When being an independent musician becomes detrimental

Ah the joy of being indie, that’s right, an independent musician, free to do whatever I want, on my terms, whenever I want to. No fear of being screwed or told what to do by distributors and record label executives. It is so bracing!

But here I am, talented, charismatic and slowly building my fan base and getting exposed to the industry. It feels though, like they have shut me out because I want to do this myself, I don’t get it! Why can’t they just let all us indies have the same chance the sell outs on the major labels do? We are better than those fake singers, manufactured from some TV show. For us it is our life, we live and breath it, we are real. But I am getting so frustrated that I can’t seem to move my career forward.

Ah, the life of the independent musician.

Many successful people in this world, Steve Jobs included always point to their career being filled with no’s. They understand that to make anything successful you are going to have most people say no to you. A guy told me that music was easier for musicians back in the day! I told him nicely, he is full of shit! The Beatles for instance had a ton of turn downs including the infamous “Don’t give up your day jobs”. Recording was costly and difficult, 4 tracks! You get more tracks in better quality via an App on your phone today. Touring, think of the motor vehicles back then, the cost of equipment, poverty was way more oppressive than today, printing, communications, viral marketing, the freakin world wide web, international distribution and a record store in every home connected to the web. Easier, in what way?

I think people see it as easier because it was simpler, more restrictive, less people doing it, so it seems like it was a less painful process. People talk about the way fans loved music more back then. They probably did, because what else did they have?

Many indie artists don’t take rejection well, they don’t work well with others in their industry, they don’t take the time to understand how the other areas of the industry work. I had an artist back in 2002 who wanted me to help get his indie CD in stores, I asked him”How much are you going to sell it for?”, “$20” was his reply. “Ok, that’s more than most CDs out there, why is it worth, $20?” he told me “because it has 14 songs on it and it’s great!”. I let him know to his shock, that a lot of the new releases had 16 or so songs on them and they were $13.99 tops” he didn’t know that. But then came the stunning realization about how out of touch he was, he wanted me to arrange distribution of his CD, try to retail an unknown artist for $20 and he wanted $15 per CD in return! I let him know that if he wants a retailer to sell it for $20 they are going to return $10 to the distributor who wants 20% and then our 15% how can that get him back $15? He was fuming and thought this was some kind of rip off! He just didn’t get it because he wanted things to work they way he imagined them to and not the way the real world works. And why did he feel so entitled to have everybody work for him and not get anything for doing so?

Being independent means the following, you need to do an awful lot more than musician’s who are willing to sell their rights. You have to educate yourself more, network with people in all areas of the industry to build a database of contacts, understand how the business works, pay all the bills yourself, find the future funds you need and then make it to rehearsal so you can be good enough to step foot on a stage and ask punters to pay to get in to hear your music.

Having all this control and responsibility is awesome and a ton of endless work, but it becomes detrimental when you are still in dream mode! Wake up, get your ass out of bed and get to work, oh and by the way, there is no end to your day because as soon as you have learned how it all works, you find out it is all changing and have to relearn and meet new people over and over again. Part of waking up is learning that you can still be an indie and shake hands on deals with other people and companies and hand over parts of your career to others to caretake. Indie doesn’t mean “an island” it just means you get to make the decisions…. all of them!