The do-it-yourself music scene is exploding. Not only is it easier than ever for musicians to make recordings, more and more tools are emerging for artists to promote, distribute, and sell their music, and, most importantly, to connect directly with fans. From Facebook and Twitter to CD Baby and Pledge Music, many artists are taking on the marketing, sales, and management roles that were once the sole domain of labels and managers.
Here we round up several artists who are making waves with their DIY diligence, modeling their careers for other artists and using their own transparency as a way to personally connect with music lovers.
We follow with tips from within the world music scene. We go more in depth with Clay Ross from Matuto, and mention a few more artists from the world music set whose careers are worth keeping an eye on.
With the help of a custom designed foot-controlled laptop, this Canadian-born cellist turns one cello into an entire ensemble and experience, both in the studio and during her live performances. Her solo music ability, along with her strong belief of releasing music directly to fans online without a record label, makes her a true Do It Yourself musician.
Keating has shared very detailed information comparing her streaming revenue sources on the very useful blog Hypebot. She is also very active on Twitter with over 1.2 million followers, and is a frequent speaker at music industry conferences and podcasts. She models a very engaged approach with her fans and in the industry. When her husband got denied health insurance for treating cancer, her social media and blog following blew up, and the insurance company were forced to change their mind.
A successful DIY artist in his own right, Herstand is more famous for being the man behind Ari’s Take, a website that helps other DIY musicians succeed with practical tips and strategies that most musicians don’t normally consider. His most famous post is about a recently passed law that allows musicians to carry guitars onto planes rather than paying extra to check it. Since then, he has written comparisons of various digital services for musicians ranging from distribution to publishing.
Who needs record labels when you have YouTube? Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn are the real-life couple that make up Pomplamoose, a band that chooses to promote their music through creative DIY music videos of original songs and clever covers and mashups like their mashup of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” which uses white foam core board and a single projector to flaunt their DIY aesthetic. They have almost half a million YouTube subscribers and their channel has had over 100 million views, all without the help of a record label.
To really learn from Pomplamoose’s career, read “The most honest interview about the music industry ever.” You will hear how YouTube worked so well for them but why it was hard to re-create that success. How they jumped from YouTube to Kickstarter and the important lesson that it is not about becoming great at all the new digital promotional platforms; it’s more important to learn what is hot at any given moment, learn it fast, and then jump onto the next thing. Now Conte has co-founded a web platform called Patreon, which allows fans to pick a tip amount that they will give a favorite artist every time the artist creates something new. It’s like a subscription version of a Kickstarter campaign that never ends.
Bang on a Can
What began as three composers organizing a one-day 12-hour marathon concert in Manhattan’s SoHo in 1987 has now evolved into a multi-faceted performing arts organization that fosters an international musical community. Whether it’s commissioning emerging composers, initiating DIY concerts and street orchestras, or curating genre-crossing festivals, Bang on a Can focuses on creating community by going directly to the people for inspiration. What makes Bang on a Can work, and what other artists might pay attention to, is that curation—not only composition, recording, and performance—is one of the best ways to build an audience.
As the New York Times put it, “The current universe of do-it-yourself concert series, genre-flouting festivals, composer-owned record labels and amplified, electric-guitar-driven compositional idioms would probably not exist without their pioneering example.”
Clay Ross, founder of the New York via South Carolina bluegrass band Matuto, compares the job of a professional artist to the job of an entrepreneur or a small business owner: to connect your passion with others and to inspire your followers. “It takes a powerful will, a resilient spirit, and an abundant creativity to carve out a living in the performing arts,” Ross says. “Our love for music inspires us to cultivate these qualities in ourselves and these are qualities of character that anyone hoping to succeed in any pursuit will need.”
Ross, who combines Brazilian folklore inspiration with his South Carolina Americana roots, approaches his band with a clear understanding of what he wants to accomplish with his music and engages in cultural exchange programs and community outreach projects to increase musical awareness. Business is a topic that many artists might not like to discuss, but Ross proves that a business mindset can develop your DIY project into a successful professional act.
Here are some tips in his own words:
1. Invent an intriguing, unique, and succinct answer to the most ubiquitous question anyone every asks a musician. What type of music do you play?
2. Write down, in very specific terms, exactly what you want your career to look like. You have to name it to claim it!
3. Delegate responsibilities to other people on your team. Learn how every piece of your business works, but don’t try to do it all yourself all the time.
4. Build from the inside out on a network of referrals. After one promoter books you and you deliver a phenomenal show, ask that promoter to personally refer you to others. Huge scenes, like the global music community, are comprised only of many individuals.
5. Show up, be consistent, and focus on helping others. With patience and persistence everything is possible.
“Music has called us to become entrepreneurs, and in this sense it’s not really about music anymore, it’s about human beings, connected in the struggle to realize our individual potential,” Ross concludes. “It’s about living with passion and inspiring passion in others.”
Listen to Ross tell the compelling story of Matuto on PRI’s The World.
click here to learn about Matuto's latest EP, Africa Suite.
Other DIY artists to follow in the North American global music scene:
This Juno-nominated Canadian ensemble, that focuses on performing traditional and contemporary Chinese music, makes it their mission to spark non-western music interest with a North America audience, whether it’s playing music with kindergarten students or lecturing university students. As this musical group proves, sometimes education, not just promotion, is the key to success.
If you want to see an African artist with a strong curatorial standard, look to sometimes NYC resident Somi. In addition to actively pursuing her singing career, she starts festivals, does residencies, hosts other musicians, and is a hub to a movement of cosmopolitan African culture (fashion included). She is sought after for fellowships from TED to APAP.
The banjo-slinging, continent-hopping Jayme Stone may be one of the best self-booking global music artists in North America. What’s his method? He calls people. People nobody else calls. Plus he tells a good story, and it’s woven into his albums from the beginning. That makes his crowdfunding efforts more effective. Rumor on the street is that he may be about to help other musicians with all his trade secrets.
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