I am an independent musician.
What does that mean? It means I record, release and promote my own original music. No record company backing, no massive PR machine. Just me, a laptop, and a Twitter and Facebook account. It also means that many of you will not have heard my music. We hear a lot these days about the demise of the record industry but, even if this is the case, it has not led to the democratisation of the music industry. If anything, the music industry is more homogenised than it ever was. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “Never has so much been controlled by so few.” In the past, no matter how powerful the record label, no matter how famous their acts were, they could never – for instance – have dictated what song would be a Christmas Number One.
Today, Simon Cowell can.
I am an independent musician. This means that you will never see me – or the hundreds of other independent musicians like me – on shows like “X-Factor” and “The Voice”. This is not because we’re musical snobs; it’s because we write and perform our OWN music. The acts who appear on those shows are judged on their ability to perform OTHER people’s music. And, let’s face it, they are also judged on their looks, their age, their potential to be packaged as a TV and radio-friendly commodity. No independent artist would want to subject themselves to this. And this is not some dismissal of musical reality TV shows. Those shows are entertainment; they are enjoyed by millions of people; and the acts that appear on them are often incredibly talented. They should be able to co-exist side by side with independent musicians.
Sadly, this is not the case.
If these TV shows were simply that – TV shows – it might be the case. But they are something else entirely. They have become a monolith that has obscured so much other music. The influence of the shows, their creators and the acts that appear on them has permeated every aspect of the music business – the record labels, the radio stations, the music magazines – so that there is little room any longer for the independent artist.
So it’s all doom and gloom, then? There is no hope?
On the contrary, there is. There is always hope because there are always people – many people – out there who don’t want their music homogenised and delivered to them in a “cookie cutter” package. There are people out there who want to discover their own music. So, what can they do? What can YOU do?
A lot. First of all, the obvious. You can buy music by independent artists; you can go see their shows. But there’s a lot more you can do to not only support the artists but to also change the way the music industry works.
- Contact your local radio station. Ask them to play your favourite independent artist. Most radio station’s playlists are narrow and repetitive but they also need listeners and they need to keep their listeners happy. If enough listeners ask to hear independent music, the radio stations can’t ignore them. Especially the smaller, more regional radio stations whose listenerships are their lifeblood.
- Spread the word. Word of mouth is still the most important thing to an independent musician. And the means to spread word of mouth has never been so —-. Tweet about your favourite independent artist, link to their YouTube videos, write a post about them on Facebook.
- Further to that, if you’re a music blogger, why not start focussing on more independent artists. Nobody – including Daft Punk themselves – needs yet another review of Daft Punk’s new album. But a review of an independent artist’s new album could mean more publicity, more sales, and more people at their next show.
The landscape for artists has changed dramatically in recent years. Whether you’re a musician, a writer, a filmmaker, the tools to produce your work are so much more accessible than they’ve ever been. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is getting it into the hands of the people you want to hear/see it. I’d like to believe that people will support those artists out there who are trying to do things for themselves, without the weight of the corporations behind them.
That right there is a revolution in the making.
(I’d appreciate you passing on this post to any independent musicians you know. Thanks!)