Rise Above: The Challenges Of Today’s Independent Musician
Guest post by Justin Herring of Sidewinder.fm.
At this point, it’s safe to say that a lot of musicians aren’t sure what the future holds. There are numerous paths they take, and only hope to come out successful on the other end. Whether it’s a new marketing service that promises to identify your “superfans” or an Internet radio service that promises to grant you millions of new listeners within the first week, there’s a surplus of startups claiming they can fix the many problems musicians face.
Each year the online community and the outside world become more integrated. With the ease of social media and growing hunger for up-to-date information, musicians seem to be forced to deliver fans news on what they’re doing, thinking, and planning every step of the way.
For every kid who picked up a guitar and wants to dive into this world as it stands today, there are three times as many articles giving them the guidelines of how to thrive in this social media dominated world. “Don’t worry kid,” they say, “just focus on those Facebook Likes and all will fall into place.” But the question most of them end up asking after following those guidelines is: What happens if none of that works?
It’s hard to say what steps a musician today should take in order to reach their desired level of success. When faced with a vast online world at their fingertips, it’s easy to forget the importance of focusing on the outside world as well. To those growing up in this new online environment, this digital frontier is home; it’s the universe young bands are familiar with. To them, the stories of other bands in their infancy sitting in a van day after day, month after month—those are simply a thing of the past. Who needs a van if they have thousands of people to post Facebook and Twitter updates to? The reality is that such hardships are more prevalent today than they ever have been.
The web has been flooded with an overwhelming amount of music, leaving most listeners to thumb through hours of Facebook pages and poorly recorded material. New recording equipment and software have given young bands cheap and affordable voices to distribute across the web; but music lovers still exist that endlessly search for new group to kick-start that flame of inspiration they so desperately crave. They’re looking to connect in the physical world, and not through a computer screen.
Young bands, regardless of genre, need those fans in order to thrive in this ever evolving, dare I say “new” music industry we see arising. The responsibility of putting music in front of peoples’ faces has quickly fallen into the musician’s hands. For bands of today, they’re starting to see just how creative they mustget in order to push through the hordes of independent musicians that are clamoring away to get to the top. Their lifestyle is quickly becoming akin to that of salesmen who must, above all, sell themselves to create that personal experience through face-to-face interaction, not just an MP3 download.
If there’s anything the Internet has given young bands to use as a tool, it’s contact information for venues and promoters. With websites like IndieOnTheMove.com, booking information for the majority of venues in cities and states around the country allow the chance to book tours independently, establish connections, and build relationships. It breaks down the barriers that were in the way decades ago, giving opportunities to create roads to go down instead of simply waiting to be approached by a label. Now, local acts have the ability to transform themselves into regional acts with more ease.
While the Internet allows everyone to stay connected, a musician’s knowledge—his or her education as a performer—still lays waiting out there on the road. It’s where every band truly learns how to become a band. As long as there’s youth, passion, desire, and fury, music will be just fine. There will be those who tough it out in a van going from town to town building their fan base up little by little. And those who use this method while properly utilizing social media will be the ones that outlast the rest.
To musicians today, I say this: Hopefully, you get used to the smell of that van; you can handle losing a few more pounds while out on the road; you figure out how to budget your money; and you’re willing to sacrifice a night out at a bar to afford the next batch of merch. Because with every new Internet radio service, mobile app, or social media site that arises in this digital landscape, it’s going to funnel the onslaught of young bands aiming to get their play counters higher than yours. While they fight for popularity based on artificial numbers, it gives you an advantage. Most of these musicians are sleeping in a bed somewhere far away from the harsh realities of independent touring, leaving plenty of open stages for you to play.
Justin Herring is an artist manager and booking agent that has over a decade of experience with the music industry, in both bands and business aspects. His strong and controversial opinions have grown out of a love of music and the desire to see musicians treated fairly. Find him on Twitter and Tumblr.