Ok. I need to say this. I’ve been bottling up my frustration and anger about this for far too long. If you are looking for cheerful banter about the perks of pursuing a long-standing dream aka being an independent artist – keep browsing. Because this won’t be it. It’s going to be a first class rant from personal experience.
At first there wasn’t a plan. At first there was only a dire wish to make music a bigger part of my life again, such as it had been in my early twens, when I had the opportunity to make a living as a professional musician for about 18 months (I could have stayed longer, but see below). Back then it was in part taking the next step in pursuing my passion and in part it was my personal rebellion – and NOT against teachers, parents and wise guys of all kinds (although this was a very welcome side effect *chuckle*) – but against my previous ‘partners in crime’ aka band members from the non-pro days. Why and how so? Well. After years and years and years of writing original music, rehearsing it, honing our skills, hustling for gigs, spending money made outside of the music on equipment, transportation, rent for rehearsal rooms and whatnot – we finally get a chance to get that break by winning a regional battle of the bands contest. The contest was awarded with the production of a 12-inch vinyl in a professional recording studio. So we record our most popular tracks and pitch our vinyl with record companies. And we actually receive calls by label execs, promoters, radio presenters etc. And are ultimately presented with a very lenient offer by one major label back in the day. And what do my fellow band members do? They turn it down!! (They wouldn’t admit to this, though. But the way they handled the situation equalled turning the opportunity down) All that after years of testing my patience with endless debates and talks about wanting to go pro. Talk about an epic reality check! Well, when I finally learnt what they were really made of – or rather: weren’t -, I knew, I had to go it all alone – or at the very least differently. 1,001 odd jobs and ‘half’ a music degree later, I find myself playing with this very busy, year-round-booked Top-40 act, touring the resort circuit and making money like I’ve never made money again in my later life – ever! But that began to look like a dead end road as well back in the day and after said 18 months, I returned to Munich, worked odd jobs again while continuing my search for something more ‘authentic’. I did this for about 2 years. After those 2 years, I finally gave in to my then girl friend, who had been consistently ‘encouraging’ me to go to college (danced on and killed my last nerve would be more appropriate I’m afraid). Which is what I ended up doing. When I say ‘ended up doing’, it might sound like I was hopeless. No, far from it! I wish, I could somehow rekindle that sense of excitement I felt when realizing that I was still comparably young (that was then, mind you :)) and that my life was still brimming with opportunity. And so I enrolled at Ludwig-Maximilian-University, Munich and obtained a degree in linguistics a couple of years later.
Let’s skip the following 20 years of being a working slave at the treadmill of computers and software corporations, and ultimately becoming a consultant, project manager, tutor/trainer, coding hand and a number of more ‘hats’ at what became known as ‘web 2.0’ – which is what we’re all using today as if it had been around forever. (We’ve probably made it to web 3.0 with the advent of social media platforms a while ago, but I’ll leave that to others to decide or label). Be it suffice to say that my previous career made me knowledgable enough with the underpinned technologies of the web that I was able to launch everything you see and hear about me on the web single-handedly. By that, I mean that I really did it all on my own: Finding the social media hangouts for musicians and artists, getting myself settled in there, doing whatever coding or design work was necessary to personalize it, writing, recording, producing and releasing the tracks that I have available for purchase so far, networking my butt off, so more people than family and friends might eventually know about me etc. etc. – in other words: What probably the larger part of independent artists are doing every day. And while some get to have some help with any of the aforementioned tasks, I enjoyed being able to do it all autonomously without needing to crosscheck with anyone or worse: Wait till someone made up their mind about walking their talk (I’m burnt in that regard from that above paragraph, remember…?). In other words: Every action yielded an immediate result – more or less. I’ve been enjoying myself doing it this way for the past two-and-a-half to three years.
Fast forward to today: I find the social media ‘exposure’ model not working at large for me in my role as an independent artist. Well, o.k., let me be more specific with this broad generalization: It doesn’t work in terms of actually selling music or – in my case – single tracks. I’m well aware that I might arrive at a slightly modified conclusion, if I had an album to sell. OK. Point taken. But WTH? Didn’t ‘independent’ somehow imply ‘free’? Not only free of patriarchic borderline tyrannous label execs, but more than anything: Free from previous/outdated/old school notions of being confined to genre and an outdated album format? People used to listen to vinyls and (bootlegged) cassette tapes, then CDs, then iPods, now everything happens in a streamed format on mobile devices. So why would I spend money on a dated medium? All the more so, as I am not booked for live gigs in front of people, who know my material, so I have a chance of selling a few CDs at concerts? (Why I wasn’t booked – I’ll get into that further down).
The other thing is engagement. Don’t think, I haven’t read many a clever articles on how to engage people via social media platforms (and this, too), hadn’t watched quite a number of movies on YouTube about this, in short: Don’t think I haven’t educated myself there. When it’s important – I like to be prepared. So I did a lot of personal research and education on the subject and applied the suggested principles as best as I could. Well… I guess the old marketing paradigm is still in place: Burn your budgets on marketing and the more you spend, the more likely you’ll get to see some revenue. OK.. that might work, if you have a budget to begin with. Which brings us back to downloads and making my music available as such. The general idea was something like ‘build momentum as you go along’. Without meaning to brag, I guess I could have done a worse job in that regard. But now… here’s the catch:
To take the next step, I would have to have a CD. People seem still locked into that paradigm of music consumption, at least where it is about the demographic I’m addressing (scroll down to where it says ‘demographics’), who are not digital natives as in the aforelinked article. Plus, radio presenters seem to be partial to real musicians instead of programmed drums and other instruments and often seem to favor music that involves a number of well known names in the genre/business. I understand that. It’s about supporting the community of music making individuals. Fine by me. Agin, if – I had a budget to hire some cats that is. Which I don’t. So I thought, I’d put those single tracks out, make the equivalent of a few dinners for two at not too shabby locations, which I could then use to hire the musicians of choice for future recordings. And here’s where I hit the wall: I haven’t made anywhere near as much as to even think of placing a phone call about getting musicians involved. Not to mention studio time to get them properly recorded. I can always get a second, third job to make the budget needed? Hm. Well, no, I can’t. It would be too much personal information to disclose as to why I can’t – and I think I’ve already aired far too much personal business as it is. But bottom line: No, that’s not an option. Dead end. Brick wall. And no turning back either.
So, let’s sum it up: It’s not very likely there will be a CD anytime soon for aforementioned reasons. Without a CD, there is not really too big a point in approaching promoters about live gigs, neither here around my turf – where my music is not really appreciated amongst musicians – and even less so abroad. Without promoters, there won’t be live gigs at which I could sell – my non existing CD in order to fund the musicians I would have needed in the first place or to get them to perform my music live with me… see my predicament? Have I overlooked anything? Oh yeah (*sarcasm on*): I could enroll in a basket braiding class. Or give my music away for free. Which is… basically, what’s happening. However, (*sarcasm off*) I can alway say I made it on the same playlists as my music heroes. Which is really quite the treat. But it appears, that’s where it ends also.(and yes, I’m aware of platforms like Sell A Band Kickstarter or IndieGogo – but as I’m not a U.S. or Canadian citizen, I’m not eligible. I have also tried to find sponsors or mentors here. Again: Smooth Jazz is unheard of here, they don’t know what to make of it or don’t care or both – except for Christian Bößner’s Smooth Jazz Festival)
(Not feeling all chipper now? Welcome to my world and: Told ya so… didn’t I?)
wesbound, October 2011