January 16

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Stepping Outside the Commercial Comfort Zone

Lately I’ve noticed something slightly unfortunate about both my bookshelf and my music library: they’re very commercial.

When I say “very,” I mean that my bookshelf has five shelves, and one is devoted entirely to Nicholas Sparks and Jodi Picoult, and another contains nothing but Harry Potter, Twilight, and Divergent. (Yeah, yeah. Judge me. Then go read Angi’s post about guilty pleasures.)

My music library isn’t quite as bad, but I bet a majority of the songs can be found on one radio station or another.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Commercial can be good. Love me some John Green. Got nothing against Beyonce or Justin Timberlake. It’s easy to stick to the authors and artists who have already “made it.” The ones who have tons of fans, so they must be doing something right.

But the commercial stuff? Makes up a very small percentage of all the books and music that are out there. And even though a certain story or song may not be for everyone, it might be perfect for you or me. And just because someone chose a different path to publication or hasn’t been “discovered” yet doesn’t imply a poor quality of work.

Last week I read a book by an author I’d never heard of from a publisher I knew very little about. And you know what? I loved it. (Reclaimed by Sarah Guillory, FYI. Check it out.) Two of my favorite artists from 2013 were lesser-well-known artists. Their music means so much more to me than their album sales. (Ben Rector and Tyrone Wells. Check them out, too.)

Don’t be afraid to step out of that commercial comfort zone.

Head to Barnes and Nobles (or better yet, your local indie bookstore), and bypass the best sellers. Check out the paperback that’s hiding spine-out between two giant hardcovers, by some author you’ve never heard of. Listen to new music. Try Pandora Premieres, the New Releases station on Spotify, or search #newmusic on Twitter. Hear something you like? Buy the album.

Is it possible that you’ll end up hating the book or the album? Sure. But maybe you know someone else who would like it. Or maybe you can make a donation to your local library. Bonus: you’re supporting another artist. And if we don’t support each other, who will?

Of course, it’s also possible that you’ll love your new purchase. Maybe others will catch on and it will blow up into The Next Big Thing. Or maybe it will stay a quiet gem that’s mostly yours, which sometimes is the best thing of all.

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