indie artist

How do you achieve success as an indie artist? Enjoy baking and sell your bread.

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Indie artists are more empowered than ever before, but at what cost? You’ve got to find the balance of help and independence to find your audience.

Bryan Weber is an independent musician and founding member of Indie on the Move.

“Major labels didn’t start showing up, really, until they smelled money, and that’s all they’re ever going to be attracted to is money – that’s the business they’re in – making money. My idea was: Enjoy baking, sell your bread, people like it, sell more. Keep the bakery going because you’re making good food and people are happy.” – Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat, etc.)

Like most of you reading this blog, I too have an indie band. Our story in many ways is similar to that of all hardworking indie artists. We’ve made a bunch of records over the years, toured a ton through the U.S. and Europe, and achieved some great accomplishments along the way. Have we received record label offers? Yes, a couple. Did we take them? No. I wouldn’t wish those contracts on my worst enemy.

The funny thing was, and this literally happened last year, when I told one of the label reps we weren’t interested, he actually attempted to justify the proposed acquisition of our music rights with, “But you’ll be on a record label.” What? In an industry that is evolving and tilting more towards the strength of the indie artists everyday, it blows my mind to think that record companies are still holding on to that outdated and entitled attitude. They actually EXPECTED us to give away everything (for basically nothing in return) just to “be on a record label.”

My response was quite simply, “Everything you are offering, we already do on our own. We don’t need you, especially not at the cost of our music rights.” And I believe this response is true for most DIY acts these days. There are simply too many tools at our disposal – digital and otherwise – to even rationalize signing most label deals, especially the dreaded 360 deal.

So yes, independent artists ARE more empowered today than ever before, but at what cost? In this world, and surely in the business and art of music, there are followers and there are leaders, and when it comes to making a career out of music these days, being a leader has become a matter of survival. The tech boom, along with the slow strangulation/metamorphosis of many record labels into black holes for intellectual property, has left independent artists with a plethora of tools to produce, promote, and release better products on their own, while simultaneously releasing them into a mire of audience and market over-saturation.

The consumer is simply bombarded on all sides with the latest and greatest music discovery services/devices, direct to fan marketing ploys, etc. Why? Because everyone and his brother is using these tactics, and they’re doing it inefficiently and flooding the marketplace. As a result of this inefficiency, both creator and consumer are exhausted and over-stimulated. I believe websites for music discovery, direct to fan marketing, fund raising and the like, including all of the major social networking sites, can be extremely valuable if used correctly, but they can also devalue you as a commodity very quickly when used incorrectly or too often.

It’s a thin line to walk and you’ve got to find the right balance for your specific audience base. And here are some other pitches you may have heard in your travels… Use our service and get new fans! Be “discovered” by a record label! Enter our battle of the bands to win big and become famous (it only costs $100 to apply)!

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Bottom line: It comes down to numbers, and in these types of scenarios, the artist is put into a position that only devalues his relationship with fans. The truth: The best way to do all of these things is to get out there and play your music for the people as often as possible. There is nothing more important than the one on one (in person) connection
that occurs between artist/performer and listener – especially when it comes to making and retaining new fans.

Going the extra mile in these situations makes a huge difference. For instance, when you’ve got the time, try sending a personal email to a fan as opposed to including him/her on a mass mailer, email that fan a free preview of a new song, or simply give him/her a complimentary tee shirt to thank them for helping promote your upcoming gig to their friends. Gestures like these keep consumers coming back and build brand (or in this case band) loyalty. After all, if you truly value your fans and treat them like more than money pits for merch sales and mere numbers towards the door count of your next show, they will value you, your artistic vision, and most importantly, your music, MORE.

So what does it mean to actually “make it” in the modern music industry? I would argue that “making it” today means being able to survive off of your music – and this can come in many forms. Perhaps you make most of your income touring, or through merch sales, licensing, working at your local coffee shop, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are able to pursue your art, release what you want to release, write the songs you want to write, play where and when you want to play, and control the rights and ownership to everything you’ve created. If you can make this happen and maintain it, count yourself among the smart and lucky.

