone else that they hand over the $2 as well.

Though Daytrotter’s epicenter is a little more in the indie rock world than mine, they’ve had many excellent independent country and roots bands on there over the years as well. Daytrotter has been a daily stop for me for a long time, and if you keep up with the Saving Country Music news feed in the top right corner, you might’ve seen links to certain Daytrotter sessions as they were posted. As someone struggling to make the bills and keep an independent website running, I can appreciate Daytrotter’s decision to try and help fund their service, and to do so without ads.

But by adding additional clicks between their sessions and potential listeners, and making people pay for the music, however marginal the cost may be, it takes Daytrotter from a position of outreach, to a position of a subscriber service. Unless you already subscribe, no longer will one click get you in front of a band that the radio will likely never play, and that may be too far away for you to go see live.

When it was announced a while back that Clear Channel had fired hundreds of DJ’s in small, regional markets all across the country, a recurring theme I saw in comments on this site and others was “Hey, I’ve got satellite, so it doesn’t matter to me,” or “I don’t listen to that crap on the radio anyway.”

Though all of this might be true, it doesn’t take into consideration the millions of people that do listen to radio because it’s an easy medium to access music through, or how a morning drive DJ in a town can create a strong community relationship with their listeners, be a source for local news and information, and be a forum for local, regional, or independent music. And many times, the smaller the community, the more valuable and important a local-oriented radio station or DJ is.

If you’re reading these very words right now, it is very likely that at some point in your life, you went through a musical awakening. Whether it was from your parents, a good friend, a crazy uncle, a college experience, or a blog you stumbled upon accidentally, at some point, you were exposed to a piece of independent music, and it changed your life. It opened up a whole new world that you would have never known existed if it wasn’t for someone opening that door for you.

Too often I see the sentiment from some independent fans, “People are like sheep, and they’ll eat whatever they’re fed.” As true as that might be, I feel strongly that outreach must be an imperative of independent music. Good music is like good air, good water, or good food. There shouldn’t be judgement when we see someone immersed in the trappings of mainstream corporate culture, there should be sympathy. These people aren’t sheep, they are suffocating, and the beauty of true, honest art is it can breathe fresh air into their lungs, and more importantly, into their life.

And outreach may be more important than ever, with all popular music coalescing into one big mono-genre, and with public schools slashing music programs and art appreciation, and local-based media falling to national syndication.

Certainly all music is not for everyone, and some people unfortunately are probably just unreachable; too programmed to ever give anything they’re not familiar with, or fed by mainstream culture a chance. But independent music cannot be proud of its exclusivity, or create “scene” requirements that make it difficult for outreach to occur. As long as new fans come with an open mind, an open heart, and an honest appreciation for the music, and as long as sustainability always remains a priority over sheer numbers, there is little threat.

And sometimes taste and understanding is what gets in the way of reaching out to someone. You don’t have to give them a crash course on your very specific music tastes. It could be as simple as handing a high school kid an old Rolling Stones record that could completely reset their musical perspective and open their eyes.

But what we can’t do is put fences around the music we love, or mock the have-nots. Right now in society, good music is scarce. And what happens when a commodity becomes scarce? People tend to hoard it, get possessive of it. And if it becomes too scarce, people will fight over it. To counter this all-too familiar theme of human behavior, we have to be open with good music, give it away if necessary. And then not only will we have the music to make us feel good, but we can feel good about giving it to someone else as well.