Music News

The Fan Alliance is here to recruit you

Have you ever considered the roles fans can play in supporting musicians? There’s a new organization that aims to bring fans together to help educate and advocate on behalf of musicians with the goal of helping artists at all levels earn a living from their art. 

Think about how much music you hear in a given day. Directly or indirectly; in public spaces and quiet moments. Consider how much you love your favourite band or singer, how their music has influenced your life and the role it might play in your memories. 

How much do you think that work is worth? 

Our relationships with music are very personal, and it might seem like a one-sided transaction: We pay, they play. But musicians rely on fans: they know that without us in seats, or buying shirts, or telling our friends about them, there’s no road ahead for their careers. 

We know the numbers: Streaming is the predominant way many people listen to music, despite increasing sales of cassette tapes and records while CD sales continue to decline but not fully dry up. The latest numbers show the average per-stream rate for Spotify is a paltry $0.004; YouTube pays $0.002 per stream and Apple Music pays $0.007 per stream. Streaming music promises musicians access to fans around the world, and that’s valid, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Add to that the billions of dollars lost from the COVID-19 pandemic closing down the touring industry for a year, and the high cost of touring and pre-ordering merchandise to sell at those shows, and some artists are really struggling. Some might be faced with the heartbreaking decision to give it up for the sake of a steadier source of income. 

Join the movement

The Fan Alliance wants to change that and is looking for fans to get involved. 

“The Fan Alliance educates and mobilizes the fan community, of all genres, to support policy advocacy and initiatives to create fair systems of compensation, ensure artist control of art, and create a sustainable performing ecosystem. This may mean contacting your elected representatives to support fair pay legislation, signing a petition or educating other fans,” the organization says.

Artists are hesitant to speak out on these matters — the low pay rates from streaming, the amount of money they lose from touring, how merch sales at venues often see those same venues pocketing a big chunk of money every night — because it might come across as “woe is me,” says Donald Cohen, The Fan Alliance’s creator and a longtime organizer and educator. 

Some musicians are willing to speak up in specific incidents, calling out festivals like South By Southwest for failing to pay, or paying very little, to musicians who have to travel great distances to play their wide-ranging festival. Others, like Dan Mangan, don’t speak directly about the sometimes prohibitively high cost of touring for independent musicians, but he introduced Side Door, a booking website for smaller venues and artists, as a way for artists to book shows and earn a better percentage of tickets (and get paid faster). 

“Our voice can be really important,” Cohen says. “It’s a solidarity voice. We depend on it, we need it. It’s part of the relationship between musicians and fans. Fans might be able to say things artists can’t. They don’t want to attack Spotify because they’re worried it might affect their streams. There’s plenty of good things about streaming. You can have fans all over the world, but you make no money.” 

The troubles with touring

Most artists no longer sell CDs at their shows anymore, in part because of the expense but also because CD players aren’t selling in huge numbers, they’re no longer included in new vehicles and even if people have CD players at home there are few places capable of fixing them should they break. 

Fans want to help their favourite artists; they want to buy t-shirts and music but, again, there are high costs associated with those items too. All of this might make a fan feel like there’s nothing they can do to help keep the music playing. 

That’s where Cohen and his group come in with some hope. 

“There’s a lot we can do. There are fans who would act, and do better, in terms of being consumers if they knew what to do. They need to be educated. There are things we can do, things we should do, and things that lots and lots of people would do if connected to something and asked to do it.” 

Case in point: in September, Taylor Swift encouraged her fans to register to vote. In an Instagram post, she applauded her fans for raising their voices by coming to her wildly successful Eras tour and encouraged them to continue raising their voices by registering to vote. Vote.org reported an astonishing 35,000 registrations from that call, which included a link to the organization’s website 

Cohen believes deeply that fans, if provided information and asked to take action, will band together to help musicians and will advocate for better pay, better revenues from streaming and better protections and support in order to continue having live music and new songs to enjoy.

“We need to be educators. That’s the role we can play as fans,” not just educating people about the songs and artists we love, but about the challenges those musicians face, he says. “That’s why the Fan Alliance is an action project, not just an education project. You can only do things with lots of people. The Civil Rights movement happened because it was thousands and thousands of people banding together. If you’re connected to something, you can make real change.” 

Start small; change the world 

It might take time, but all movements that shift society do, he adds. This year, we learned that venues take a sizable cut of merchandise sales from artists; LiveNation announced an initiative to minimize those cuts or eliminate them altogether — albeit there were strings attached and a time limit in place. 

Cohen himself got involved in musician advocacy and learned about how little musicians are paid from streaming by simply asking the question to a few artists as to whether Spotify was a good way to support their art. “I had no idea. Every step is an awareness for people who love music. I think there are millions of educable and will do better, whether that’s buying more merch or other actions. Being connected to something that’s making a difference? That’s what inspires people.” 

The Fan Alliance is only a few weeks old at this point and is currently recruiting fans to sign up, giving them the opportunity to share their thoughts on why they want to get involved in changing the music industry one small step at a time. While their advocacy and organizing efforts are currently focused on the United States, Cohen says inevitably other countries, likely starting with Canada, will get involved, noting that he knows these roadblocks and barriers are universal. 

The goal for the first year is to collect 25,000 new members, like-minded people who believe, as Cohen argued during the early days of the pandemic, that musicians are essential cultural workers whose efforts deserve protection. 

“Until we have the power, we need numbers. I’m focused on the numbers. My growth strategy is to get musicians who will tell their stories, then recruit people who will help recruit others. It’s people who already know, who already care, that will reach out to other people who will care.” 

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 521 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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