Thoughts on Responsible Music Consumption

I’m not sure how often these posts are checked these days, but I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibly enjoying art recently and remembered that this community existed, so I thought I’d come make a post here.

Since text on a page is occasionally deceptive in its intentions, I want to say up front that this is coming from a contemplative, and not a bitter place.

I feel like every couple of years recently, there has been another development which has changed the way music is discovered, spread, and enjoyed. I don’t need to outline the whole history, but we’ve landed at a strange moment for musicians where streaming amounts to very little income, and there’s this push to create little snippets of content for the various apps that might eventually translate to more supporters somehow.

I was listening to Darius Rucker on a podcast a while back, and he said that originally, he played shows to sell albums - that the albums themselves were the focus, and that the live shows allowed folks to discover them and purchase an album to add to their collection. That dynamic centered the music creation process as the most important thing they could do - produce a piece of art they were proud of and show it off to the world. He said that now, they have to make music to sell tickets to the shows; the move to streaming has made it so that the creation of the music is harder to center, and that to a certain extent “content” has replaced “art.” Generate enough content to get noticed and remembered so that people might come to your shows and they might buy merch to support you beyond a couple dozen streams.

(this is not to disparage the importance and beauty of live performance, that’s also super important and good and worthwhile)

Another anecdote: A good friend of mine is in a fairly unique sounding alt-bluegrass kind of band. On one of their albums, he put one of his piano compositions as the last song, simply because he was proud of the composition and didn’t have anything else to do with it. It was a totally different vibe and sound than the rest of the bands music. Somehow, that song made it onto a “soft songs to sleep to” style playlist on Spotify, and it got millions of streams. That single song, a song unlike anything else the band had produced, earned enough streaming revenue for the band to risk quitting their jobs to do a couple tours - those tours went well and they grew enough to maintain doing music full time. This is a super exciting success story, but it’s also so strange. How many of those people who streamed their song while sleeping had any idea that they had heard it at all? Did any of those millions of streams translate directly to ongoing support of the band? I doubt it. But at the same time, it offered them the opportunity to go out and find the people who would support them going forward.

I don’t know. I know so many musicians who are tired of the streaming model. This isn’t sustainable. My own band is considering removing our music from streaming and only using bandcamp and physical media moving forward, but it’s such a tough choice, because there’s always that chance of winning the internet lottery and getting added to a playlist or going viral or something. But I just wonder if we remove that possibility entirely, might we find a special place where the passion for music creation is centered again? Where there is a direct and obvious connection to those people willing to reach out and support us because our music touched them?

I think I thought to post here specifically because of Pinegrove’s recent viral moment with Need 2. It was great fun seeing so many people enjoying a band that has meant so much to me. But how bizarre, right after announcing the change with Zack leaving, for one of your songs to go ultra viral on TikTok, to wonder what to do next/if you should capitalize on it somehow, to watch the numbers go up and wonder how many of those numbers will stick around to hear the rest of what you have to offer…

I guess I’ll close with this: I don’t know the answer to my question. I don’t know how to responsibly enjoy music in 2024. I’m not sure how to handle the electronic side of things; I still use streaming services myself. But I do know the importance of the human side of things, of offering a connection beyond the numbers on a streaming platform, of hearing what your art has meant to someone else. So I just wanted to extend my sincere gratitude for the art Pinegrove has provided over the years. The inspirations, the laughs, the sweet moments shared with loved ones where your music was the backdrop. Thank you. I hope you are all doing well.

I’m sure Evan has thoughts on this, and I’d love to hear them. But to anyone who may have stumbled across this post on this corner of the internet, I’d love to hear your thoughts as well!