Image Credit: Shauna Miller
We caught up with Isaiah Ross of Jack Swing to discuss his experiences as an independent artist, DIY scenes and much more
Jack Swing are three friends Isaiah, Rowdy and Nelson who hail from Pittsburgh, USA. The American band is a delightful mixing pot of genres, all of which they master. Ranging from classic rock elements through to funk and disco, it’s an incredibly infectious sound that is retrospective yet brilliantly fresh. Imagine Vulfpeck but fronted by Hendrix or Clapton.
With the new year coming in (you will not be missed 2020) the American band are now looking to get funding for their next full release. They’ve started a campaign on indiegogo and it’s already amassed a fair few backers. It goes to show that even with streaming success, live shows and merch that independent artists, although in charge of their creativity have massive hurdles to overcome, especially during this strange time. With this in mind we wanted to know more about their experiences with operating as a DIY band, the advantages and disadvantages and much more.
So when your band Jack Swing formed did you always plan to go DIY or was it something that happened naturally?
Isaiah: I’d say it was a natural process. When I was coming up a lot of the bands that truly inspired me were local bands. To me these bands were on par with the greats and they were just normal people that I’d run into walking around the city. It was less of a decision and more just made sense to me as how to truly start a band.
What was the attraction of going DIY for you?
Isaiah: It was more the natural progression of things more than anything. As me and those around me grew and honed our talents, we realized that we were capable of handling a lot of the things that people outsource. It took a long time to do things the right way but now that we are comfortable handling most things ourselves, it both allows us to do more as well as make sure that we get things done the way that we truly envision.
Do you feel DIY is more tailored towards rock music or is it open to other genres?
Isaiah: Perhaps at a point. Now I’d certainly say it’s much less genre specific. There definitely was and still is the DIY rock band in a basement association. But over the last decade or so in at least my area I’ve seen a huge explosion of numerous genres embracing this approach to artistry. As a whole the industry has shifted towards artists finding their following on their own, which without a doubt encourages the DIY mindset and pursuit.
What have been the advantages and disadvantages of acting as an independent artist?
Isaiah: The main advantage is definitely being in complete creative control. By operating independently we can make sure that things get done exactly the way we want the want them to, on our timeline, with no interference. The biggest disadvantage is definitely funding and connections. Being in a band professionally is quite expensive. Having any portion of that handled goes a long way. When operating independently you’re also constantly expanding your network, If you’re booking your own tour, you want to be able to reach out to people that you trust and have worked with. Developing that level of trusted contacts takes serious time and effort. When represented it could be as easy getting a list of dates and showing up, playing, and leaving. Two completely different worlds.
What difficulties have you come up against as a DIY band?
Isaiah: When you’re paying for everything out of pocket things add up quickly. There’s a constant balance of working separate jobs to fund the band, while still making the music and art absolute top priority. Most musicians find themselves in this boat and it’s definitely exhausting. It’s crucial to find a balance so that you don’t burn yourself out.
Listen/watch latest release ‘Get What’s Mine For You’ here:
Have you found that taking a DIY approach has allowed you to be more creative?
Isaiah: Absolutely. While working independently we get to decide completely how we want to present ourselves. This allows for us to make every piece of our content the exact piece of art that we want it to be. Whether it’s a photo on Instagram or a video that we create for promotion each is an opportunity to create a unique piece of art exactly the way we envision.
Do you feel the internet has made it more of a viable option to act independently?
Isaiah: The internet has completely changed the landscape of music. It has made it almost imperative to act independently because on one level everyone has access to the same tools. Because of the internet without the help of major labels artists can put out music, find and engage with their fans, run full marketing campaigns (almost identical to those on major labels), and book tours completely on their own. Before the internet many of these things were reserved for artists with serious representation. The internet has put significantly more power in the hands of the artist.
Why do you feel more artists are opting for a DIY approach?
Isaiah: It’s the only approach that makes sense starting out, at least to me. Like I was saying the internet has completely changed the musical landscape. Since musicians can release music, find their audience, and book tours completely on their own they now are expected to. I feel that it is less “artists opting for a DIY approach” and more that the industry has shifted towards a DIY approach as a whole. In many cases even when a band gets large scale representation it’s after years and years of what we would consider a DIY approach.
Why do you feel there are DIY scenes popping up across the globe?
Isaiah: Because more and more people are realizing that you can create this without necessarily moving to a “music city.” All across the world there are people who love music and who want to create a shared space for it. Choosing to create these spaces plants serious seeds in a community. People now have the opportunity to engage in music on whatever level they feel comfortable, whether it is moving to a music city with high hopes or starting a band locally just for fun.
“The internet has put significantly more power in the hands of the artist.”Isaiah Ross, Jack Swing
What makes a good DIY scene and how do you get involved in one?
Isaiah: A good scene is upheld by the community. Something that people from all sorts of different backgrounds, interests, and influences come together and put a bit of themselves in. That’s what makes it the most sustainable as well. So many of my formative music experiences were seeing local bands give it 100% under any and every circumstance. People coming together for no other reason than to experience and create something special together, connecting, and giving it everything they have.
Do you feel you can remain DIY if you’re signed to a major label?
Isaiah: To an extent. I believe it all depends on a bands intention. For example if a band is signed to a major label but still is completely present in all business dealings and retain complete creative control then they could hold on to the DIY mentality. I feel like many bands once they get to this point are relieved to not have to deal with so much and outsource too much of the work to the label, when I believe that true authenticity is much more beneficial in connecting with an audience.
Lastly, what advice would you give to an artist looking to start their own scene or get involved with their local DIY scene?
Isaiah: You just have to dive in. If there are shows happening, go to them (when the pandemic is over of course), find local bands that you love and tell people about them, if you want to start a band, start a band! Have a blast. If you’re not seeing the type of shows that you want to be seeing then create them. I’m certain there are plenty of people in your area who are looking for exactly what you are.