And this brings us back to the second, and more important, half of Ian MacKaye’s quote: “Enjoy baking, sell your bread, people like it, sell more. Keep the bakery going because you’re making good food and people are happy.” Think about that. He is describing the most basic approach to entrepreneurship. No frill, no guarantee of fame and wealth, but if you work hard and intelligently apply your skills, you can “succeed.”

After all, the strongest and most reliable asset to your career is you, plain and simple. You are your own biggest fan and wealthiest investor (not necessarily financially speaking), and the greatest thing about living in this era of industry uncertainty is that we now have options as both creator and consumer – and those options are being defined largely by independent musicians like us who are dictating our own business model, thinking outside of the box, and discovering our own path to success.

And a lot of times that “success” is not even measured in dollars. You don’t need a record label to release a quality album or song, you don’t need an agent to get your music licensed, and you most certainly don’t need a booking agent to play more shows and go on tour. Does having those things help if the situation is right? Absolutely, it definitely can, but the chances of landing a “fair” deal any more or being “discovered” are virtually non-existent, unless of course you’re willing to give away everything for no guarantee of anything in return.

That said, if you want something, you gotta get off your ass and go after it. You gotta get out there every day/night doing the leg work, playing shows, going on tour, promoting your music grassroots style (using every available tool at your disposal), and most importantly – networking. That’s the key – networking, and accessibility to reliable information, because today it’s not just who/what you know, but rather how you work with them to get what you both collectively want.

Indie On The Move
This is why we created Indie on the Move, because sometimes, even the hardest of workers and smartest of candidates, even the most talented of musicians, and those who have put in their 10,000 hours, simply lack the necessary information (and more importantly – relevant and accurate information) to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling. So we at Indie on the Move compile, maintain, organize, contribute, and expand our information inventory on music venues, booking data, bands, show opportunities, press and radio contacts, classified listings, music news, etc. for you… for free.

What is that PBS quote we always hear? “Knowledge is power?” Well whoever said that got it right. And somebody else said, “Power to the People.” I believe in that too, and in the current music marketplace, those two things must work together hand in hand if you want to survive.

So while some people feel down about the current and future state of the music industry, I am extremely optimistic about what tomorrow will bring. We are at a crossroads my friends, and things are changing for the better. It is no longer about “being on a record label,” because we don’t need them. The sure bet is on yourself and like-minded musicians, and what you/we can achieve together.

Bryan Weber is an independent musician and founding member of Indie on the Move, which was launched in an effort to forge a collaborative environment and reliable resource for independent musicians to book their own U.S. tours – for free. The concept behind the site is both a DIY (do it yourself) and DIT (do it together) approach to the music industry, and based primarily on the idea that artists working together, supporting the “scene” on a collective basis, are typically more successful than those that go it alone.

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Read More
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The qualities of a good artist manager
How do you achieve success as an indie artist? Enjoy baking and sell your bread.
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Psychology and the music producer

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36 thoughts on “How do you achieve success as an indie artist? Enjoy baking and sell your bread.

  1. It sure is a “brave” new world out there indeed, and the increasingly bad economy imposed on us by our so called “Elite public servants” really “helps” bringing out the worst in most of us You’re better off investing in your own education and do as much as you can yourself. Take many of today’s younger audio engineers for example, who never touched an instrument in their life and, worse, grew up with Rap music? I ask myself how on earth someone can make sober audio mixing / mastering decisions if he/she never studied the acoustic properties between various instruments, styles and their listening environments intimately? I often feel I’m fortunate for not being born raised or educated in the US..

    Sir Carl’s Evil Twin..

