These indie artists offer tips to help you seize the opportunities and dodge the bullets of self-releasing your music.
Video killed the radio star, and it now seems streaming services are hammering the nails into a coffin just the right size for the major record labels. Still, there are two primary advantages to being on a major label: financial backing and promotion. But with fewer barriers to recording now that digital interfaces and recording software are cheaper than ever, and with streaming services offering promotional exposure for relative unknowns, do you really need a major label deal? We talked to four indie artists about their do-it-yourself experience in the crazy, mercurial world of music business.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
Before she was an indie artist living in London, Angela Penhaligon, better known as Piney Gir, was a Pentecostal kid growing up in Kansas City. Her life post-Kansas is about as far from home as a Midwesterner could imagine. Her entry into the world of indie music came in 2003.
I was in a synth pop duo called Vic Twenty, and we toured around Europe supporting Erasure. We were offered a small record deal with the independent label Truck (who has since folded). The duo split and Truck Records offered me a solo deal.
Getting a record deal seems to be everyone’s dream, but being with an indie label has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
It's great to have complete creative control over what I do. I like exploring found sounds and sometimes use non-traditional methods, so it's great to have complete freedom to do whatever I want! The disadvantages are purely financial. It would be amazing to have funding to make a record. I'd love to know what it's like to work in a posh studio or with a certain producer. It would be great to to completely immerse myself in the recording process, rather than cramming it into my evenings and weekends around my day job.
Complete creative control is something that nearly all artists want, but not so many manage to achieve.
There’s help to be found
The indie part of indie artist can be a bit of a misnomer. Some artists do absolutely everything themselves, but you don’t necessarily have to. Richie Rivera is the Director of A&R and Licensing at Pulse Records, and he has extensive experience as a touring and session drummer and as a songwriter. Rivera evaluates independent music submissions for licensing opportunities and regularly interfaces with independent artists.
Making a great album is fantastic, but then what? Odds are your album is not the only amazing album to be made that week, nor will it be the only amazing album to come out the day it is released. So what is your plan to get it in front of the people most predisposed to liking it?
Releasing a record is a delicate juggling act that can simultaneously involve media attention, distribution, manufacturing, and oftentimes touring. Just because you have recorded an album without a traditional record company doesn't mean you are excused from performing those same duties.
It’s okay to outsource some of those duties. Connecting artists with television, retail, and video licensing, all of which can be lucrative and promotionally effective, are hard to land on your own. A little professional assistance can go a long way.
Better to not burn out
We’ve all heard Neil Young’s advice, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” (or at least you have now). But why do you have to do either? After nearly two decades Matthew Ryan is still going strong—especially so after leaving the major label system. He has some wise words for those looking to break out as an indie artist in the internet age.
Assuming your work is good, I'm finding the most important thing we can do is be patient. Make your case for it over time. Let your work live and breathe out there. Do what you can on its behalf. Try and take care of the people that take care of you. Very few are getting rich doing this in the DIY world. To live outside the law, one must be honest and patient.
There's a lot of humanity available on the internet if we slow down and look for it beyond the loudest, goofiest voices. And those things we find become tactile somehow. They enhance our lives, in our cars and homes. Something found in an instant can last forever.
Indie artists have a better chance of creating something that lasts because they are not chained to the pop cycle that dominates a major label deal.
In true indie spirit, Shannon Curtis is no stranger to doing things her own way. Her latest record, Connections, focuses less on independence and more on togetherness. It’s first single “I Know, I Know” went viral because of Curtis’s weird little idea.
We asked our community to contribute to a video project this past spring for the first single from my new album. The video turned out to be a pretty powerful piece, and as a result went viral on Facebook. I don't think we would have been able to create such a moving piece without the trusted kind of support that comes from people investing themselves into the independent art that they support.
If that isn’t cool enough, Curtis tours extensively but never plays in a traditional venue.
I haven't performed in a public music venue in close to four years, instead choosing to perform my music in the homes (living rooms, backyards, garages) of people who support what I do. Since making this decision, my career has grown faster than ever.
Sometimes being an indie artist means getting a little (or a lot) weird. But then again, it’s only weird if it doesn’t work.
Go your own way
This is the age of the do-it-yourselfer. Being an indie artist is just as hard—if not harder—than being on a major label, but it has its own rewards. No matter whether you want to walk the indie path completely alone or you’re okay going with some help from the pros, each way can be viable in the modern music industry.
Want to start recording for yourself? Check out the Musician’s Friend Best Recording Gear for Beginners guide. Or, if you’d like deeper insight, take a look through the comprehensive Recording Gear Buying Guide.