Independence is defined as a state of being free from outside control and authority. For the independent musician, remaining independent can be incredibly liberating and extraordinarily burdensome – all at the same time. For those with a fierce work ethic and independent mindset, they wouldn’t change it for the world. These free spirits embrace this model of distribution and attack the task with vigor. But what are the advantages and disadvantages for independent musicians contemplating a proper course of action for their next album release?
First, I’ll focus on the advantages in remaining totally independent and free from entanglement with the industry establishment. On the upside, virtually every step of the process is controlled by the artist and, as a result, the artist maintains complete creative control. Of course, this can bring about results ranging from sheer brilliance to unmitigated disaster depending upon the competency of the individual at the helm. For virtually any musician, the lure of maintaining full control over the songwriting, production, instrumentation and marketing is certainly enticing and, ultimately, cost-effective. If successful, the payout per unit will often dwarf that of label artists. In recent years, “DIY” artists have come up with some very creative ways to compete in the marketplace, from “seeding the field” by giving away free music to allowing the consumer to name his or her own price. These tactics and many others have been used to successfully market and promote independent music and create sustainable careers. But, as always, the key to breaking through at any level is to create music that translates with the public. Proverbs 10:4 states “poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Great music coupled with an unrelenting drive to succeed will ultimately find an audience.
That being said, there is a huge downside to remaining totally independent. Record labels and traditional distributors exist for a reason and have historically served an essential role by providing two crucial elements: (1) financial resources and (2) the knowledge to develop and implement an effective marketing plan. Most independent artists are not well-funded, well-informed or accomplished enough in key facets of the business to create meaningful success for the long-term. Producers, songwriters, radio promoters, publicity agents and other crucial service providers often take a rough stone and polish it into a marketable gem for public consumption. As music fans, we often don’t realize or simply dismiss the relevance of the various team members who contribute to the success of our favorite artists. We tend to assume the brilliance resides solely with the artist. But, much like the musician who spends hours upon hours mastering a musical instrument, these industry professionals spend entire lives perfecting their craft and often have a monumental impact on the final outcome. The point here is that virtually any successful artist needs to build a competent team in order to prosper. Proverbs 11:14 states “in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” An effective team can take the raw talent of an artist and refine it into something exceptional.
For those who are savvy and persistent enough to stick with self-distribution, the efforts can pay off immensely. But very few artists are able to properly engage all facets of the creation, marketing and promotion of their music, and scant few have historically broken through pursuing this course. If you plan on remaining independent, it is wise to work toward assembling a competent team that can help refine your craft and market your content to as broad an audience as possible. Never underestimate the power of marketing. And never underestimate the power of teamwork.