#GoIndie: Words of Advice from 16 Independent Musicians
As creative people, we’re always learning and growing. To close this part of the #GoIndie series, I asked 16 artists to share some advice based on what they’ve learned and experienced in their own careers. Everyone’s journey and experience is going to be different, but I think that there are things that we can all learn from one another, regardless of our genre, location or background.
The response to this series has been fantastic, and I want to keep things going. I’ll be reaching out to more artists in the near future for more interviews covering various aspects of being independent. If you’re interested in offering some thoughts, please get in touch.
Please also get involved in the discussion both in the comments and on Twitter, using the #GoIndie hashtag. I’ve also created a #GoIndie Twitter list where you can find and follow all of the featured artists.
what advice do you have for other independent artists?
You need to have incredibly thick skin to survive in this industry, particularly as an independent artist, and it’s crucial that you remain self-motivated, hard-working and positive or else you will get crushed by it and, it’s okay if you do, because you will, many times, but the only important thing is that you keep getting up and moving forward and not allow anyone to stand in the way of you and your dreams.
It’s also extremely important to always stay true to yourself because music listeners, especially those who appreciate independent music, are looking for something real, an alternative to the mainstream tripe forced down people’s throats on the daily, so keep your intentions pure and focus on making music that is deeply honest because these people are smart and can spot a fake from miles away.
Gratitude and manners go a long way. Just because you believe you might have the best music in the world doesn’t mean everyone else will. You have to prove that you are serious about what you do. Do things to the highest standard you can stretch to.
Accept advice, take criticism as a positive thing. You will never move forward if you don’t know what areas you have to improve in.
Most importantly believe in what you do. When times are tough, that belief may be the one and only thing that gets you through. And trust me, it does get you through!!
Make music if you love it, and don’t make music if you stop loving it. There is no time limit, there is no “right way,” there is no “should do.” Art is not a competition or a race, and your journey will be different from every single other person’s journey.
At the end of your life, you will not care about touring, or album sales, or record deals, or how many fans you had, or who was more or less “successful.” You will not care about the things you did, you will care about the person you were, and the people you love. Not that I think about the end of my life all that often — I try to stay in the present moment, because that is truly all that is real — but it’s interesting that the majority of us, in this society, spend most of our time worrying about things that will never happen (good and bad), focussing on things that don’t matter, and being people we don’t really like.
Make music if you love to make music, and give yourself permission to not make music, if you stop feeling inspired. We all get so serious, and really, it’s not that serious. We’re here to love, to experience, to be happy. Not everyone gets to financially support him/herself with music in this lifetime, and that has relatively little to do with talent.
Someone once asked me “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” I want to be happy. I spent a long time trying to “prove myself” in various ways, because I believed I was “right” and I wanted the world to agree with me. Now I choose to be happy, and I continue on my path with that goal in my heart.
Mitchel Emms (MisterNothing)
There are too many “game players” and too little artists being exposed so you have to be in it for the long haul if you’re looking to get anything worthwhile from making/performing music. If you’re honest, put in 110%, wear your heart and soul on your sleeve and don’t give a fuck what people think, then people will recognise it. People forget that music is an emotional, human experience and a connection to others, not just an industry.
The first trap I fell into was the ego-trap. It took me years to find a way to get out if it. As an artist you are constantly challenged by the requirement to “prove” some degree of success, to others or to yourself. This puts you in a very dangerous spot, one where you attract immediate gratification. Unfortunately this can also be very costly: reviewers that ask for a small editorial fee, booking agents that work on a retainer, venues that charge you to play a show and managers that need expenses paid in advance.
When you’re an independent artist you need to keep your act together – literally – and cannot afford an expensive ego-trip just to be told you’re good by people who get paid to do so. I’m good? Great, thanks! Now believe in me AS MUCH as I do and show me how WE can make this shit happen.
The other things are knowledge and discipline. Stop complaining because the Foo Fighters are not asking you to play with them – that’s not how it works. Find out how the industry functions and tackle every step. Being on stage is fun, but the rest is hard work. The mix is 20% fun and 80% pain in the ass – but the fun part is totally worth it.
Charlotte Eriksson (The Glass Child)
Never forget why you’re doing this in the first place – because you love music. It’s so easy to just get lost in the day to day routines and habits, and even slip into a mindset where it all feels like a bit of a struggle, and I think it’s important to sometimes take a step back and remind yourself of how lucky you are to get to wake up and do what you love every single day. It is hard work, but it’s also a privilege to get to do it. Some days it hits me that I am actually living the dream I once had for myself, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
Pat Ryan Key (I Do Declare)
The only true things I can give as guidance that may apply to more people than just myself is to follow your instincts and listen to your heart. With those, you can make decisions that you feel were the best that you could at the time as life happens. I learned that if you pursue your passion whole-heartedly, you may find opportunities presenting themselves that you weren’t necessarily pursuing at the time but could be exactly what you need to happen to better yourself.
