by Bethany Stobbe
I’m going to open with a meme
This pretty much sums up being an Indie Musician:
Okay, but for real, what does it mean to be an Indie Musician? What even IS an Indie Musician? An Indie is a musician (or band) that writes, performs, and produces their own music. Typically this means they are not “signed to a label” or have any kind of backing otherwise. Okay, that’s the dictionary answer, but there is SO. MUCH. MORE. that goes into being an Indie than just “making music”.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of everything that it takes to be an independent artist, I want to first tell you a bit about some of the pros and cons of being an Indie. With everything, there are good and bad on each side of this coin. Let’s start with the good stuff (like dessert before dinner, ah….)
In our opinion as a band, the BEST PART about being an Indie is that YOU HAVE COMPLETE CONTROL. You control what you write, how you write it, when you write & record it (2am and feeling creative? why the heck not!), how it sounds, how it’s presented to your fans. You have control over the gear you use, your tone, your effects, the finished product, and everything else. So if you’re a control freak (or maybe just realllllly picky like we are), you’re in luck if you’re an Indie cuz the truth is, no one else is going to change your music or control your work.
The other awesome thing is, it’s NEVER been a better time to be an independent musician. It is SOOOO easy to record music and get it out there. Gone are the days of paying thousands of dollars to go into a studio to track your songs and having to have a label to even be able to do that. You can make an entire music studio in your house, or if you’re like us, in your living room and bedroom. PRO equipment can be purchased for very reasonable costs (our bare bones equipment was less than $1500 and you can do it for even less if you have to). You can upload your music to social media FOR FREE, and you can get on streaming platforms, like spotify and itunes, for very very cheap (we pay $40/year for UNLIMITED uploads).
So what’s the downside?
So here’s the bad part… because it is SO easy to get your music out there, that means EVERYONE is doing it. If the bar to entry is simply putting your phone on a table and hitting record, that means anyone can do it, and they will. While I don’t subscribe to the scarcity mentality that there is only so much attention to go around, I do think it’s important to be aware that you are not the only one that will be trying to get attention. So use that as a way to reframe your thinking about it and ask yourself, what is unique about me? Why would someone choose to listen to my music over the next indie? How is my music unique (and shocker: everyone thinks their music is unique) and how can I showcase that?
The other downside…. Because you’re an Indie, you don’t have any backing, labels, PR firms, agents, or otherwise to bring you fans, shows, exposure, and money. You are starting from zero. You have to pay for everything yourself, do everything yourself, and learn real quick how to be MUCH MORE than “just an artist” (which I am going to get into later). But, as I said before, this also means you have total control.
To some people, that might be more than they are able to (or willing to) do. Maybe you work full time or go to school full time and don’t have the time to do everything it takes to make your music career take off. In that case, maybe trying to get signed would be a better way to go but I am not going to speak to that much. No, I want to share with you everything about being an INDIE.
Be a Jack-of-all-trades
Alright, now that we got that depressing stuff out of the way (I hope I didn’t lose you in there 😅) I’m going to dive into all the things we’ve learned to do to get our music out there. I want this to serve not just as an FYI for our fans, but also as some advice for other aspiring Indies out there. If you are serious about your current music career or starting one, I think you’ll find this informative and food for thought. If you’re here cuz you’re curious (thank you for taking time to read this, btw), I hope you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation and understanding of any Indie out there.
To be an indie you have to learn how to be…
I know what you’re thinking. “Uhm..what? How does that have anything to do with music?!”. Well, it has a LOT to do with music for a few reasons.
Reason # 1: Haters
Whenever you are putting yourself out there, as a creator of any art, as a social icon, as anything that has to do with sharing something you’ve made or about yourself, along will come the haters. People will say things to you that will bring you to tears. They will say things to you that will make you want to give up. People will make you feel about 1” tall. They will ruin your day, or even your week if it’s harsh enough. It’s like they know EXACTLY what your insecurities are and they’ll hone in on it. So you gotta know how to deal with that.
You have to learn how to be strong, know who you are, and grow a sense of emotional and mental maturity. Even if your gut reaction is to tell Jim “to go **** himself because he has terrible music taste and is a ****”, I promise that is only going to hurt you and it won’t stop the haters from coming. The only thing that is going to make the haters better is your choice to not let it bother you. Your choice to be strong, know who you are, and not let people shake you. You have to change your inner monologue and learn how to positively reinforce yourself and your bandmates if you’re in a band.
“Whenever someone is hating on you or your work, it is ALWAYS 100% about that person criticizing you.” -Steve Vai
Reason # 2: Your mindset is your success
If you don’t have your mind in the right place, it’s going to be an uphill battle to make it in the music industry. The truth is, this is a rough industry. It’s a hard place to “make it” let alone get paid for it. You’re going to have to put in HOURS AND HOURS and DAYS AND DAYS and MONTH AND MONTH and…. You get the picture… of hard work to make music your full time job. You probably won’t get paid anything or very little for it, for a long, long time. If your mind isn’t in the right place, if you haven’t made the mental decision to push through the good, the bad, and the ugly, well then, I hate to say it but this is going to be a rough journey.
Keep your head up, know what you want in life and in your music career. And never, I mean NEVER, think you are above talking it out with someone who will listen and remind you what’s important in all of it. If that means a real therapist, do it. Maybe that means your mom, do it. Or maybe that means your bandmates, do it. Don’t keep it all inside, that’s how you self-destruct.
Okay that was probably the heaviest one of all 👀 In Part 2, I’m going to get into more of the technical details, talk about how I learned to be a Marketer, Photographer, and everything else that encompasses being an “Indie”. Stay tuned for next week!
Read Part 2 Now