What in the world do you do if you’re Freedy Johnston?

I suppose that before you can answer that question, many of you will ask another one: “Who in the hell is Freedy Johnston?

Freedy Johnston is a singer-songwriter who was born in 1961 and grew up in Kinsley, Kansas. He had a minor pop hit or two back in the early 1990s–the most familiar of which, “Bad Repuation,” made it to #54 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994. His 1992 album Can You Fly? is, in my mind, the finest singer-songwriter album of the ’90s and one of the finest albums of the ’90s, period. Johnston sold some of his family’s farmland to finance that album–literary, as he sings in “Trying To Tell You I Don’t Know,” he “sold the dirt to feed the band.”

Unfortunately, while Freedy was selling dirt, pop music fans across the world were buying grunge. The beautiful racket being made by Nirvana and Soundgarden and a generation of flannel-shirted rockers was in, and sensitive dudes singing about losers and relationships gone wrong and morticians’ daughters were out.

Now it’s almost 20 years later. Johnston is still a superb songwriter and a distinctive vocalist, and this year’s Rain on the City is a highly listenable album with a handful of really good tunes. He’s a bright, funny, engaging performer.

He’s also almost 50 years old, and he’s never had matinee-idol looks. He was never a big enough star to trade on his past; you’re not going to see him at RibFest or the State Fair Oldies Show. He doesn’t write songs that appeal to 14-year-old girls.

And the music business has changed. It doesn’t seem anymore as if artists tour in support of albums; rather, they record music to have something to interest people in their shows. When content is free–note that I’ve linked to a few Freedy Johnston songs in this post that you can play over and over without paying a penny–all you have to sell as an artist is your in-person performance.

Again I ask: what do you do if you’re Freedy Johnston?

And by “Freedy Johnston,” I mean lots of experienced mid-level artists who should be able to use their considerable talents to make a living. And by “what do you do?” I mean, do you have an answer?

I’m not sure I do. But I think it involves marketing. In fact, I think it involves word-of-mouth marketing.

Freedy Johnston doesn’t have a big record deal, which means he doesn’t have a bankload of money to spend on promoting his recordings or his shows. But he does still have fans. Who have friends. Who have friends. Etc. When friends tell friends about artists they love, they can influence purchasing behavior. They can increase attendance at shows. Heck, in this day and age of house concerts, it’s pretty easy to find an artist you love and invite him or her over for the evening. Round up a bunch of friends, charge them a few bucks, buy a keg and some family-sized pizzas, and have a party with one of your favorite singers. It many cases, it’s easier and more lucrative for the artist–and more fun for you and your friends.

And your marketing doesn’t have to cost anything. Write a blog post. Write a review. Spread the word via Facebook. Link to videos. The Internet is the greatest word-of-mouth engine ever invented. Trust your own taste and your own enthusiasm: communicate your love for your own personal Freedy Johnston.

As I am doing now. I love Freedy Johnston’s music. I think you might love it, too. Give the songs a listen. If you like them, go buy his latest CD. If he’s coming to your town, go see him. If he’s not coming to your town, drop him a note and see if he’d like to.

And tell your friends. And ask them to tell their friends. Etc. Here in 2010, Big Music only seems to be in charge of the world. Let’s exert our own influence and use all the tools we have to help the artists we love succeed.