My advice to independent artists out there is there is no replacing content, especially good content. You can promote yourself into the ground and pay for as many expensive studio tracks as you can afford, but you ultimately have to continue getting better and creating more and more new stuff. That’s easy to lose focus on when you’re also focusing on being your own PR, fundraiser, and fan club president.
Ewan Grant (Algernon Doll)
Dion Roy (Fire and the Romance)
Find your sound first. I’ve made the mistake of being too anxious to get material out there in the past. I’m not saying wait 4 years between records – but make sure the record you want to put out is something YOU want to listen to.
This was a huge epiphany for me and the Fire and the Romance project- and has helped move things ahead for me so much faster. What are the songs you keep going back to? Maybe it isn’t the song that you think is the “coolest,” maybe its the simple 4 chord song with a simple melody – but it works.
Keeping an open mind on your own material is something I would suggest – maybe you find another part of yourself that you didn’t think was there. I think its those moments of discovery that lead to the best songs.
The indie road is an arduous one. It is a bumpy one and each day you as an artist must work toward your goals with or without a team. Your belief in your talent must be the fuel to keep your fire lit. Most burn out because it can take indie artists several years to do what a major artist can do in one year. We have to work ten times as hard to attain a smidgeon of the success some major artists achieve. However, at the end of the day, it’s worth it to build your own empire in trust that one day, you and your team will reap the rewards of that.
Never be too proud to take advice from others, and be approachable. There will always be someone out there who knows more than you. Always. So be like a sponge. Soak up any advice people offer you. You might reject it in the long run, but always be open to new ideas.
You only fail when you stop. It’s important to realise that it will be really hard at times. It’s also important to realise it’s not a bad thing to take a hiatus to stop, regroup and come back afresh.
No one is entitled to success, and if at the end of the day you make enough to pay your rent and get to do what you love then you are blessed. If you really want it, you just have to keep going. If that means taking 5 jobs to do it so be it, many of the greats started out just that way!
Debs and Errol
One thing I will point out is that your fans are important and you should make music for them. That sounds like lame advice because it sounds obvious.
However, how much energy do you waste on people that don’t like your music? How many of you complain that your friends don’t want to come to your shows? How many of you worry about the thumbs down on YouTube or any other dissenter?
Find the fans that love you! Make content for them. My own mother doesn’t listen nor even likes our music. But then again, she’s not our target audience.
Don’t spend your time and energy defending what you like to people who don’t care. You have an audience. That’s where your focus should lie.
Debs: I feel like we preach this one a lot but putting out regular content that your audience can engage with is absolutely crucial. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be that complicated; it can be as simple as a status update, a snapshot of yourself in a studio, or an article that you find interesting that is somehow related to what you’re doing. Create opportunities for your audience to interact with you and when they do, respond back and build those relationships.
If you do this consistently, you will find that you won’t have to work as hard when it comes to things like crowdsourcing or new album releases because your audience is already engaged. You already have their attention. You don’t have to fight for it.
Phoebe Dubar (Passerine)
Chances are, you have a nasty voice in your head which tells you you’re not good enough, will never succeed, etc… I’ve spoken to dozens of musician friends and they ALL feel the same. I even read that Paul McCartney still has that voice too… A BEATLE for god’s sake!!!I It’s not just you. We all feel like that – unfortunately it’s just part of being in a creative industry. The trick is to use that voice to help make what you do better… and not let it weigh you down and make you feel defeated. If you weren’t critical of yourself, that would be concerning! You need to work through drafts, re-writes, etc in order to make your art the best it possibly can be!
The trick is to then involve people whose opinion you value (who aren’t related to you or your best friends – they’ll never tell you the truth!), to give you open, honest feedback which you can incorporate into your art. And stop to celebrate your wins now and then. Ever since reading Ariel Hyatt’s book, under her instruction I started a “My 5 Little Wins” book, in which every night I write down 5 things which I’ve achieved that day. Some can be big (Had radio play! A festival gig!) and others can be tiny (Walked the dog… Did the washing…). Regardless, it helps me take stock of the things I was able to achieve that day.
Work as hard as possible, make it your life and do it because you love music and what music has given you.
Never allow the glory to overcome your passion and stay true to yourself.
More from the series
- #GoIndie: What does Independence mean to Musicians?
- #GoIndie: 16 Musicians on the Challenges of Being Independent
I want to hear from you!
What advice or guidance would you give to independent artists? What have you found useful or interesting from the #GoIndie series? Leave your comments below and get involved in the discussion!