  2. Interesting article and so very much realistic..Thx for so much helpful information..I feel I am on the right path to being a baker with my creativity

  3. My man jerald said it best, as an indie the odds of making it are slim an none. maybe if you SELL 25,000 units you might get some attention, or have  have about 25 g’s (maybe buy some advertising time) in a small market  on a MAJOR radio station you’ll create a buzz 99% of indie  the stuff just can’t compete with the big boys on top/40 radio. i worked a dance record on college radio in the  chicago area in the late 80’s and it got in rotation

  4. This is the most realistic article on the indie vs labels topic I have ever read in all my years doing music!  And, it’s important to avoid the traps of spending precious resources on all the opportunists out there who want us to place our music on their site, use their company/marketing, buy their books/DVDs and so on.  Keep it simple folks and remember why you’re doing this.

    Nancy, Coyote Moon Band

  5. Great way to make it happen if you can. Some people get lucky and some dont doing the same things. 

  6. I wouldn’t go major. I have been offered several deals throughout my life and it always has been important to me to move at my pace. I do however, have Online Distribution with Island Def Jam via Tunecore, but it serves on two accords; one that an Artist can see what exposure with a Major Label is like (as far as what people expect of you) and two , that as an Artist the A&R can decide on your sales and music if you are compatible to what they look for in their domineering industry.

    It is not my dream to live like the stars in exchange for me giving up my rights. I write , produce and can dance ,s ing rap practically what all stars have to train to do; I do naturally and enjoy the flexibilty of Indie Artistry.

    Now we can get streamed and paid direct royalties, much of the same access Major labels have, except we aren’t moving with the same financial level of power. Still Indies we are powerful, many of the Artists are trying to find ways out and become like us, Independent and they are bound to contracts and owing advancements and albums.

    I go to Disc Makers and have my music mastered and manufactured. I also see that radio stations allow you to participate in thier concerts as long as you present a real CD like the Majors. I have my works of art archived at US Library of Congress and have fun promoting my album projects just as anyone.

    Indie all day!  😉

    http://www.shantaesexy.webs.com/shantaesexyentersite.htm

  7. I am impressed by the persistance attitude in this blog. It is very motivational. I play music because I love to play. I believe, if you love what you do, you are successful, all else is icing on that cake. if you don’t love the music, money won’t buy it, and you will never stay with it long enough to grow. The love for the music is what you project in your performance that connects to people, and is what people perceive as “STAR QUALITY”. We are all indies until we are signed, I have been singed by three major lables in my music life, and there are many ups and downs. It may bring you fame and fortune, but not necessarilly happiness. Only the love of music will make you happy!!! So, “FORWARD EVER, BACKWARD NEVER”!!!

    Peace and Love

    Silky

  8. Business
    being the key word here, I think the “Brotherhood of the Indie
    Artist” – at whatever stage of development – is an absolute necessity
    toward the goal of ongoing education. Knowledge is power – if you know what to
    do with it. Sharing the outcome our endeavors can’t help but be a good thing.
    I’ve got a piece of the puzzle someone else hasn’t got. Someone else has a piece
    of the puzzle I’ve never thought of….. and so it goes….. But to get
    anywhere takes a commitment (Yes, I said the “C” word) and a
    dedication to make something happen. This IS a business and as such we are all
    self employed. I’m as guilty as anyone of “sitting on my hands” when
    trying to chart the next course of action. When that overwhelming feeling sinks
    in it’s nice to talk to other Artists who have been there. Just mingling can
    get you back on track. Just the fact that you’re not alone and there are people
    you can learn from and swap ideas with can get you moving in the right
    direction. And if you’re on track and moving forward your advice is invaluable
    to others. “Indie” may mean different things to different people but
    it is a Brotherhood and in that respect the word “Indie” has
    Soul…..

