Heroes

These Grammy-winners don't want you to pay for their album. They want you to pay for someone else's.

From pop stars to indie rock, some of the biggest names in music are speaking out in support of the creative working class.

On July 17, 2015, Wilco unexpectedly released a brand-new album as a free download on their website.

The album is called "Star Wars" and it features a cat on the cover, which is pretty much the most Internet thing ever.

But the Grammy-Award-winning rock band isn't just giving their album away for free. Oh no. They're encouraging fans to spend their money on lesser-known artists instead.


A few days after the album's release, they explained their actions in a blog post:

They're hardly the first band to experiment with different models for sharing their music on the Internet.

But Wilco is one of the first high profile acts to do so for the explicit purpose of stimulating the creative economy.

I'm sure you've heard it all before that the Internet is ruining the music industry. Hell, musicians have been fighting the same battle since the advent of the phonograph. But music fans don't want hear to the same complaints over and over again, ad nauseam. They just want to listen to the music.

What Wilco is doing is something different. They're encouraging fans to spend their money elsewhere — to enjoy music for free, if they want to, while also contributing to the continued creation of new music by working-class musicians. It's like a trickle-down stimulus package for rock 'n' roll. And that's pretty cool.

Wilco may have used the Internet to stick it to the man back in 2001, but now they're just one of several big-name bands using their power to stand up for the little guy.

Taylor Swift also stood up to the streaming music industry recently, speaking out against Apple Music and Spotify.

OK, so her approach is mostly going to benefit her own profits, but that's not a bad thing. In the case of Spotify, Swift pulled her entire catalog to protest their low, low royalty rates. And she had a few choice words to say when Apple Music refused to pay for the music streamed during a user's free trial period.

Both Wilco and Swift used their positions to champion the rights of working-class musicians, each in their own respective way.

Neither way is necessarily better or more "right" than the other. (The last thing I'm trying to do here is start a feud between Wilco and Taylor Swift; my wife and I already have that battle every time we get into the car.) Both just want to make sure that someone is getting paid for their music.

Yes, Taylor Swift is a pop music powerhouse. But it doesn't matter that she doesn't need the money — she believes artists deserve to be paid what they're worth, on every level. (To be fair, Wilco did previously manage to get Warner Bros. Records to pay them twice for the same album.)

T-Swift and Wilco are just the latest in a long, long line of musicians who have raged against their own machine.

In 2007, Radiohead famously released "In Rainbows" as a pay-what-you-want album and have been very outspoken against Spotify. Fugazi was famously stubborn about keeping prices low for albums and concert tickets alike. Bands like The Backyard Committee (full disclosure: I sometimes perform with them) and the aptly-named Bomb the Music Industry! have democratized their music through free album downloads as well as open musician rosters. Chance the Rapper has made major waves with his self-released mixtapes and has used that success to turn the spotlight onto the other members of his multimedia supporting group, the Social Experiment.

And that's just a few examples from my own music library.


GIF from TayTay's "Shake It Off" music video.

What matters most, though, is that we find ways to support artists of every kind — after all, they make the stuff that makes our lives worth living.

What can you do about it? If you can afford it, put your money where your mouth is, and support artists at all different levels of success.

Every now and then, try to drop $10 on an artist who deserves it. (Wilco's aforementioned "suggested music" list really runs the gamut, from metal to chamber-pop to J-Pop and beyond. I personally downloaded the new record from Speedy Ortiz.)

And when possible, support musicians directly, or through Bandcamp or Kickstarter, instead of bigger companies like Spotify, iTunes, or Amazon.

If you believe in the importance of a strong middle class, it only makes sense that you support the creative working class. Art shouldn't be a privilege produced and enjoyed by an exclusive elite. It's a necessity that nourishes and improves the quality of our lives, and we need to nourish it in return so that the cycle can continue.

Wilco GIF from "The David Letterman Show."