The Advantages And Disadvantages of Operating As A DIY Artist

Image credit: Shauna Miller (Via Jack Swing)

Taking the music world head on as an independent artist may give the creator more freedom but it can be a difficult road.

We live in a very juxtaposed world, where thanks to the internet it’s never been easier to start a career as an independent musician. There are now countless tools and distributors (like ourselves) who can make sure your music is heard in every corner of the globe. However, this doesn’t mean it’s an easy ride and there are certainly advantages and disadvantages.

In the past few months, we have had the privilege of talking to some of the worlds leading DIY artists, who are all integral to their local and national scenes. They have first-hand seen and experienced life as a DIY artist, the many opportunities and difficulties. 

No Need For Major Labels

In today’s world it’s easy to argue against the idea of major labels, management, or PR Firms, as Jack Swing says: “As me and those around me grew and honed our talents, we realised 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.” 

By going DIY Jack Swing felt that: “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 them to, on our timeline, with no interference.” 

However, having this about of control also comes with its disadvantages: “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.”

As Lins of Magick Mountain puts it: “a lot of admin, digital managing, speaking to people, production, artwork, videos, social media, etc on top of writing, recording, gigging.” In fact, during their latest release, Lins felt the strain saying that “there hasn’t been time/energy to do what bands should be really doing – writing, rehearsing, gigging, etc”

However, this extra admin and element of being in a band does offer a fantastic insight into how a label operates, giving you an understanding that could be invaluable when signing to a major, or any label for that matter. Lins explains: “In one way it’s an advantage to really learn what a ‘label’ or equivalent needs to do to make a release happen so that if you do work with a label in future you can make sure all those things are happening how you want them to because you understand the process.”

A Rise In DIY Artists Thanks To The Internet

There are now more artists acting independently than maybe ever, it’s certainly the age of DIY in some respects. This has been spurred on by the rise of the litany of distributors and tools available to an artist. Martha of Pretty Preachers Club explains further: “Due to so many free online distributors, releasing music has never been so straightforward. This is filling the diversity gaps in the industry in the sense that it makes music production available to everyone, not just those with money. It’s really exciting to see so many up-and-coming bands and artists from different walks of life.” 

As we know, most artists today start their career on the internet a place where Martha feels that: “It’s much easier to be noticed now than it probably was in the 50s when the likes of The Beatles were on the rise.” Adding: “Labels, Magazines, Journos, managers, and promoters are all an email away.” 

Adding to this notion, Rory of School Disco explains: “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.” 

What’s The Catch? 

So, reading through all this, you’re probably thinking, okay well what’s the catch? If going DIY and acting independently is so great why aren’t more artists doing it? The truth is that you may maintain creative control but funding and financial stability is harder to come by. Most DIY artists, if not all are holding down day jobs, and as Isaiah of Jack Swing says: “It’s crucial to find a balance so that you don’t burn yourself out.” 

On top of funding your own music career, you’re also having to pay your way through life in general, rent, food, bills, etc are all costs that put more pressure on creatives. Chatting to the variety of DIY artists one thing became incredibly clear, money was almost always a blocker. 

Milo Gore explains that: “In this day and age it’s all about money, contacts, and reach.” He explains further, “To survive, more often than not, you have to put money towards marketing and PR, the ones with the contacts. Adding: “How are you meant to compete?” 

What Can I Do?

It’s a good question, how does one basically take on an established industry and set of labels and PR firms to be heard above the noise. It’s not easy but there are tools out there for artists to use. Services such as RouteNote can distribute your music and guide you through the process of releasing your music, not just to streaming services but to social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as TikTok. PR is also another area that an artist now has more choice with. Tools such as Musosoup, Submithub, Groover, HumanHuman are great ways to reach thousands of tastemakers, playlist creators, bloggers, content creators, and many other grassroots and established music industry types. It’s a fraction of the price of a traditional PR campaign and arguably just as successful, especially for growing and emerging artists. 

It may seem that the industry is against you and in some aspects the traditional methods are. However, there is a new way the music business can operate and DIY artists are going to be able to flourish like never before because of it. If your an artist do your research, network, reach out to as many people and places as you can. We’re more connected than ever before, put yourself out there and see what happens.

Music journalist and photojournalist based in Cornwall.

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