Is DIY the only way for your band?

You often hear experts online saying how great things are now for musicians, how there are so many tools online to build your fanbase and get your music out there. However, not all artists are good at social networking. Some people don’t have the people skills or the time to do all the thousands of things required to build a career in music.

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We need to ask:

  • What happens to the introverts?
  • Would Nick Drake have been a Twitter user?
  • Does social media take away from the enigma of musicians?
  • What about the artists whose music is so personal to them that they can’t talk about it?
  • What happens when you don’t have the skills you need to create the right product? (No one wants a great album with terrible artwork or an album that is badly recorded)

Social media and DIY releases are great for extroverts who love talking about their lives and themselves, but are these people the best or most interesting and creative musicians? Often the reverse is true. Just because someone shouts loudest doesn’t mean they are most talented. Some people don’t want that direct contact with their audience, they want to keep a distance. Would Kate Bush seem so interesting if she constantly let you know what she was having for breakfast?

For some bands you need to look at bringing people in, management and record companies. Social media and DIY releases are not the only way to build a career in music, no matter what the web evangelists say. Artists are often told to network to build these contacts, but this isn’t something that comes easily to everyone (although it is easier with social media). Some musicians will be able to do it all themselves, but  it’s not the answer for everyone. How many people do you know who are great at:

  • Playing all the instruments
  • Publishing
  • Merchandising
  • Recording
  • Web Design
  • Mastering
  • PR
  • Distribution
  • Art Design
  • Social Media
  • Photography
  • Legal Matters
  • Booking Gigs
  • Making Videos
  • Driving
  • Retail
  • Accountancy

This list is just the start. Not many people are going to be good at all those things and especially when your fanbase grows into the thousands and tens of thousands it quickly becomes unmanageable.

The point is that DIY isn’t the only way. It’s easy to be cynical about the music industry. You do meet industry people who are very negative and choose to spend their time complaining about downloading. However there are those in it for the right reasons, that love music. Not everyone is out to rip you off, although it’s easy to presume this when you read about the actions of some record companies and managers. Some potential solutions are:

  • An artist working with a manager – The artist and manager work together to build the audience. A good manager can delegate the tasking as required and ensure that your audience grows. If you don’t have the relevant skills it may be a good idea to get help. Ask friends in the industry if they can recommend anyone. Be careful, a bad manager can slow down your career. Ask how many acts they have on their books and what they plan to do for your career before signing anything. Are you a priority for that manager?
  • Artist working with a record label – Not all record deals are equal. A good label can promote your music and you can still retain your rights. For example a “P and D ” deal involves the label doing all the pressing, distribution and press etc and the artist retains the masters. This means the music still belongs to you. Look out for 360 or multiple rights deals, these involve the label taking a cut of all your income streams from merchandising to live gigs to publishing. A bad deal can do a lot of damage to your career.
  • Artist working with a PR company – A good PR company can raise the profile of your music to the point where you can get the industry and fan interest required to bring more people on board. Often industry people want to work with an act when you have built your audience yourself and PR can certainly help with this. If you can go to a potential manager or label and say you have sold 1000 albums or have an email list that runs into the thousands and you have achieved this yourself they will suddenly become more interested. Look out for PR firms that work with acts similar to you that are becoming well know and approach them. See if they can do a deal for you if you are working on a low budget. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
  • Artist working with a Publisher – A publisher can be very useful for an act starting out. A publishing deal can often lead to a record deal and they often have other contacts. Placing your songs often leads to other opportunities. See if you can find out who the publishers are who deal with similar bands and approach them.
  • Artist working with a Booking Agent – If there is a buzz about your band then booking agents will become interested. Generally speaking booking agents won’t work with you until you can draw at lease 50-100 people in multiple regions, so this will most likely happen alongside other things in your career.
  • Artist working with a Distributer – Some distributers only take a small cut and will help to expose your music to a wider audience. Once again a distributer is unlikely to take you on without there being some kind of buzz about your music.
  • Artist working with an independent team of friends and fans – This is how it happens for most people. If you can build a good team of friends and family around your music who are willing to help out with the list of tasks it can really help. Perhaps you have a friend who is a great photographer or a brilliant salesperson who can run your merch stand at gigs. Have a look around you and don’t be afraid to ask for help!
  • Any combination of the above – The music industry is quickly changing and a solution that worked well a few years ago won’t always work in the future. Publishers know labels who know managers and everyone knows everyone else. The music industry is a big business that resembles a small village, it’s all a network. If you create a buzz and have a fan base you’ll eventually be offered various deals. The hard bit is getting the momentum going in the first place.

Before signing any kind of agreement with any of the above review the contract with a independent lawyer who specialises in the music industry. It’s money well spent and if you are a member of the UK Musicians Union they may be able to help with legal costs.Without a buzz about your music it can be hard to get people interested in your music. PR can help but sometimes a random encounter can make all the difference. Sometimes you do need to sell yourself, although this is often very difficult.

The truth is that there isn’t one solution to all this, no one model that fixes the problems facing musicians. There are as many answers as there are different bands. The key is to not rush into anything. Don’t commit to something that isn’t right for you (especially if you’re signing away any of your rights). There is a solution that’s right for your music, you just need to find it.

  • Dreama

    Great article!

    Finally somebody actually embracing the idea that we don’t all want to feel forced to tweet everything – there is a beauty in mystery & I agree, some of the classic artists from yesteryear would be perceived so differently (and maybe even loved a little less today) had they felt social media was a necessary tool.

    One size doesn’t fit all. Never will.

  • Chris

    This is an amazing read, I have felt this same way about the over use of social media… Artists aren’t meant to be quite so accessible, that is what makes their music so intriguing.