Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac

Charles Ives, 1913
Charles Ives was a very good insurance agent but he was also one of the finest American composers. His work is extraordinary and he created almost all his wonderful music while holding down a full-time job.

If you’re trying to make even a partial living as an indie musician you’re a businessperson, and the news gets worse… You’re a small business. That’s a tough row to hoe as it’s unlikely you’ll have much support. You’re going to have to fill lots of roles all by yourself, publicist, customer relations, sales, accounts and legal for starters. That’s all you. If you know a bit about any of those roles that’s great. If not get studying.

Talent and even producing wonderful music is only a component of success. There are lots of talented people and as a consumer it feels like there’s lots of music out there to listen to and quite a lot of it is really good. The way to garner an audience is to be good at publicising yourself and managing your relationship with your audience. The way to prosper (or at least survive) financially is to be good at selling stuff and managing the money that earns you.

This isn’t for everyone, but just because your music might not be your job doesn’t devalue your music at all. It might even be the best path you could take. You might be better off keeping your music as a hobby in the sense of something done for pleasure rather than for financial compensation. This can be a great liberation. Music doesn’t have to be your career, and choosing to make your living elsewhere doesn’t make your music any worse. In fact it could make it better.

Upsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Freedom to create whatever you want
  • No worries about pleasing anyone else
  • No stress about sales and income

Downsides to not making a living from your music:

  • Music becomes your second job
  • Time and energy may be hard to find
  • Difficult to be taken seriously as a musician

There are two interesting and very different examples of musicians who have taken this path in Charles Ives and Shellac. Continue reading Being a professional indie musician isn’t for everyone: Lessons from Charles Ives and Shellac

Can we increase tangible collaboration between independent musicians?

Adult and child help a younger child climb a pole
We can all benefit from a helping hand

Last night I awoke to find I had drifted off in front of the television. That’s never a great feeling but I happened to hear something I wouldn’t normally have which softened the blow. There was a poker tournament on and they were interviewing a young British poker player who had just lost his imaginary money and been eliminated from the tournament. He was asked what he attributed the rise of young British poker players to. His response was interesting. He said the rise was catalysed by the emergence of a cooperative attitude between his peer group on the poker circuit.

Poker is a competitive environment and he was talking about a group of people who were in a sense adversaries learning to cooperate for long-term benefits. This hadn’t happened before as British poker players were competing against each-other, looking for short-term advantages. I wonder how much cooperation could be deepened within the independent music community.

There are several ways that cooperation is already thriving, there are blogs where lots of bright people share their knowledge and there are amazing communities of people interacting through Twitter helping and supporting each-other. Both these things are wonderful but I think there is scope to make even greater strides in creating a new music industry by increasing some more tangible aspects of cooperation. Continue reading Can we increase tangible collaboration between independent musicians?

Independent, impecunious and heading for the recording studio: An exhortation to prepare excellently

She Makes War
The album Disarm by She Makes War is out now

A lovely coincidence of information occurred today that give me a chance to beat a drum for using good studios to record your music, if at all possible, and to do this sensibly by preparing thoroughly for the recording sessions.

The first element is a great blogpost from warriorgirl announcing the release of the She Makes War album Disarm. Before going any further you can (and should) buy the album here because it’s great. In the post she shares her thoughts on making an album as an independent artist including the decision to spend money on making the album in a studio rather than recording at home.

… I wanted to show people that indie artists could make a product with a quality of sound and aesthetics on a level with or better than those with label backing, at a fraction of the cost. By being prepared for the recording sessions (the songs were all written and arranged) and getting down to work in the studio rather than wasting time playing pool and drinking coffee you can get a professional sounding album made for a reasonable sum of money, and I’m happy I chose to work with Myles rather than added the pressure to become a good quality engineer to my already full plate.

There are a couple of things here that I want to heartily endorse, Continue reading Independent, impecunious and heading for the recording studio: An exhortation to prepare excellently