Here’s a dilemma which will surely resonate with all modern artists of all media.
The modern artist today has seemingly 2 major choices to get their work out there.
1. Sign your life away and hand your new creation over to an organisation that can promote and sell your work.
2. Self promote and sell it yourself.
The pros and cons of each route are manifold. A promise of greater exposure will always be a tempting sales pitch, but at what cost? It’s fair to say having tried both ways, my own experience has been somewhat varied in terms of success.
I’m a fairly major control freak, not from arrogance, mostly from fear and anxiety in fact, but I found option 1 a fairly unbearable experience from word go…
I instantly felt I’d lost control of my creation. It was like rearing a child for the first 5 years then handing it over to an adoption agency and being told to go an make another one. Mind you I wouldn’t advise considering your albums as children either..The main issue was I began to resent the fact that the company promoting and selling my music was making more money than I was.
Option 2 has been my preferred route for the last 6 or so years now and it has been a mixed blessing. I’m 100% in control of my creative output. I have no external interference telling me I need to make it shorter, longer, or have more radio friendly songs (not that that is a particular problem in the prog genre). I mix and master my own work, have done the art work and production for the last 3 albums, updated the website, designed merch, and written all the press releases. With some help, I’ve been packing the CDs, printing postage labels, dropping off parcels etc. etc.
This is great, yes? Well yes, the only people making money out of my work currently are the Royal Mail, various couriers, Paypal, CD and vinyl producers and a few organisations like Spotify, Apple, Amazon Bandcamp who take their percentage. Then there’s obviously the retailers and distributors who buy my stuff, but I’m making money from them too so it cuts both ways.
In short the vast majority of the income from selling my art comes back to me. It’s not a fortune but after 10 years hard work, 7 album releases and a new one every 18 months it’s paying some of my bills.
..there are downsides too.
My budget for marketing and promotion is near to zero. I pushed the boat out on the last record and had a professional video made, although the benefits of that in terms of actual sales are frankly not worth talking about.
There’s no budget for gigs either. I’m still not convinced gigs do anything for a band unless you have a motivated fan base of sufficient number to support the shows. Fans will only go to the shows where they know the songs and there’s not enough folk that know my work yet to risk my own money…
and here is the BIG one that everyone misses…
All this DIY marketing, self promotion and releasing takes ridiculous amounts of time…The danger is for any artist that you spend 10% of your time making music and 90% trying to sell it to the world…
That means most independent modern artists on next to no budget are spending most of their time on social media saying ‘buy my stuff’ rather than doing what they should be doing….making art.
I find the whole process of continually ‘selling your wares’ on Facebook and Twitter fairly embarrassing at times. Some people heartily embrace it and will think nothing of spamming groups and pages for music fans with endless links to listen to their album. Who can blame them? it’s free and it’s not like there are any immediate financial rewards, other than a $0.0052 if they stream your tune.
I’m not sure there ever was a period in history when ‘just being good at what you do’ was enough to build an audience, but competition is now so intense for attention, that we have musicians assaulting each other’s inboxes with friend requests followed by an immediate request to like their band, without so much as an introduction or friendly; Hi, good to meet another fellow artist…
Do these folk not realise I’m in the same boat? I’m on my own mission to find an audience the same as you… It’s like going fishing and the neighbouring fisherman asking you if you can catch some fish for him too. No, bugger off, catch your own…
Then there is the fact that ‘independent’ still says ‘unsigned’ to the mainstream who just think you aren’t good enough to get a deal. There’s also the danger of thinking you can do everything yourself and maybe not realising that there are people out there who are a lot more skilled at the promotion and distribution stuff than you are.
All these factors could ultimately be any independent artist’s downfall. Never, ever have the belief that your art is all you need to be successful…It’s not enough. Never has been either…Everyone harks on about how it was better in the 70s and 80s but was it? Back then I wouldn’t have been signed. It was akin to lottery win…only for the luckiest few or the best at showcasing their talents. Back then, I would have been faced with a much more expensive entry point to actually releasing any music at all, so I doubt any of my music would have seen the light of day. In 2019 it’s true, anyone can make a record but at least I’m out there swimming with all the others desperately trying to get the attention. And I’ve had quite a bit too, which is all good…
Artists on the whole don’t make very good marketeers or sales people and I for one get thoroughly dispirited when I’m met with the first rejection or criticism. It’s one of the reasons I was crap as a salesman. I knew the theory but didn’t have The Terminator mindset. The best sales people are like machines, they have complete faith in their ability and they never give up.
Maybe you just have to make sure the machines are working for your best interests..