    Business
    being the key word here, I think the “Brotherhood of the Indie
    Artist” – at whatever stage of development – is an absolute necessity
    toward the goal of ongoing education. Knowledge is power – if you know what to
    do with it. Sharing the outcome our endeavors can’t help but be a good thing.
    I’ve got a piece of the puzzle someone else hasn’t got. Someone else has a piece
    of the puzzle I’ve never thought of….. and so it goes….. But to get
    anywhere takes a commitment (Yes, I said the “C” word) and a
    dedication to make something happen. This IS a business and as such we are all
    self employed. I’m as guilty as anyone of “sitting on my hands” when
    trying to chart the next course of action. When that overwhelming feeling sinks
    in it’s nice to talk to other Artists who have been there. Just mingling can
    get you back on track. Just the fact that you’re not alone and there are people
    you can learn from and swap ideas with can get you moving in the right
    direction. And if you’re on track and moving forward your advice is invaluable
    to others. “Indie” may mean different things to different people but
    it is a Brotherhood and in that respect the word “Indie” has
    Soul…..

  9. Indie artist need some kind of a break.  Anyone who hasn’t heard of record labels signing new artist only to shelve them, hasn’t done any research.  Send your kid to Nashville, with a head full of dreams, let them get that music school degree, and good luck them finding a job with it.  The big record labels will let them intern(work for free) while they are in college but they won’t hire them when they graduate. 

  10. I’d sign with a major label in a heartbeat!!!
    of course they want money..
    who doesn’t???
    they also have plenty of it…
    you know, for the “little” things that indie artists (unless they’re wealthy) can’t possibly afford to do…
    national and internatoinal promotion…
    recording in the best facilities with the best engineers, producers, etc…
    tour support…
    major radio play support…
    distibution, publicity, artwork, artist developement and on and on and on…
    sure, they take the lion’s share of the profit, but, at least there IS a profit to share…
    how much bread can an indie make selling his/her own baked goods?
    is it less dough than they would make buying from a bakery?
    and how good do your finished baked goods taste as opposed to a pastry shops wares?
    enough of the baking analogies…
    can an indie artist do better on his/her own?
    depending on how far the indie artist would go in the first place…
    things like talent come to mind…
    if you’re good enough to rival the top talent, then you’ll probably go far…
    indie or not…
    the indie route is best for most…
    but the choices are far better for a top-notch artist…
    to be perfectly honest, most indie artists are average at best…
    they HAVE to be indie artists…
    that’s good and bad…
    there’s so much mediocre music out there, it makes it hard for the genuinely talented…
    but you’re right, major labels DO want to make money…
    there’s no money to be made from the majortity of indie acts out there…
    so don’t worry all you major-label-haters…
    you WILL remain an indie act and will NEVER have to deal with the “money-hungry” majors…
    a win-win situation for everyone…

    1. Again….you should get a deeper understanding of the business. There are ‘trade-offs’ between ‘Major Label contracts’ and being ‘Independent’. While on the one hand a ‘Major Label’ can ‘possible’ offer more exposure through airplay via terrestrial radio or satellite, and can offer better facilities for your project in the way of a studio, producer, engineer etc, unless you wrote, performed, published and produced the project you will get the ‘short end of the dollar. For now, I’ll put aside the willingness of the company to even invest in promoting your music. Sometime, to ‘them’ it is worth more to have done your project, not promote it, and write off the expenses having done it.But I digress.
       
      What ‘really’ is a ‘record’? A record is an ‘advertisement’ of you or your group or your music. THAT’S IT. It is, what I refer to is, a ‘glorified Demo’ of what you do or write or produce. As quiet as it’s kept, artists make their ‘real money’ off of their ‘personal appearances’. Unless they own or control every aspect of their project, they don’t even make ’50 cents’ on the dollar via ‘Major Label’ There are exceptions such as Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Elton john etc. etc., none of which ‘we’ fall into the category of. The Beyonce’s, Bieber’s and the like have another deal that again, ‘we’ don’t fall into. That’s another aspect of ‘the game’ that we may be ‘trying’ to get into, but for the general purpose of this article, we are or maybe working towards.
       
