As someone who has found herself somewhat entrenched in the Biz, I have tons of thoughts, but I'll keep it simple.
Find a genre of music you actually like. Find a good, free, internet radio station that plays said type of music. Listen to the new releases played on said station. If you think you like someone, go to their myspace page. Listen to the 4-5 full length songs they have on their page. These are usually the best of the bunch. If you like all 4-5 or at least most of them, then you'll probably like the album. Then you have a choice... if you LOVE it, go buy an actual CD that you'll cherish always. If you like it enough to pay a bit for it, but not so much that you HAVE to have it, then go to itunes and pay 50-75% for the album. If you don't like the artist enough to buy it, but you kinda like them enough to at least keep an ear out for their future projects, then add them to myspace and check back on occasion.
This isn't rocket science people. I don't want to hear about the label screwing artists, or distribution places making money for nothing. This is a business! These people run it like a business. If they aren't making money overall then they will move onto something else. Many of the indies actually LOVE the music they put out and don't care about that mass money making machine.
I'm not going to complain about mainstream music. I didn't like it, so I stopped listening to it entirely about 6-7 years ago. www.dividingline.com
has just about everything I could ever need... I buy music from artists on myspace when I find really good ones that speak to me. Don't just sit around and complain that music sucks these days, because honestly there is SOOOOOOOOOO much music out there to please anyone's tastes. You just can't expect it from your traditional radio stations. Big deal.
Mostly I will say, that most artists in this game put plenty of music up for people to listen to via their website, myspace, or friendly internet radio. I personally don't care if someone downloads a crappy mp3 version of an artist to determine whether they like it or not. What I don't like are those who find artists they truly love to listen to, and then never buy any of their albums. I know people are broke, and no one has much money to spend on music. But do you honestly think that truly great music is going to be made if the artist has to hold down a regular job, feed the family, spend time with the kids... AND find time to make music? Not bloody likely.
And PS... tours are usually determined by the number of album sales a bad has in a particular area. If they only sell 4 CDs in London, they aren't going to tour there over the 6000 CDs they sold in Manchester. Illegal downloading skews the number of fans in a location so that loads of places get passed over for tours even if the fan base is fairly strong. But then again, if the artist isn't even breaking even on their investment, why should they be forced to spend thousands more to put together touring equipment, rehearsal space, touring bands, take time off work, hotel rooms, flights, shipping equipment around etc... if they aren't even sure anyone is going to be there when they tour? That sort of system would be fine for well established bands who can almost always sell out an arena. But for those poor guys bustin their humps in 500 capacity clubs and hauling their own gear about, it is downright cruel and counter productive.
Okay... I should just shut up before I say too much.