On Being an Independent Musician

The other day I was talking to one of my musician friends who was asking me some questions about Digital Delight and its songs.  He asked me whether or not I would be interested in being a case study for a music business course he is currently taking. Naturally, I agreed and said I would write a detailed blog in order to give him the best information possible. I just love yammering on about the music industry!

The question he asked was on the lines of what was your experience as a musician starting from scratch, and what is your view on the ‘manufactured’ route for becoming an artist?

Ooh, so much to say on this one!

My Approach

I have come to class myself primarily as an internet musician. It seems to fit me well. I’ve had some kind of website or web presence for my music since I was 16 and it has always been natural for me to keep a record of what I’m doing online. The advantages are that I have a varied fan base made up of people from around the world, and since I’m somewhat niche, I know my fans really are my fans. They don’t like me because I’m fashionable, that’s for sure!

The disadvantages are that the internet is a vast and lonely ocean. One has to be careful not to lose oneself in the midst of several thousand other artists that write and play and record the same way you do. I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to achieve with my music in order to survive. I settled on two themes: the novelty and the arty. As such I am two artists: CarylCake, who lives to delight and annoy those that take themselves too seriously, and Caryl Archer, interdisciplinary artist who just wants to make pretty things for people to enjoy.

CarylCake
CarylCake says, “Stop! It’s time you were thoroughly entertained!”

Experiment

Before I had formed a clear idea about my place in music I started a blog series called Experiment. This forced me to look at my work as a professional rather than a hobbyist. I blogged once a week about what I had done, writing, recording, or filming. I did this for ten weeks.

Around the middle of the series I started work with Glitter Punch Project, and as you should know by now, the rest is history. To all intents and purposes I could now call myself a professional musician. The experiment had worked! That’s often my problem: I am just not focused enough.

I’ve had to be firm with myself this year. I have a notebook dedicated entirely to plans on how I’m going to promote and market my material, recording schedules, video ideas. So far it has been working reasonably well. I’m actually completing the things I set out to do.

Caryl Archer says, “Aaaaaart! Oh, won’t you come see my art?”

Freedom or restraint?

Since I’m independent and I manage myself, yes, of course there is a great deal of freedom that comes from that. I get to choose absolutely everything I do creatively.  However, as I mentioned, it can be really tough staying motivated when I’m working totally alone. That’s why working with GPP has kick-started me into a slew of new projects. Collaboration is a lifeline when you make music like me (i.e., alone in your flat with no real way of knowing if your projects will be well-received).

Another huge bonus is that currently my living expenses are being taken care of by my long-suffering husbuddy. I often feel guilty that I’m not making any significant contributions to the income of the household at this stage in my career, but I have to remind myself that most people don’t get opportunities like this. I am most fortunate. My good friend Sarah LaCroix pays her own way 100% and yet still finds the energy to post blogs and songs. I must push through the muddy feeling of being alone.

The manufactured musician

That brings me neatly to another route for becoming a musician: getting signed, getting a manager, having someone write and produce your songs, and being mass marketed like you’re going out of fashion (which you are, moment by moment).

I don’t have anything against this way of doing things. It has proved an incredibly efficient method for decades, but all good things come to an end, and this model has most certainly undergone strain in recent years.

These days the big guys like to hedge their bets a little. After all, the invention of the MP3 coinciding beautifully with domestic internet connections dealt some heavy blows to what was once considered an untouchable and highly lucrative market. As a result large record companies are now reluctant to take risks when they’re signing new acts. The artist has to have already proved themselves on their own before they start getting attention from major labels. These days an artist is pretty much ready to plug and play before they have signed on the dotted line. This is Jesse J’s audition footage. She was ready. You’d have to have been a fool not to sign her.

The way that raw talent gets catapulted into the highest echelons of the industry today tends to be through reality TV: televised singing competitions with the pre-audition/audition/bootcamp/live show format. These are where the ‘plucked from obscurity’ stories are coming from these days. And once they have completed the necessary steps to extricate themselves from association with ‘The Man’, a good percentage of these singers go on to become genuinely good artists. That’s if they can make it out of the internet hate alive…

Would I ever want to be signed to a major label? Hecks, yes. I work much harder when I’m part of a team, and I’m never happier than when I have people around me that value and want to help me manifest my creative vision. Yeah, that sounds terribly self-centered, but it just sounds like bliss to me, to have someone there to encourage and challenge me at all times.

Changing it up

All this being said, I’m currently in talks with a small independent label. I’m enjoying the dance thus far. I like the idea of contributing my writing or vocals for other people’s projects in order to get exposure and experience, and that’s what I’ll be doing at first. Who knows, this might get me somewhere a bit closer to the traditional music biz model, but for now I’m going to enjoy my season of being all indie and hipster!

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