Six Truths Every DIY Artist Needs to Hear
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
These days more and more artists are embarking on self-releasing their music and I am one of those artists. I have been a musician for over 20 years. I have directed multiple choirs and worship teams, taught music/piano, worked as a session musician, worked as a producer and record engineer, played with multiple bands from jazz to Christian contemporary to Top 40… I have played it all. But the one thing I had never ventured into until lately was recording and releasing my own music. (Actually, that’s a lie, in 2008, I recorded and released a dance track on YouTube called Number Moja, in support of the Obama campaign- Don’t google it; I’ve since taken it down.)
Anyway, 11 months ago I launched Frank Iva Music to record and self-release my music as well as help other artists release their music. I am a practicing DIY artist, this blog-post is dedicated to sharing about my journey in the hope that a few aspiring as well as established DIY artists, will be inspired. If you frequently ask the questions:
How do I self-release my music on a limited budget?
Is it actually possible to be a DIY artist?
What if I don’t have any spare cash… is it possible?
Then read on!
According to this 2019 Rolling Stone Magazine article, based on over $600Million in earnings in 2018, DIY artists were projected to earn more than $1Billion by the end of 2019. A billion dollar industry! DIY stands for Do-It-Yourself. This term is used in multiple disciplines to refer to accomplishing a task without enlisting a paid professional or paying for the bare minimum components of the task. For a musician this means pursuing your music career and business with very little or no help from paid professionals. This means you are responsible for writing your songs, recording them, working all the technology, mixing, mastering, publishing, promoting, collaborating, collecting royalties, paying business taxes etc. Sounds overwhelming? Let’s dive in!
Why Become a DIY Artist?
The biggest reason why artists choose the DIY route is due to lack of a big budget. People like myself depend on a full-time day job to pay for living expenses as well as music business expenses – at least before turning a profit. Personally, I just can’t afford to pay more than a few dollars for my music career expenses. Most of my money goes towards absolute necessities needed to produce and release a professional sounding record. I focus on quality but budget-friendly gear, software, and marketing.
Another reason why people choose the DIY route is independence. As a DIY musician, you are your own boss, which means no one dictates what kind of music you make. Plus, if your music becomes profitable you do not have to split the profits with all the people who helped you make that possible. But is a DIY music career feasible? Is it really doable? Read on as I share my experience.
Is It Doable?
With hard work and patience, A DIY music career is very doable. You’ll need to be flexible and know your strengths. However, in my experience you just can’t completely get away with zero budget for some aspects of the process of music release.
For example, unless you plan to release your music on free platforms like Bandcamp or SoundCloud, you’ll have to, at least, pay for publishing and distribution of your music to the paid digital streaming platforms, such as Spotify. If art and graphic design are not your strong suit, you’ll have to pay for someone to make your album art, logo, website, etc. So, it is all doable, but you have to leverage all your talents and network very well. In addition, you need to set your goals and priorities so that you stay focused on achieving them.
Most of all, you’ve got to love your music and the process of creating and releasing it, because chances are that it’s going to be a while until you turn a profit.
When the going gets tough emotionally, physically and mentally, the only thing that you’ll have left to carry you through is your love and passion for the craft- and that is worth a lot.
Is DIY Right For You?
If you believe you have a valuable gift to offer the world through music
If the process of making music from start to finish thrills you regardless of the outcome
If you hear music on the radio and think to yourself “I can make that”
Then, YES, DIY is right for you. You can do this! Unless you are simply good at all parts of the process, or you are a really fast learner, or you have a lot of discretionary cash laying around, it may not be easy, but it will totally be worth it. Be committed to your passion and your hustle, and you will see results. Again, just to keep things in perspective, consider that you may have to spend some amount of money before you make a profit. Aside from that you can still self-release music as a hobby.
Here Are the Top Six Truths I've Learned on My DIY Journey So Far
· Learn, Learn, Learn and LEARN
As a DIY artist, I am constantly researching and learning how to:
Make my sound better
Build a fan base
Market my music
Create my brand
The list is endless. Luckily enough we have the internet which is a one stop shop for learning, USE IT. A little background about myself: Growing up as an 80’s kid in Kampala, Uganda, I was never exposed to computers until the late 90’s after graduating high school. However, by the time I graduated college for the second time, I was using computers for word-processing, music production, video editing, simple programming, website development, graphic design, etc. All this happened in a span of about 10 years. I was never stopped by the fact that I did not know how to do something. If I had access to the computer, my attitude was to figure it out.
The advice I would give to any DIY artist: Not knowing how to do something is not a good enough excuse not to do it.
Set and Acknowledge Milestones
Setting milestones and acknowledging them when they are completed is a strong motivator for me. Even if I didn’t quite hit my target, if I can measure it in some way that is good enough. For example, in March of 2019 I set out to have 5000 Instagram followers by the end of the year. This did not quite come true - at the end of 2019 I had 2500 followers- and instead of looking at it as a failure, I look at it as hitting half of the target I set out to hit. And having built 2500 followers from 200 in one year is an 1150% increase! That is good enough to motivate me.
Capitalize on Your Strengths
What is it that you are really good at? Focus on that. This self-test will also help you realize whether or not you are trying to enter the right industry/niche. One of my strengths is visualizing big ideas and also figuring out what it would take to accomplish them. As a result, I don’t shy away from hitting up fellow musicians and selling my vision to them and getting them on board. I get to grow horizontally as well as vertically. I also realize that while I might not have years in as a recording artist, I have a wealth of experience in the field of music, business, leadership, and I can leverage that to grow my brand and my experience.
Ask Your Friends and Network for Help
If you are blessed with a great network of friends from your work, church, or other circles, don’t overlook them, they might be willing to help you in various aspects of your DIY journey. For example, I’ve had friends help me with taking professional photos; I’ve also had friends helping me with branding and marketing myself. Don’t take it for granted that your friends will do it for free, but if you can let them know your situation and acknowledge them as professionals, they will likely be willing to help. Trust that people support you. We’ve got to respect each other’s hustles.
Set Aside a Little Cash
I know that sounds contrary to DIY but let’s face it: There are things we absolutely can’t do by ourselves and will have to sacrifice a little cash to have those things done professionally. For example, you are going to have to spend money on some industry-standard gear, software, and hardware. Additionally, if you don’t know how to mix or you don’t feel confident about it, keep learning and keep practicing but in the meantime pay someone to do it for you. Or let’s say you are very good at building websites but still you are going to have to pay for hosting your site and a maintaining a domain. So be prepared to save and spend some amount of cash.
Be Patient And Manage Your Expectations
With all that said, pursuing a career in music as a DIY artist can be exhilarating and also an emotional and mental rollercoaster. I will share with you in subsequent posts how I deal with the highs, lows, and in-betweens. But in the meantime, if you don’t remember anything else, remember these three things:
1. Be patient and allow the process to play out
2. Be realistic with your expectations
3. Focus on the journey and enjoy the process.
Whether you are an upcoming independent artist or an established independent artist reading this, feel free to share in the comments below what your experience has been so far. Let’s discuss below if you have any questions.