#GoIndie: What Does Independence Mean to Musicians?February 6, 2014 // by Ross Barber
Welcome to the beginning of the #GoIndie series, which aims to explore the benefits and challenges of being an independent artist. I wanted to create this series to give musicians an opportunity to express in their own words exactly what being an independent artist means to them.
I think it’s valuable and useful to hear from working artists themselves as it helps to give us a further insight and different perspective into what it’s REALLY like to be writing, recording, touring and promoting music independently.
I hope you enjoy the series, and encourage you to get involved in the discussion both in the comments and on Twitter, using the #GoIndie hashtag. I’ve also created a #GoIndie Twitter list with all the artists featured so you can find them all in one place.
What are the advantages and benefits of being an independent musician?
My favorite thing is being able to make the music I want to make, and release it in whichever way I choose. I can do all kinds of creative things which would have been a nightmare to organize when I was signed to a major label. Music supervisors, advertising agencies, and film/TV creatives can contact me directly, and I can license my music to them in as little time as it takes to return an email. I’ve also been able to say yes to situations I’m pretty sure would have been shot down when I was signed to Island Records and Universal. I played the first concert of Western music in Kashmir, and it was a beautiful experience. However, there were certain risks involved, and high security, and as we drove through the kinds of angry protests I’ve only seen on BBC news, protected by a jeep carrying three heavily armed “guns for hire,” on our way to a rickety chairlift up the Gulmarq Glacier to perform “Say It’s Possible” at the top of the mountain, I definitely remember thinking “Hmm…I don’t think my label would have agreed to this!” I am so grateful for rare and unique life experiences like that.
Oh — I also love being able to take as much time as I need to “go inward” and create at my own pace. I took the last year to dig really deep, and work on parts of myself, and I gave myself as much time as I needed. I wrote dozens of songs — it’s not like I just sat around and meditated. But if it had felt right to do that, I would have, for as long as it felt right to do so! That is the artistic process — not the feeling that you have to get another album out immediately, so the press doesn’t die out, and you’re not “gone too long” and people don’t lose interest — there are so many things we do out of fear. And those fears were definitely emphasized and played upon by certain people when I was signed to a major label. And I understand it — it’s a big business, and it’s about money. But the best art is not created in this fashion. I love giving myself permission to honor my artistic process.
I love being able to honor the FACT (and yes, it is a fact) that we’re not here for the end result. All that stuff about “the journey”…that is The Truth.
The best thing about being an independent artist is the fire that is in my belly to get my music out to the world.. every success is something I’ve worked so hard for so it feels amazing when things happen! For instance, when the EP [What My Mother Taught Me] was number one on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart, it just made me so, so proud, and I’m so thankful to every single one of my fans, too. We are a family! Also, that creatively, I can write and do what I feel and love.
Literally the sky is the limit and you’ve eliminated any kind of “permission based creativity” where you’re creating for someone else with the money.
You have the freedom to decide what kind of songs that you, the artist, want to perform.
Dion Roy (Fire and the Romance)
Having 100% creative control and freedom is a very powerful (and sometimes scary) thing.
My favourite thing about being an independent artist is the control and freedom I have over every aspect of my art from concept to creation to completion and even how it is released and presented. There is no one to answer to besides myself which is sometimes difficult but, most of the time, it’s wonderful. Art is about creative expression and when too many people get involved in the creative process, it’s no longer an art form but rather a business venture.
Ewan Grant (Algernon Doll)
I like being able to accept shows without a middle man. Bands should not be put, or put themselves, on a pedestal. It’s humbling and exciting to be able to create and achieve albums and tours with like-minded friends from our scene without compromise.
I also really enjoy learning and knowing more than just the music end of things. As my own manager, it is so important that I know the business side and whilst it is inevitable as an independent artist that you will make lots of mistakes, it is so liberating to also understand the aspects that you wouldn’t normally know and understand as just the artist only!
Charlotte Eriksson (The Glass Child)
As an independent artist you’re not doing music (or any other art form) as a job, but as a way to live your life.
To know that I can shape my life and my days in a way that makes sense to me is the best thing I know about being independent.
Phoebe Dubar (Passerine)
It may sound predictable but… FREEDOM! It’s as simple as that. I am free to create whatever music I want to create. I’m not beholden to a label, whose sole aim is to make as much money from me as possible, I am able to make the music that I want to hear, with the producers I respect and using the musicians I think work best with the recordings. And I have the FREEDOM to choose to have my music used however I want it to be used. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love the support of a record label to help with costs, promotion, to help drive sales, tours, etc, however the fact that I have the agility and freedom to do whatever I want to do is so great at the moment, as it means I have the opportunity to find my voice/sound without too much outside influence.
Mitchel Emms (MisterNothing)
Although my band is now signed to an independent label, I’ve pretty much been an independent artist since I started music at the age of 9. Everyone wants to be on a major label or to be part of something more professional or whatever, and there’s many downsides to your music career when you’re absolutely relying on your decisions and choices, but the freedom to do what you want and release what you want is the biggest perk. I wouldn’t have been able to have released my own album entirely from my bedroom otherwise! Let alone getting away with an 11 minute piano instrumental/post-hardcore outro.
In a word: independence. I’d say the fact that no gatekeeper has the power to determine the path you take. Success comes in various degrees, some say freedom is a kind of success and others require the cash element to value it. What I like about being in charge of my own career is that I can outline my own objectives and find my own path to get there. I also like being the only one to blame for things that go wrong; it makes life easier and keeps it interesting. Being an independent artist is a constant challenge that turns into an endless learning experience.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve worked for a major label and I’ve seen the alternative, it’s awesome: huge marketing budgets, worldwide distribution, tour support, business class flights and sold out arenas are all ingredients for a marvelous world. Unfortunately there isn’t enough space for everybody to be at that level, and – most importantly – it’s not a mechanism that works every time. The success stories we read about are only the tip of the iceberg, there’s a mountain of trial (and failure) behind the charts. That slam-like failure – determined by somebody else’s priority list – is what an independent artist does not face.
Pat Ryan Key (I Do Declare)
Being an indie artist offers a lot of flexibility. I’ve been able to learn at my own pace and not make hasty decisions in the better interest of other people. And if you utilize your resources and apply yourself (i,e, The internet & other forms of various modern technology from home recording equipment, GoPros, etc.), you may be surprised how far you can actually get. That’s what record labels want to see today. How far can you take yourself as a self-sustainable model? If you can show labels that you have a large audience, you can sell your music, and you have the road experience; you find yourself with a contract in your hands. Just depends how far you want to take it (the dream), and yourself.
If you do well, it’s all because of the hard work you yourself have put in. It promotes a real sense of achievement.
Debs and Errol
Errol: Well, I have a lot of favourite things about being a musician, but in regards to being an independent musician, I do enjoy that we can focus on things that we enjoy when we write our material. We are fully aware that our tastes are niche and that it would not appeal to a large number of people.
Debs: Yes! It gives us control over everything – where we play, who we play with, all of the content we produce, and how we engage with people. Being independent means that we can be our true selves and I think that our relationship with our audience, and our music, is better for it.
More from the series
- #GoIndie: 16 Musicians on the Challenges of Being Independent
- #GoIndie: Words of Advice from 16 Independent Musicians
I want to hear from you!
Please leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences. What do YOU like best about being an independent musician? Let’s keep this conversation going!