By Ames JC
I recently got told by my flatmate that I needed to get out and play gigs instead of playing around on my computer. What he considered playing around was me writing all my own material, setting up my own online presence and maintaining a blog about my experiences as a DIY musician. See, for him this is an entirely new concept. I would strongly advise against relying on the internet for all of your musician needs, but people are starting to experiment and some are getting the balance between the two, right.
I find there are a lot of people ready to blame the internet/digital generation for what it has allegedly done to music. I would argue that illegal downloading alone is not responsible for the demise of the record company. The average record company for the last 15 years has been relentlessly plugging every niche gap they can to make a fast profit. In fact, if you remember the end of Grunge, it was swiftly followed by (dare I say it) Nickleback. Just like Punk, Grunge ended when it became a mass commodity. Instead of trying to rehash genres that defined an era, record companies would have done better to look at where the next wave would come from. They didn’t, they fell asleep at the wheel and the most important thing on the agenda was which band they could sell to make a fast profit before picking up another act wearing similar clothes and sporting identical haircuts. It makes me angry when people blame illegal downloading for everything that’s wrong with the industry. Sure, it doesn’t help things along when people steal music but at the end of the day, the record companies didn’t even see that coming because they were too focussed on Amy Winehouse and Pete Doherty’s drug habits, Britney’s breakdown and if Eminem still hated his Mum. They had a pretty big warning with Napster but they consistently missed the boat by jumping on the digital download era too late. Simply because they didn’t understand how it could work for them, they sold it as a Commie threat to their profits… and don’t even get me started on Lars Ulrich from Metallica!
Let’s not kid ourselves that the music industry is full of music lovers; it’s full of business men and women, the kind that most musicians want to slap with a kipper, the kind that most of us work for in our day jobs and secretly wish their desks would collapse and leave them in a pile of paper rubble never to be seen again. Because of this dire state of affairs, musicians have been going the self-release way for the last couple of years.
It’s not all doom and gloom you know! It’s actually pretty exciting because musicians are getting the chance to shape the music industry into what they want it to be – less about profit margins, more about talent and originality. Artists can make their own promotional videos, set up online stores to sell their music and merchandise, network through social media to either gain a following or even meet people who have skills to help you with certain elements of promotion that you may not be able to do yourself. It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Taking on the responsibility of being your own manager, promoter and songwriter is a lot of work – one DIY musician I met recently had just employed interns to help her out!
I came back from travelling with the idea that I wanted to set up my own label but went off the idea when I saw what the economy was doing. So I just decided to start getting into home recording and it kind of snowballed from there. In the last year I’ve gone from fiddling about on the computer to producing my own material and getting enough stuff together to put out my first EP release. Most of my contacts have been made through Twitter and I found an artist to do all the artwork for my EP. You don’t need to spend a lot of money; it’s really up to you on what you can afford. Nobody is going to tell you that you need to cough up a few grand to reap the rewards. That’s the beauty of the internet; all your promo isn’t going to cost you a penny! At some point you will start selling more than you make and have dedicated followers.
Whatever you do, don’t stop gigging or getting out and meeting other bands at their gigs. Nothing can replace the personal touch. Interact and support the bands on the circuit with you, it’s not a competition. We’re a community and we should all be willing to help each other out if we can. I’ve noticed that many musicians still feel they shouldn’t interact with the “competition”; more fool them for being so up themselves! Doing the DIY musician route doesn’t mean guaranteed success; it requires just as much work and dedication as any other art form. At least this way, you have more control over it and have the freedom to go as far as you want. If a record company is worth their salt, they will see what you’ve done and be interested in making you a genuine offer. In the meantime, get on with enjoying making your music, your way.