At the very beginning, roughly 99.9% of artists have had to walk that lonely road into the music industry by themselves. Kanye West didn’t just beam onto Earth as a multi-award-winning artist, pre-Nirvana Dave Grohl had to pack up his own drum breakables and cold call venues to get shows, and Stormzy fired bars and beats to people in the early days hoping for a reaction.
What I’m getting at is, if you are reading this then there is a high likelihood that you too are probably grafting, planning, and plotting out your musical journey right now. And perhaps the DIY route might be the right one for you.
The whole process of releasing music is a bit of a rollercoaster. From the guys on the high street haranguing innocent shoppers to listen to their music, all the way up to the major label high-rises in London’s Kings Cross, it’s impossible to tell how it’s going to go. When you throw in the added element of self-releasing, and plunge down the DIY hole the stakes can be a lot higher.
You’ve created a personal vignette of yourself through your music, and now you have to set about releasing it. That means any wrong turn will feel like a personal attack, and any right turn will feel like happy hour on your birthday. If going it alone, you’re going to have develop some seriously leathery skin and a work ethic that would make Arctic husky dogs blush. It’s never easy in a market that has hundreds of thousands of music makers around the globe, all doing the same thing as you.
But that’s not to say you can’t do it. Some of the best careers have been kicked off with a DIY attitude. Going it alone means investing in your art at a time when no one else wants to. And whatever way you look at it, it is an investment, something that might hurt in the short term, but will hopefully pay dividends further down the line.
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MC and North London legend Little Simz has pursued the DIY option to sizeable success, cracking the UK R&B Top 20. And for her, being in control of her own destiny allowed her to treat her career with the respect she feels it deserves, something which might not have happened if she was part of the machine.
"When I was being offered deals, I didn’t feel any labels were in it with me for the long run. I felt it was all hype, it was all very short term. If I’d signed a deal, there's a possibility I wouldn't be doing this in five years, and that isn't my calling. All the decisions I make now will affect that. I wasn't trying to be a rebel; I was being a realist. I’m happy I chose this path. It’s taught me a lot about myself."
The realities of this situation have allowed Little Simz to call the shots on who she thinks she is, and not to have to worry about being packaged up as someone else’s idea of success. And that authenticity shines through, allowing her to connect with an audience. She’s the real deal, not some manufactured version of the truth. And when it came to making this idea work as a career, she had the business smarts to see it through.
"A good DIY artist is a risk-taker that understands not only the musical side of things, but is business savvy as well. They’ll make amazing music in the studio, but they can also go to meetings with bosses of companies, and they can be assertive and know what they want. Not to blow my own trumpet, but those are some of the qualities that I possess."
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Rory Friers (And So I Watch You From Afar) - Tips on D.I.Y.
1. Make Art That Speaks To You
Make honest music that represents you and that stirs you, something you sincerely love. You will have to stand up for this music everyday, you’ll have to walk on a stage and play to an empty room and still stand proud behind the songs.
You’ll have to be away from your own bed and the people you love for this music, you’ll have to be skint at times for this music, you’ll have to teach yourself boring skills like how to fill out tax returns and understand pages and pages of legal jargon so if it doesn’t make you feel alive when you’re making it then it’s not going to do it when you need it most along the way.
2. Take All The Help You Can Get
DIY isn’t about taking every aspect of the band onto your own shoulders, it’s about being the deciding and driving force of how and where your music goes. Have a clear vision of what you want and how you present and interact with the world around you, surround yourself with people who can help you get there, you steer the ship.
3. Money Matters
Cash flow is one of the most important things to look after. If you really want to be punk rock then look after it. This is what will enable all those ideas and dreams and creative endeavours to actually happen, if you hold the cash then you’re the boss.
4. Trade In Other Currencies
Can you put a show on for a band in return for them doing the same, can you make posters, are you good at design work, can you use Photoshop, make videos, take photographs, record music for people, help mix a song, master a song, know how to book a tour, good with social media, own a van? Have you got a space people can rehearse, own some cool gear, some mics, a PA system?
Literally, whatever you can bring to the table, someone, somewhere can make use of it. Make connections.
5. Opinions Are Subjective
Don’t presume people always know what they’re talking about. Most people don’t, there will be people who will say they know what’s best for your music, but remember, opinion is subjective. One person’s idea of success differs from another and what’s important is that you are fulfilled and content in your own idea of success.
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6. Don’t Be Afraid To Do Things Differently
It's your music, present it however speaks truest to you and however serves your vision best. Things are wide open now.
7. Look After Your Fans
After the art itself the fans come first no matter what. Whether there is one or one million.
8. Find Ways To Connect And Interact
Keep people abreast of what you’re doing. Don’t depend on social media, they all have a shelf life. Utilise and use what you can when you can in the way that serves your music best, don't feel pressure to go with the latest fad.
9. Never Sell Yourself Short
If it’s important enough for you to put your time, love, passion, money and energy into then its important enough for you to speak loudly and proudly about it. This is your baby, separate the art and your ego, do it justice, speak with passion.
10. Enjoy Every Second
You are the master of your own destiny now, the space between you and your potential fans is smaller than ever, it’s an amazing time to be a musician, enjoy every minute of it.
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This is an excerpt from Phil Taggart's Slacker Guide To The Music Industry - order your copy HERE.
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