7 important takeaways from the DIY Musician Conference 2022

More than 1000 musicians and independent music professionals gathered in Austin, Texas, late last month for CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference, and by all accounts, the IRL and online event was a smashing success.

In addition to popular presentations, workshops, networking events, showcases, jam sessions, and more, something very special happened.

“The seeds of new songs, new tours, new bands, new marketing ideas, were bursting open,” wrote a tired but energized Chris Robley of CD Baby, who helped organize the convention, “Perhaps it will take weeks or months to see the flowers break through the soil (I’m really going with these sappy metaphors today, huh?), but the most important and difficult work was underway: STARTING.”

Here are seven key takeaways that Robley shared:

1. Automation and personalization don’t have to be at odds

There are countless tools to help you automate your communications with fans. That might sound cold and robotic at first, but there ARE ways to personalize your automated messages with video, audio, and more.

Plus, as your audience grows, you won’t have time to respond individually to every DM, comment, or email. So unless you automate things, you probably won’t respond at all. Better to automate than go quiet.

2. It’s time to rediscover what makes your artistry unique

There are so many artists releasing music today. In order to stand out, you have to really lean into your hook as a music creator. Get weird. Be you. Define your brand, and then figure out how to reinforce it with every song, post, and performance.

3. TikTok may be your biggest opportunity today

To some of you, this probably sounds obvious. For many DIY artists though, TikTok has seemed like the exclusive realm of trending music and youth-culture memes. But it’s so much more than that.

At the DIY Musician Conference, we heard from multiple artists who achieved viral success for niche music by making a few small tweaks to their video content. They didn’t change who they were; they simply respected how the algorithm surfaces content, and used that knowledge to get their music in front of the right people.

4. Just get started! Just say you’re done!

Our conference was a great reminder that you shouldn’t wait around for perfection. You can’t keep staring at an endless to-do list. There comes a point where you just have to do the first thing on your list. Or you just have to say the song is done, or the project is complete.

A song you think is “good enough” could change someone else’s life. The one thing you checked off your list today may be a bigger achievement than you realize, since it’s a building-block for something bigger.

5. Music’s value isn’t (just) about money

The industry focuses so much on “success metrics.” Stream counts. Concert revenue. TikTok views.

But our conference opened and closed with two talks that went so much deeper than that. Kevin Breuner spoke about a house concert where the host told his band one of their songs  — which wasn’t even in the top-50 songs in their catalog, in terms of streams — literally saved his life. What is that song “worth”? For at least one listener, everything.

In the closing keynote, the band Making Movies spoke about music’s power to not only bring people together, but allow people to be who they truly are, even when they don’t feel like they fit into the dominant culture. Music, especially niche music, can give people a sense of home and belonging. What is that “worth?” A lot more than money.

6. Genres don’t matter

I mean, of course genres matter from a marketing perspective. But what I mean is, good music is good music. And at our conference, no matter what the attendees’ normal listening preferences, they were super supportive of EVERYONE that displayed talent and bravery.

There wasn’t a “rock” crowd and a “folk” crowd and a “hip-hop” crowd and an “EDM” crowd. And there wasn’t a “young” crowd or an “old” crowd or something in between. There was just a thousand artists dancing and shouting along when anyone’s music sounded good. A thousand artists helping each other.

In a world that can sometimes feel increasing siloed and divided, it was so refreshing to just be artists celebrating artistry.

7. You need to put yourself in uncomfortable situations

You don’t grow unless you push past some limitation. For some, it was submitting a song to the Songwriter SharkTank, to be critiqued by pros in front of the entire audience. Or putting their name in the hat for an open mic slot. Or even just pushing through some shyness to just say hi.

Cheers to everyone at the conference who did something scary.

CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference will return in 2023 and they are planning a one-day event in London this fall.

Bruce Houghton

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