It's the stuff of dreams, isn't it? Parading the stage whilst fans weep at your feet, in sheer awe of your stage presence. You're Harry Styles. You're Madonna. You're a sex icon. A fashion icon. You're a rockstar.
But let's get real now, and let's change the goal entirely. It's unrealistic to seek to 'become a rockstar'. The elite few who get signed to a major label at age 15 and nurtured until they're a global superstar are talented, sure, but they're also bloody lucky. To get that break in the first place comes down to a bit of luck too, remember that. For every Rihanna or Justin Bieber, thousands of artists are working damned hard every day and not getting any further. Talent alone does not get you places.
Especially in today's music industry. When everyone, anyone even, can release music. Gone are the days of being swept up by a label and teleporting to the height of stardom through some perfectly timed chart-topper. The labels aren't signing anywhere near as much talent as they used to - they jump into a moving car, rather than nurturing a class act from the ground up because they believe in what they do. Yes, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, this is the unfortunate reality. So, how about we focus on how you can build a sustainable career in today's industry, rather than how to reach the peeks of superstardom? Well, that's exactly what this article is going to focus on. Who knows, with that bit of luck I'm talking about, coupled with your passion and mega-hard work, you could go all the way.
The DIY Ethos
The landscape of the industry has changed a lot in the last ten years and there's a lot to be held responsible for this. Social media, obviously, is the biggest culprit... but we'll get more to that later. Hell, even how we consume music has changed. Personally tailored Spotify playlists trump cookie cutter chart-fuelled radio stations every time, right? Well, this shift in the cogs of the industry means that stepping out as a DIY musician is pretty much the only route. A route with a lot of hurdles, yes. But an exciting route nonetheless. Being a DIY musician means being your own label, promotor, distributor, PR team, and social media manager. There's a lot of different hats to wear. But, don't panic. The resurgence of the independent route means there are so many platforms to make it easy for you.
Besides, isn't it badass and 'rockstar' to do it all yourself? F**k the labels anyways. You've got this as an independent musician. You can take your career into your own hands. And this is the best time to go for it. In 2020, the annual revenue for independent artists who distribute their music on streaming services grew by 34.1%. For the first time, independently released music became a billion-dollar industry... and it's only getting bigger.
So, how do we get the ball rolling on your DIY musician journey and get you a slice of the pie? Let's get to it.
Make The Music... Then Get It Out There
It's the reason we do this, right? For the love of the music. Well, before you can parade around stages to adoring fans, you've got to have music out there for others to love too. Starting out in the biz, your portfolio is everything. Whilst you don't need to define your niche straight off the bat, having a good sense of your style and place in the genre landscape is an important place to start. Write. Record. Create. Experiment. Re-write. Re-record. Mix. Master. Play with all the ideas you can. After all, all the paid ads and carefully curated campaigns in the world can't outdo an incredible song. Honing your craft is the way to get your best footing when stepping out as a DIY musician. After all, what did all our instrument teachers tell us back in the day? "Practice. Practice. Practice!"
And then? Release. Release. Release. Even when you think no one is listening. Releasing your music is crucial in creating a sustainable career in the music industry. What happens when your TikTok finally goes viral and your newfound fans have nowhere to find your music? Get your 'distributor part of the label' hat on and get hustling. There are so many different distribution platforms out there that independent musicians are gaining revenue on. Some of the best to look into are TuneCore, DistroKid, Bandcamp, and DittoMusic - all of them will get you a spot on Spotify. And when you're on there, use our handy tips to gain more followers on Spotify to get your traction up.
Get On Socials, And Don't Stop
It's no secret that social media has become a main artery of music discovery. Amassing a large and, more importantly, loyal social media following is a sure-fire way to get your music career to take off. To be frank, it's essential. Labels are lazy (the big ones are anyway, big up the independents doing it for the love) and they want a guaranteed buck when bringing on a budding new artist. Having a pre-built fanbase makes their lives a whole lot easier in the long run. Add onto the package a viral TikTok song? Oof, now you're really cooking.
But, like we said, f**k the labels! Writing tracks with the end goal of a viral TikTok sound will only lead to you chasing your tail as a songwriter. No, the art comes first. But, what is a good skill to nurture, is being able to package your music into a relatable reel, engagingly edited clip, or tucked into a viral trend. The 'PR and marketing' hat of the DIY musician may feel uncomfortable at first. But, eventually, it will fit. Check out our article on TikTok hashtags to get the ball rolling.
At the core of any social media promotion is consistency. We've all heard of the all-seeing, all-knowing algorithm that dictates the success or suppression of content. Staying consistent with posting, no matter how cringe it might feel, is essential to having that tricky little algorithm work in your favour. It'll also keep your fans engaged and help build the very-growing community of supporters that you need to cultivate on your route to rockstardom. It won't happen overnight and, hey, that's totally okay. True talent finds a way to break through and you'll have more dedicated fans in the long run.
The Music Business Is A People's Business
It may seem like the only route to a sustainable career in the music industry is through pleasing the almighty algorithm or performing for an invisible audience on a Livestream, but it's not. The music business is still a people's business. An important part of your route to becoming a rockstar is the community and connections you build around you. Gaining IRL fans at a gig may seem old fashioned nowadays, but what better marketing than word of mouth? Say yes to every gig that crosses your path, you never know who you might meet. Collaborate with as many creatives as you can come across. Attend every industry night you have the energy for. Need some tips to start your networking? We got you.
Head down to your local gig venues and get to know the promoters. They'll always be looking for new acts to get on board with their shows. And, just like you, they will probably find the in-person intro refreshing after DMs being aired. Heck, you could even look into becoming a promoter yourself.
Facebook Groups. Okay, yes, we know we said this was IRL tips. But let's face it, things like Facebook Groups or Instagram Promotion Pages are a lifesaver in finding local music networking events in your city. Find the ones that interest you and, now the hard part, actually turn up. Fight the nerves and go mingle.
Hang around after your set. We all have seen that band that smash their set then, just as you want to say 'Hey, that was cool!' they've already packed up the van and disappeared out the door. If you want to build your community in the industry, stay to meet as many people involved in the gig as possible. You never know where it could lead.
At the end of the day, all the Instagram followers in the world can't make up for building true friendships in this industry. In the long run, real connections leads to longevity in the scene. Music is a collaborative sport. Don't forget to build your team.
Always Keep The Faith
Look, we get it. It's a lot. Becoming a rockstar in the modern music industry means wearing a hell of a lot of hats. Hustling in this industry is damned hard work... BUT, remember why do you do it? Because you believe in your music. One of the best tips out there we can give you is to not lose sight of the reason you started. Seeking out a sustainable career in the industry is a slow burner, there'll be highs and lows along the way, but keeping this realistic goal in mind will be much more rewarding than pinning all your music dreams on ultra-rock stardom. Your music is at the heart of it all. And what's the one thing that every successful artist has in common? They're unique. They persevered. They believed in their sound.
So, here are some questions to ponder as you begin to trod the DIY musician path.
What makes you different from other artists out there?
What are the unique perspectives that you bring to your music?
How can people relate to what you have to say?
What drives you to share your music with other people?
Keep these things in mind when starting out on the DIY journey and you're starting off on the right foot. Just remember to back yourself, remain consistent, and, most importantly, enjoy the ride. We bet those hats will look good on you.