Recent upheaval has affected the major record labels, powered by economic fluctuation, the MP3 revolution, online music piracy, home recording technologies and the amazing growth of the personalized listening experience (iPods, etc). Radio is losing its dominance as well... and is now just one of many forces that influence whose music one listens to. In fact, personal referrals from friends is just about the only force that remains unfazed by changes in technology... and, in fact, it's probably more important than ever.
This is great news for independent musicians (also known as "indies"). Anyone can make an album these days, and anyone can afford a web site... allowing them to take their music directly to their potential audience without interference from managers and labels. As a result, more and more talented and inspired artists are writing songs, recording albums and trotting their music out before live audiences.
Most of these artists have also discovered that it helps to make some of their music available for free (and legal) MP3 download. By picking a good, strong song or two and putting it on their web site (or another site devoted exclusively to free music downloads), these songs become evangelistic forces for their music... working for them 24/7/365. MP3 music is not hindered by geographical boundaries or time zones. In many cases (especially instrumentals), it's unaffected by language differences as well. And it's no longer even slightly unusual for an artist to record a song in their little bedroom studio and post it online... while someone downloads it and is listening to it in their car or bedroom on the other side of the world just a matter of hours later!
Of course, there's still a lot of mediocre (and even downright BAD) music out there. This is where the power of personal referral really kicks in. When someone discovers some music that really turns them on, and then shares it with their friends... the cream truly rises to the top. If they go a step further and purchase an album or pay to download more MP3 tracks, the artist is encouraged and can afford to put more time into honing their skills and creating new music. The good stuff thrives and the mediocre stuff dies off.
So...help independent music succeed. Support quality where you find it. Share it with your friends. Pick up a copy of their CD or pay to download more songs. Catch the artist in concert when you can. Send them an email telling them how much their music means to you. Everyone wins when we actively support great music!
About the author: Chuck Brown is the webmaster of the Free Music Group, which offers a bunch of free MP3 downloads from gifted artists in genres such as children's music, solo piano, acoustic guitar, holiday music and Christian music. He also created The Free Music Directory, which offers free links to artist sites with at least one free and legal MP3 download available. And he's released several albums of his original compositions, available at HealingPiano.com, TheChuckleberries.com and GraceProjectMusic.com.