These days, independent artists are a dime a dozen, dropping albums left and right on platforms like SoundCloud, Bandcamp, iTunes and Spotify. It's easier now more than ever to DIY record, produce, and release your own album into this ever-expanding musical stratosphere. So, in this ever growing crowd, how do you brand yourself and stand out as a musician?
Prior to recording an album, Independent musicians need to take their time gradually and organically building a fanbase before putting out their first full-length solo album. Through several years of hard work studying, composing and being on the road playing shows, musicians slowly learn the "rules of the biz" and will cut their teeth as a musician before making that first big statement in the studio.
If a musician doesn't put a ton of work into honing their composing skills, knowledge of the business, (especially finances), and the ever important live performance before deciding to release a first full-length solo album, that album may go nowhere for them.And, just end up being a huge waste of money.
Musicians need a major passion of the art of the song. Placing music, and musicianship first teaches to not only perform live at an extremely high level, but that the songs can function well on stage with either a full band, or just an acoustic guitar. This "musical work" helps a player to continue to grow both their songwriting and the live performance before they put the finishing touches on the songs in the recording studio and later release it.
That being said, part of making any record is the personal and artistic growth musicians experience during the process. By the time the record comes out, musicians fell more ready than ever to go onstage and bring the album to the world one club at a time. Fittingly enough, the day the record drops will be the first day of a new chapter for the musician.
This music world is a big place, and there seems to be an almost infinite number of potential music fans once you hit the road. The hard part is getting them to listen. An independent artist needs a fan base to develop a career, and this fact has been true since the beginning.
Booking gigs, getting networked, and using social media, will make things easier. But, that doesn't mean you'll avoid making almost every mistake in the book. Being an independant artist means learning along the way. Will making EPs to give away at shows work for you? Or, is it more important to develop a family of club owners, music fans, and other performers in the cities you frequent? Some things will work, others won't. And, many mistakes do cost money!
If you begin from a strong fan-base, those people will be actually waiting to hear the record when it comes out, which is an unbelievable thing. It is the push that will get the record off the ground, give it a chance to hit peoples' ears, and from there I it's up to the record to do the talking. But, this still doesn't mean the album will be a success, or further your career.
Getting your own voice as a musician up to where you can always deal with new challenges as an independent artist will take a long time. So, enjoy the journey, remain humbled by the amazing people who will allow your music to be a part of their lives. Your fans are everything to your success and you need to continuously nurture that relationship.
As much as great chops and experience on stage and in the studio can be important for making a success of any musician, playing live will always be the number one way to find your own voice. When everybody in a band can balance themselves and create a great show, all members grow their ability.
To understand yourself better as a musician and to eventually be able to get your artistic story across to an audience through music, you'll need a lot of experience. This is why it is so valuable to play all different types of shows, travel, sleep on strangers' couches, and share the stage with amazingly talented artists. These experiences will give you so much to absorb, as well as, a broader perspective on life and of music.
Recording your album should be a fun process, if it isn't, then consider taking a break and shift to recording it in phases. Recording is a chance to look at every song as its own individual entity and it allows for the instrumentation to lineup around each of them. Recording takes a very close look at individual tracks, how they fit together like a puzzle in the end to make a true album. Since a lot of the final crafting of the tunes will take place in the studio while simultaneously being road-tested at gigs, the structure and style of the final recorded versions of the songs will give you a good idea of how people would connect with them.
Cutting your teeth in places that may sometimes make you feel like you're in a scene from one of the Blues Brothers movies will truly shape you as an artist. Don't hide from the world. Play all over the place and get other people's opinions as you progress. Even if you don't like what they say. And not just the opinions of other musicians, but also the opinions from regular music listeners. Don't take them all to heart, because art is a truly objective thing and there is indeed a thin line between absorbing input and losing your artistic vision. However, as an artist and entertainer, we make music for others to enjoy, so it's important that other people can grasp what you are trying to say and can find something in your work that connects to them.
Absorb it all. Die-hard musicians tend to have crazy collections of CDs even, tapes and vinyl records! As an artist, it's important to understand every element of the art being created around you. You don't have to like everything, you don't have to listen to everything (and sincerely I personally don't), but in this crazy industry, if somebody is making music and people are truly enjoying it, then there's something to be absorbed there. I've learned a lot about songwriting, (and I've discovered my personal approach to music), from listening, theoretically analyzing and charting out a wide spectrum of musical styles, individual players, and genres.
Everything mentioned here helps us, as players, to find our own voice. Being a musical artist is not an end goal... it's the beginning of a life-long journey. I began looking at my music career as a journey and not a destination many years ago. It changed my whole perspective on everything musical and it helped me to truly absorb the wonderful little things that can happen every time I pick up my guitar.
Absorbing great music all around and performing for crowds of all different shapes and sizes in all different types of environments, and seeing how others react to music is all part of this amazing journey. Eventually we all find our voice and we learn how to deliver our artistic message.
So, keep working every day, grow as an artist, and shaping your own music based on the perspective gained every time you absorb the world around you. When you look back in a few years, and listen to your old recordings, and remember all of the things that you've learned, maybe you will have truly found your voice. However the older I get, the more I'm beginning to think that this, too, is all a part of this musical journey I'm on, and my voice as a musician will continue to evolve as I experience more and more along this path.