Confessions of An Independent Artist
Volume 1: Introductions
Ok, it’s important to know this: I love subtitles. I mean, I adore them. There's something about this format that is just perfect:
Title: Another Title
Title: Explaining The Title
I don't really know why it attracts me. You would think that a person probably wouldn’t feel so passionate about subtitles, but hey, we writers are a strange breed. That’s why I’m happy to be doing a series of blogs for the independent artist. Because series tend to use a lot of subtitles.
Well, subtitles aren’t the only reason I’m happy to be doing a series for independent musicians. I’m also excited because I myself am an independent artist, and so are a lot of my colleagues here at The Streaming Cafe. The music business is quickly becoming an independent musician’s ball game. For many artists, it is no longer about private jets, massive recording budgets, & trashing your fancy hotel room. These days it’s about tightly packed vans, crashing with friends and family, & making your hard earned dollar go as far as possible. It brings a stronger sense of pride to the scene when the artist is putting everything into their music. There are more avenues today that the artist can interact with directly to get their music heard. There are more bands then ever but there are also more people listening then ever.
Before I get right into, I think I should offer a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not claiming to know every in and out of the industry. I am simply writing out of my own observations and experience. I write in the spirit of community, I am open to correction & discussion, and I would love to hear from you on this, whether you’ve been in the industry your whole life or are simply interested from a listener’s perspective.
One of the key things that I seem to be constantly reminded of is the importance of networking. You’ve probably heard it said ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’. Sometimes that expression can make a person feel like their music career is actually out of their hands. It can be daunting when you realize you don’t have a rich uncle who owns Universal or even a wiz-kid audio engineer for a friend. I think it’s important to realize, this statement shouldn’t be a deterrent but a motivating factor. Luckily in life, we are blessed with the ability to meet new people. For some of us this is natural as riding a bike, and for others it is absolutely terrifying.
In the music industry there are a lot of people you need to know. You need to know other musicians, promoters, booking agents, venue people, live sound guys, recording guys, music store guys, marketing people, label people, distribution people, and among others; your audience. You’ve probably discovered that many people will play more then one role. For example, your might find a guitar player who books and promotes bands at a venue, or a recording guy who does live sound and works at a music store. The trick is getting out there to find them.
If you’ve just moved to a new town or even if you’re just moving through the different stages of life, it can be easy to lose touch with the world of music. In 2009, I lived in three different provinces, and every time I moved I felt disconnected from the ‘scene’. I had to get acquainted with what was going on in my new location which can take a little digging. My instincts tend to lead me to the music stores. I don’t know if this is the same for all musicians, but I seem to have an uncanny ability to sense when they are near. I usually discover at least one within the first 24 hours in a new town. Salesmen love to talk, but they also love to sell you things. Regardless, it’s always good to get to know your local music store staff. They usually know what’s going on around town and they can offer insights to gear that you might not have realized. After my most recent move (to Kelowna) I was lucky enough to get involved with a few great local venues. Most cities will have a few places where music happens quite regularly. Whether it’s an open mic, or regular shows, or a completely unique venue where they streaming all of their shows live to the whole world (What? Not subtle enough for you?), these are great places to meet artists. There is an excitement in the air, and artists seem most relaxed and ready to mingle shortly after they’ve finished playing. This is a great opportunity to strike up a conversation. So, what to talk about?
I’ve found that people in the music industry are generally pretty happy to discuss music. They like to hear what other people are doing and thinking, they also like to talk about what they are doing and thinking. I’m sure many of you have experienced the sense of community comes along with music; it’s only natural to draw on that. Be perceptive; if you’ve just watched a musician perform, what was unique about the performance? What did you notice that they might not hear all the time? Or, if all else fails, talk about gear. A good portion of musicians are also gear heads. We love to talk about the tone of our amps and the punch of our drums.
So, it’s really just about making friends while being a little bit more intentional. Try not to be a know-it-all and if you are completely star-struck it’s probably all right to show your appreciation. There may be the odd person who will be a little stand-offish, and remember artists are people and they do have bad days from time to time, so roll with the punches and don’t be discouraged if things don’t go perfect.