Just like nearly every other art form in the world, making music, or at least good music is hard. Being a solid DIY musician takes hours of time spent learning and refining your craft. After that, there’s the time you’ll spend getting the sound right, getting the instrumentation right, and finding the people (if any) who are going to help you steer the course ahead. Know this, anything worth doing for us artists has to be hard, 99.9% of us simply aren’t satisfied with the easy wins. So, take that seriously bent aspect of your makeup and appreciate it for what it is. You’re going to have to work and work hard. That said, rather than fumbling around in the dark, you can take a 30,000 foot view of the terrain. Doing so will enable you to get farther, faster and not get stuck in the weeds.
1 – Marketing
Are you running your Facebook page as a page representing you as an artist or is it chock-full of photos of your cat? Are you constantly seeking out new and exciting collaborators over instagram? What’s your audience? Are they people your age? Are they older? Younger? These are all good questions to be asking yourself as you’re conducting yourself online. You don’t want to always be using your personal page as a marketing tool, but your followers should know you’re a musician (and they should have a glimpse at how your life informs your art). Building a presense on social media doesn’t happen over night. It evolves over time, so be patient but keep building, follow by follow, like by like.
2 – Learn To Do EVERYTHING yourself
As an indie DIY musician you need to be self reliant. You can’t count on people to mix something for you or play a guest-starring role on your latest track. You want to be able to do anything and everything yourself. That way, when you find yourself collaborating with other DIY’s you can own your skillset, talent, and really bring some enviably good material to the project. Nothing can make you more confident and more flexible than solid chops so embrace being a one-woman or one-man-show. Do it!
3 – Build Connections
Meet people everywhere you go. Get out of the house, out of the studio and meet fellow musician, engineers, producers and any and everyone who is in the local music scene. If “the scene” is 3-4 hours from where you live, dig in and get yourself a hotel room on a night or weekend when there are multiple shows happening. Work the scene being your unique, artistic self. Listen to other artists. Reach out (on social media too). If you like their work, tell them so. You need to mix with your tribe. When you’re done you can get back to writing, recording, or mixing, feeling inspired by what you’ve seen.
4 – Maximize Your Connections (and Keep it Real)
After you’ve connected with people, go out and utilize those connections. Nurture them. Go out to dinner with people. Send them your work. Make sure everyone knows what you do but also be a real person who is capable of listening, of being a friend, and even of giving to others. This last point is where many artists go wrong and listening to someone talk about “their art” 24/7 is a serious downer.
5 – Make Music (All The Time)
Habituate yourself with making music a lot! Push yourself into creating even when you don’t feel like it, especially when you don’t feel like it. This will reset you to a “new normal” in which your brain says, “Hmmm…boredom used to mean ‘watch tv but now it means, fiddle with chords or write random lyrics.” When you press on even when you don’t feel like it, you build the habit of coming back and pressing through that first layer of resistence. This is 0 on the dial. From there all you can do is rise. Pick up that Ableton Push, keyboard, or pen and paper. Grab your guitar or bongos. Fiddle and see just how long that “boredom” lasts.
6 – Collaborate
Even when collaboration is bad, it’s good. Interfacing with other musicians, seeing how they do things and trying to mashup your styles, thoughts, and melodies is an extremely educational process. Find artists who complement your style, and collaboration can be nothing short of transcendent. You’ll be doing it feeling like you’re on top of the world. You’ll also be building great relationships with artists that transcend all the superficial filler stuff of casual conversation. Make things with other people and co-promote those projects. Do it for the team. Do this well and see who else comes a-knockin’ on your front door.
7 – Find Influences–Everywhere
If you’re Southern Rock, why not listen to some Indian tabla music? If you’re EDM, how about taking a plunge into Led Zeppelin’s earliest stuff. Search wide then delve deep with something piques your interest. Only nearly every other successful musician on the planet has done this, so perhaps you should do it too.
8 -Practice (Even When You Don’t Need To)
The basics need a tuneup again and again. Got a tendency to speed up when you play drums? Practice your good old four on the floor. If you sing, do those vocal warmups and get to the higher registers of your voice. Regular practice will keep your tools sharp and ready. When you’re ready to create or perform, they’ll be there at your disposal.
9 – Create For The Sake Of Creating
When people get caught up in creating solely for the money, fame, or success, things get weird and a-kilter. If you want to stay grounded, follow your passion and keep on going back to the well, creating more and more. If and when you get lost, your art will show you the way back. Remember, without your art, you are not whole. To stay whole, stay on-point, and inspired, always create something new.
10 – Learn What Works & Repeat
As you confront all the wonderful, bitter, and exhausting experiences that are inevitably tied up with the reality of being a DIY musician in today’s world, reserve some space and time to look at what you’re doing. Take notes or journal about what works and what doesn’t work for you. Put on your anthropologist’s hat and notate the time, place, and mood surrounding your last super-productive writing session. Look at what you eat, how much you sleep, and see what gets you in optimum shape for creating.
Delving deep and building your own music education.
Recording Connection grad Isaac Wolfe Hired at Record Plant!