I think my take on the DIY term is probably quite different to others. And that’s OK, I guess life would be boring if everyone agreed on everything all the time.
Personally, I think DIY can of course mean one person handling everything, but it can also be about accepting a little help and building something together. Big Scary Monsters has gone from one person to four in the past couple of years and that’s taken a lot of adjustment and means we now have more resources at our disposal, but when we’re all sitting there handwriting notes to go out with records, cutting up flyers, or handling every single element of booking not one but two festivals, it feels every bit as DIY as ever, and I’m absolutely into that.
The label began in 2001 but didn’t really exist for the first few years, honestly probably a decade. There were many moments between releases where I just drifted and always had one foot out the door. It’s only in recent years I’ve learned to stop dismissing this crazy role as “just something I’m doing until I get a proper job” and fully embraced it, owning the responsibility that comes with a growing business which people rely on, either because it pays their rent or – on the other side – produces records which give them their own moments of escape.
I think that touches on the inspiration as well. Certainly, as a 17-year-old daydreaming about the music industry I wasn’t thinking about pensions or overheads or even the type of bands we may one day get to work with. My inspiration then was entirely short-sighted and selfish, whereas now I find myself thinking outside of that box a lot more. I guess this is growing up…
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Everything about BSM and my job is self-taught. I see it as a constant learning curve and even now, 18 years in, I’m probably only halfway down. That’s equally the scariest and most exciting part of this business; the unpredictability and knowing that everything can (and often does) change in an instant.
In the early days no distributor would touch us, I didn’t know any PR people, journalists, anyone in the industry full stop, in fact. It was also early days of the internet so in terms of access to learning tools, it was pretty scarce.
So, I set about figuring things out and doing what seemed logical. We had no way to get records out to shops nationally, so I learned HTML and built a simple website through which we could sell directly to fans. I made sure bands had stock for tours and set up stalls at any gigs or events that would allow me. I scoured magazines for writers I thought might like our bands and got in touch to see if I could send them records. I called venues and promoters and learned how to book tours. Every aspect of the job began that way, simply because it had to. And I’m so pleased it did. This DIY background not only gave me a broad look at the industry, but it helped instill ethics which I now proudly try to pass on to our team and are qualities we look for in our artists.
Technology has played a huge part in the possibilities of operating as a DIY label/artist. For the first couple of years of the label it really felt like we were confined to our local area. The internet existed but there were very few platforms for music discovery or promotion.
Over the years since we’ve seen so many come and go. I remember tentatively stepping into Napster as my taste started to expand, trawling MP3.com looking for bands who sounded like Jimmy Eat World, downloading large music videos via Limewire and all of this was before major labels started suing their own fans for doing this very thing.
All of this is to say that when MySpace appeared it was an absolute joy. Streaming music, tour dates, information, photos, a quick peak into their friendship group (top 8, at least) and contact details all on one page completely changed our “A&R” process.
It’s this way we found Kevin Devine exactly ten years ago, in fact. It also changed the game in terms of us being able to reach new people and promote our music. Of course, MySpace soon ate itself in HTML coding and spam robots and I really don’t think anyone has created a platform has useful or effective since.
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The internet is the best and worst thing that’s happened to music. The ability it’s given us to reach new people and find new music is unprecedented. But the fact we’re competing with every song ever recorded brings a whole new set of challenges!
It struck me a few years ago that everything I’d done in the early days of the label through sheer necessity had slowly become the norm. Labels who’d previously positioned themselves as faceless corporations to appear bigger than they were suddenly rebranded and started telling the story about the little guy behind the scenes. Everyone opened their own webstore, and the words “artist services” were everywhere.
It’s probably a strange thing for a label to say but I love the fact bands can do so much for themselves now. I 100% believe labels still play a vital part in building an artist and bring experience and resources to the table which are absolutely invaluable, but independence often fuels creativity and it’s inspiring to see some artist’s run with that. I think that’s true of labels too and hopefully – although we may not have realised it yet – the next generation of game-changing indies are out there releasing limited edition cassettes and doing things entirely differently right now.
As for our role in that landscape, I think we do things a little differently to many other labels as we tend to blur the lines between roles, no doubt because of the DIY background. We book tours for our artists, get them on festival bills, arrange their press and radio, book hotels, organise their visas, even help lug their equipment around!
None of these things have changed for us, we’ve never considered ourselves above or too busy for any of these tasks, it’s just part of the job.
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I think that some people are definitely dining out on the DIY tag these days. Perhaps that was always the case? I don’t know. The concept of what DIY is has changed and it seems to be something which causes a fair amount of debate now and that’s fine, although honestly, I think there are bigger problems in the world.
I think that however an artist/label/business/whatever is classified, the important thing is they’re doing things in a way which makes sense to them. However, in amongst all of this I think that community should and will always exist as a part of it. It’s a word I love, personally, and think about it quite a bit. Without a community of people who buy our records and go to see our bands, none of this exists. I see it as our job to support the community in the same way they support us and relish the challenge of trying to bring new people into it.
In my 20s I was obsessed with the US basement show scene, where the same groups of people turned out every time to go wild supporting a tiny band in a terrible sounding space. In more recent times I think that sense of camaraderie lives on but instead of just coming together regionally, people are now united through the internet by similar interests and passions.
There are people who may never meet in real life but feel like they’re best friends with one another having formed a bond over a shared love of a band, and that’s just incredible. They’re the people we want to reach and that’s the community we want to build.
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Big Scary Monsters are celebrating their 250th release with a pay-what-you-want 12” compilation entitled ‘Let’s Just Do It And Be Legends’. More info HERE.
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