DIY Till We Die: School Disco
Image by Liver Tandy
The Brighton Based Band Talk About Their Journey As A DIY Band
In the UK and across the globe there are DIY scenes popping up at an ever expanding rate. There are several reasons for this but a main factor is the internet has made it easier for an artist to sell, distribute, promote and exists without the help of a major labels or management. For every genre there is likely a growing or blossoming DIY scene, from hip-hop to dance music through to garage rock. In every neighbourhood, town or city there is some form of independent artist trying to get heard. You’ll likely have seen them promoting themselves and their art on your social media timelines!
Before covid-19 and the subsequent hiatus of live music there were flourishing scenes across the globe. There has never been more music, from a wider range of artists available to a generation and it is incredibly exciting. Although the world may feel grey, dystopian landscape at times there is creativity on every corner, whether that is online or in person. The internet hasn’t only made it easier for bands and artists but also for new music fans. It’s not a difficult task to find your next favourite band or song thanks to the internet. It is for this reason that DIY artists need to be supported and talked about because without them we’d all be listening to Rita Ora or Tekashi69 (no offence). DIY artists are for the most part, creativity manifest. They’re dedicated artists looking to expand sonically, bringing you real, thought out and original music.
With this in mind we want to chat to an array of independent to get to know more about what it means to go DIY, how it works and its advantages and disadvantages. First up in this article series is Brighton’s freaked out garage rockers School Disco. Lead singer and guitarist Rory Lethbridge give us the nitty gritty on how the operate as a DIY band and how it works for them.
So, what is the attraction of operating as a DIY band and how has it benefited you?
Rory: I think nothing has really attracted us other than we wanted to push the band forward and got addicted to doing it ourselves and achieving small goals as a band that then mount up to bigger overall gains. I love working out how things work as well as learning about it. I feel this will allow us to have a substantial career as a band and not get left in the dust.
The benefits are that everything is completely on your own terms and what you put in is what you get out. If you want to make freak-out-post-black-metal-shoegaze-folk as a DIY artist no one is gonna tell you not to. You have complete creative control. Also, the flip side of this is that almost every artist starts as a DIY artist and I think it’s a really important step in your career. Knowing and learning what a band does beyond recording music and playing live music is super important. Learning how to write emails, approach people, form relationships, write a press release are really important skills that go beyond just the music industry. Learning all of this and creating a network around the band to help move your career forward is super important. Doing things on your terms is important so if you do end up getting a manager or an agent you can be more engaged and know what’s going on. You don’t want to get left in the dust when things get more serious.
Do you feel DIY is something that is tailored towards rock music or is it a practise that is seen in other genres?
Rory: I think it works for all genres, some better than others. I’m not particularly well versed in all genres because I mainly play in rock, indie, and pop bands. However, I think the ethos of DIY applies well to electronic music too. I see raves popping up all around Brighton (pre-Covid) for drum and bass and UK hip-hop nights seem to be a plenty and have a really nice closely-knit community. Furthermore, it’s so easy to self-release via Bandcamp or SoundCloud or through services like yourselves at RouteNote that I don’t see why it wouldn’t apply to all genres. I think if DIY is done right it might not seem DIY.
What difficulties have you come up against as a DIY band?
Rory: I think sometimes it’s difficult for people to take you seriously or it might come across that you’re not as serious. For example, it seems like blogs are way more inclined to listen to well known and established PR agents as opposed from bands sending off emails themselves. However it is all about the relationships, a lot of the coverage we have gotten has been through relationships we have made and we are continuing to make all the time. This is the same with a lot of the gigs we get. We have established relationships with promoters in various places across the country and then continue to work with these promoters so we can all grow together. I also think funding can often be an issue with being a DIY artist, though we have the support of some really amazing DIY labels, we often don’t have the funding to put into things we want to.
For example, we don’t tour as much as we’d like as we all have lives outside of the band and can’t always afford to take time off or afford to just play shows sometimes. We also have all these amazing ideas for merch but that requires investment.
Was going at it DIY a decision made before forming School Disco or is it something that naturally fell in place?
Rory: It naturally fell into place I think, we really wanted to do more things as a band and just ended up learning and doing things ourselves. When I started playing gigs when I was 16, I didn’t know what a promoter was or did! We just approached venues who said we could put nights on ourselves. We couldn’t afford to record records in studios, so we ended up recording ourselves and learning along the way. We’ve not got a booking agent, so we learned to book gigs ourselves.
Watch their RouteNote Session in full here:
What makes a solid DIY scene and how do you get involved in one?
Rory: I think as mentioned before developing solid relationships with like-minded and passionate people, it really is as simple as that. Just be nice and put your ego to one side and just help everyone and allow everyone to grow together.
Is there a way to remain DIY but still be signed to a major label?
Rory: I think the major label is maybe a step too far as the infrastructure there is so great that there wouldn’t be much left to do yourself. With a marketing team, press team, social media teams it’s hard to keep your imprint on the music or bands visual depiction, not to mention the label may have a vision for you. Major labels are often putting in major investments into artists and they don’t want to leave anything down to chance. I’ve never been signed to a major though and probably won’t ever get signed to a major with the music School Disco are making, so I couldn’t tell you! If it happens, I’ll let you know!
It appears that DIY scenes are popping up all over the country. Why do you feel this is?
Rory: I think with the Internet now it’s never been easier to release music via Bandcamp, Soundcloud, or even Spotify etc. Furthermore with Facebook, Instagram, free video editing software, free Photoshop alternatives, mobile phones, cheap recording equipment. It has never been easier to write, record, film a video, edit the video, take a press photo and release it.
Maybe we should make that a challenge. Can you write, record, make a music video, edit a music video, and release a song all in one day!
Why do you feel more artists are opting for a more DIY approach?
Rory: Like I said before, it’s never been easier. Also if you have a passion and a vision for a project, you might not want someone else’s’ fingers in your pie! Furthermore, having a manager, an agent, a record label etc are really fanatic tools but also they are taking a slice of said pie. Starting out it might not be financially beneficial to pay someone to book gigs or manage the project if there is no money to be made. On the flip side, it might make total financial sense as they might be able to book gigs that are way better than you are able to with your network, in which case it might totally make sense.
Do you think post-Brexit the DIY scene will flourish or will it struggle?
Rory: I think a bit of both, a lot of DIY bands rely on going and touring the EU as a source of income for the band as they generally treat bands better and buy more merch than people in the UK. On the flipside bands always will overcome and adapt in the DIY scene and people will make it work and use the opportunities to grow and develop the scene within the UK. I’m both terrified and interested to see what Brexit brings.
Do you think the internet has made it easier to be successful in a DIY scene?
Rory: I totally think it has. Anyone can have a viral moment now. There are so so so many people across the globe who are interested in all styles of music and there is a massive market to tap into. With more artist-focused platforms like Bandcamp it’s never been easier to upload a track and see what happens. These platforms help artists communities grow and it’s an ever improving one too. If you’re wanting to take things more seriously planning a release across multiple platforms with full self-promoted PR EPK’s etc then there is a wealth of information and resources available that are great sources of information for DIY.
Lastly, what advice would you give to an artist looking to start their own scene or get involved with their local DIY scene?
Rory: Just be nice, no one wants to get involved with someone who isn’t and it can hurt and taint your career. I can think of a couple of bands who have let their ego get in the way and have damaged their reputation with promoters I know because of their stinky attitude. Relationships are one of the most important things in the music industry, so don’t go burning bridges. I also think it’s super important to grow your socials and brand as this is a great transferable skill as the Internet and social media is a huge part of everyday life now.