The Beat Lives On: Small actions matter when supporting independent artists

With tours and in-person shows at a year long halt, supporting new talent has never been more important than now. Sara Alvarado | Daily Trojan.

Almost every artist starts small.

And nearly every major name you see in the music world today had a unique path to stardom.

Pop culture icon Lady Gaga performed in dive bars in lower Manhattan after dropping out of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Rihanna sang Mariah Carey’s “Hero” at a talent contest and was signed to Def Jam Recordings the following year, Post Malone got his start on SoundCloud and Justin Bieber found fame through a video posted to YouTube by his mother.

Now more than ever, it’s important to uplift the work of up-and-coming musical talent. Your favorite independent artist could end up being the next Beyoncé — consider that. So why not show them your support and when they take off, they’ll know you were around before the fame. 

In high school, all I would ever listen to was indie rock. I wasn’t super invested or interested in any major pop singers at the time. But it wasn’t until later that I realized the value in supporting independent artists who are still trying to get their names out there in more ways than just listening.

It’s been a year now since the pandemic has shut down live concerts, festivals and touring — hitting the music industry hard. Though the increased use of social media platforms to gain recognition allows for a different type of social interaction and support network for artists, they are missing their financial backbone. 

Unsigned, independent artists who rely on streaming services for income and making their voices heard by many are facing challenges. It’s not uncommon knowledge that music streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music do not pay their artists a livable income. Though the pay per stream rate differs between these services, generally speaking, it comes out to a fraction of a penny. 

When you add up the costs of studio recording, production, mixing, album cover art and distribution, this profit is incredibly low. Unless an artist has a significant social media presence, a consistent number of streams and listeners or is signed under a record label that pays them in advance, it can be hard for them to gain deserved recognition. 

Let’s discuss a recent outlier in the music streaming world — SoundCloud. SoundCloud was once the only streaming service I listened to music from — mainly because I was (and still am) someone who could spend hours making playlists and it was the only platform I felt I could easily discover unique sounds without being influenced in any direction. So, naturally, as I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, I was pleasantly surprised by SoundCloud’s new announcement. 

Revolutionizing the way music platforms pay independent artists on their site, SoundCloud has just introduced a new model of payouts driven directly by artists’ fanbases. The implementation of “fan-powered royalties” allows “each listener’s subscription or advertising revenue” to be “distributed among the artists that they listen to.” This contrasts the “pro rata” system other streaming services most often use. 

The “pro rata” model favors the rights holders of the most listened to tracks. So by SoundCloud turning the tables, in turn, rising indie artists and their fans will benefit. 

USC alumnus and half of the indie pop duo One11Twenty, Kyle DelFatti, talks about the algorithm’s influence on getting small artists noticed. 

“At the end of the day, the algorithm is just this thing that’s trying to be somewhat of a meritocracy where it’s reporting some aspect of quality about the songs,” DelFatti said.

Even through small interactions, you can help activate the algorithm and help lesser-known artists get noticed. 

“Platforms will see positive attention, and they will show us to more people,” DelFatti said. 

Supporting unsigned artists goes a long way: whether it’s following them on Spotify, liking their songs, albums, EPs, adding them to your favorite playlists or sharing their new releases on social media.

“Writing something and sharing somebody’s page, sharing their Spotify page or sharing their personal website, doing the action itself speaks volumes,” USC alumnus and songwriter Jack Henry Day said. “Not only for the artists themselves but to anybody that comes in contact with you and trusts your opinion or is interested in what you’re interested in.”

Many concert livestreams these days are a fraction of the cost it would be to get a seat in person. Now is an opportunity to take advantage and uplift the artists in your area, who you know will appreciate it. 

This weekend, students of USC’s Music Industry program have put together a livestreamed music festival they are calling Bummerfest. Hosting six incredibly talented rising musical artists — Guspy, Amir Kelly, Lizzy Cameron, Ella Collier, Tippy Balady and Walkabout — the concert is taking place Saturday, March 13. 

Taking the time to support artists in your area and the Trojan network has an impact. The artists you follow today could be the stars of tomorrow.

Emily Sagen is a senior writing about music’s lasting impact. She is also an arts & entertainment editor at the Daily Trojan. Her column, “The Beat Lives On,” runs every other Friday.