      The Music Industry has a problem that they are dealing with. They aren’t really ‘selling’ records like they have in the past, and established artists aren’t going for the ‘conventional deals’ they went for years ago. Their problem is that ‘runaway train’ with no brakes…..The Internet. The best example I can think of as to the potential of the Internet is a project Prince did several years ago called ‘Crystal Ball’ which he sold on his Web-site and took out of print after a making a significant profit…but he is Prince.
       
      Another example was a project done by a Web-site I do some contributing to that produced a ‘Virtual Album’ available solely on a ‘download’ basis, with liner notes and links to the contributing artists’ Web presence. All of the artists, even some of the ‘recognized’ names were Independent and when the contract with the site ran out in 90 days, they were able to include ‘tried and tested’ material in subsequent projects.
       
      I’m not contradicting the article. I’m just giving some food for thought for the Independent artist and writer who is looking to get themselves ‘out there’. With the Internet and some imagination along with a business sense and understanding, an Independent artist ‘can’ launch’ themselves into prominence. It isn’t ‘easy’, but you can do it and NOT be “Dependent” on the whim of a ‘Major Label’.
      Just a thought……….  

      1. Greetings Earl T;

        I was one of the first people to get Prince’s Crystalball 5 CD set. Because I was in the Prince club here in DC.  The CD came in a clear round Jewel case if you ordered it from Prince. But

         Prince had so many orders that he could not keep up. A lot of people had to waite for a month 1/2 to get theres.

        But Prince was so cool, that he gave everybody a free Tee shirt for having to wait so long.

        1. A must have book for all artist is ” All You Need To Know About The Music Business”
        by Donald S. Passman.
        You want the Seventh Edition. Revised and Updated version.  

        2. The second must have book is called “Q On Producing” by Quincy Jones. It comes with a DVD. Quincy has produced everybody from Michael Jackson to Frank Sinatra just to name a few.

        3. Now…. Just because you make a CD and or video. Don’t mean it’s good. Although the production maybe great. Don’t mean that people like it. You must understand that.

        Lot’s of people making CD’s have never played in a club before. Yet they think they’re all that.  I have played in clubs on a rainy monday night. With only two people in the place.
        Needless to say, we got no money. And free beer don’t cut it.

        Most of you guy don’t even have your own PA system…  They don’t know what it’s like to leave your full time job at 5pm. Rush home, change and pack your instrument and make a 7:30pm sound check.  Start at 8pm.  Play until 1am. Pack up your stuff and wait for the club owner to give you your $. And be at your full time job the next by 9am…

        Gil Scott Heron made a song called ” Do you really wanna be in show bizness”

        Jimi Hendrix use to play for Little Richard. Jimi was late for the bus to a DC gig, and Little Richard left his ass.  In fact, Jimi was only hot for two years and he was gone.

        This is not as easy as it looks. If you can’t read and count well you’re fucked! That’s why you need a lawyer. And put money aside for your taxes. Some club owner will send you W2 form for a gig you’ve long forgot about.

        Long Live Chuck Brown! 

    2. Wow you must want that deal bad. I’d rather have my own destiny in my hands. I’ve hand a major publishing deal twice, placed songs on artist and for whatever external issues saw albums not released or saw horrible production of song as “A&R” guys that knew nothing of the music scene danced around saying “that’s a hit!!!” when in reality they didn’t even listen to that kind of music for enjoyment. I make a living from the music industry. I do my music and enjoy every minute of it. I hope you get your deal.

  11. Great article, Amigo, and I LOVE the Indie On The Move resource!

    The Art/Commerce dichotomy is hundreds of years old.  The internet has the capacity to adjust the balance, but it will take some time.

  12. The “enjoy baking” metaphor is just another reiteration of “don’t expect any real success, just be happy with what you’ve got” and I find it to be a defeatist , although wonderfully optimistic” attitude. 
    Look, I’m sure Mick and Kieth would still be playing today had a major label never come along, everybody in music loves what they do (just as much as you and I)  but Mick loooves his penthouse in Manhattan and Kieth his estates in England. Bono would just be plain ol’ Paul from Dublin playing in the local church while he 9 to 5’s but he loves the idea of funding a billion dollar African relief program WITH HIS OWN MONEY!…thanks to Island Records. Major labels are not in the business of making money any more than any other “for profit” business… they are in (or were in )the SPECULATION business. They speculate who is going to have success and they bridge the financial gap to get them the chance in the hopes of a much greater payoff down the road. And they lose way more often than they succeed. But the reality still remains that we as indie artists are not going to replace the function of massive investment creating success because it does. The real metaphor here is that your musical career is a 10 story building that needs to be erected. You can try to build it yourself with a shovel and a toolbox, or, a major label can help you along with their 4 tractors and 150 day laborers and materials at cost and influence at the local zoning board.The good news here (I think) is that all of the indie stuff we always talk about gives you 1000% better chance of doing the things necessary to attract a major. And we can produce waaaay better demo material. In short, get out there and create enough of a following to show the big boys that people will like you if they hear you, and then use that to shop the best major label deal you can get. Unless you just want to sell a couple thousand CD’s (or whatever) every now and then. 

    1. Tell me about yourself. What is your idea on how to go about this. We need to network at least until we get the call or that special promoter happens to notice.

    2. All easier said than done. I was still in debt after recording an album and going on tour. Too much to keep going on tour. People get lucky and that’s it. No rhyme or reason. 

  13. Without question, artists have far more options today than they did back in ‘my’ day. Where it was ‘necessary’ to be aligned with some form of record company to get music played on the radio, that venue has been eclipsed by Internet and Satellite options to near oblivion. You may not become the ‘millionaire’ that gets the ‘lamestream’ media and press, but you can expand your follower and performance opportunities.
     
    “Indies on the Move” is a great idea and for performers to advance and expand their range this is an ideal source and resource. It should be taken advantage of because if you are Independent it is ALL ON YOU. Opportunity knocks, but it doesn’t come to your door.
     
    Whoever said, “Knowledge is Power” was only ‘half right’. “Knowledge without Wisdom” is useless. A 5 year old can have the ‘knowledge’ of firing a pistol, and with it, has a degree of power. But ‘Wisdom’ as to who and when to ‘shoot’ is mandatory. The ‘knowledge’ we have as performers, writers etc must be accompanied with the ”knowledge of the business. This is still the ‘Music Business’ and we have to dedicate time to understand it even with a resource such as ‘Indies on the Move’. We must be able to make ‘Wise’ choices and decisions in a wide range of areas. Remember, it’s ALL ON YOU. 
     
    It’s not a distrust or trust issue in dealing with any resource or aid such as agent or manager, but experience has taught ‘me’ that must understand the mechanics of the ‘business end’. One bad deal was enough for me to do a little more research and get more details on this ‘madness’. As entertainers and performers, a little just above the basic knowledge is necessary to make ‘WISE’ choices for our careers.
     
    As the Internet is a blessing to get our products out, it is also THE source for information as the Laws and the policies keep changing. Something as simple as ‘8 measures’ of a song was once plagiarism some 30 years ago, now there are courts that have ruled ‘One measure’ as plagiarism. So while I applaud the group that has provided this service, I would add that performers dedicate a certain amount of time each week to surf for information and the development of the laws. Tax ramifications should also be considered. What if you start actually ‘making money’? 
    Just a thought……….   

    1.  I heard it somewhere said that the only thing standing now between us and success is our music.

  14. Gotta give more power to the little Indie People… We are a large group and the mainstream music executives need to get on the band wagon and give us little Indie People a bigger break… It might even feed their pipeline and line their pockets and leave US little Indie People some bucks too…

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