The Roles and Struggles of a DIY Musician
From experience, I can tell you that being a DIY musician is a challenging, rewarding, and often a really strange world to enter. Starting off in any industry brings its own struggles, and as I navigated the start of my career, I faced difficulties that I found surprising and often frustrating (that’s putting it mildly!)
And yet that makes it SO exciting at the same time. To the DIY musician reading this: don’t forget that you’re embarking on something completely new, something that will allow you to fully express yourself. Very few opportunities in life offer that kind of chance, so enjoy the journey and don’t get so fixated on the future/potential destination.
Things NEVER go to plan, there’s always going to be obstacles in the way, there’s always going to be challenges. BUT, if everything works out to even a small % of what you originally dreamed, you’ll be left with a fulfilling career, or at the very least, an exciting chapter in your life.
Here are some of the struggles I’ve had to contend with on my journey (and still struggle with as an independent artist!)
Being Creative on a Budget
Ok, the chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re starting your career off on a micro budget. We’d all love to have a home studio, surrounded by gimmicky devices, beautiful instruments and a MacBook loaded with the latest software to polish it off – but we’ve got bills to pay.
If you’re wondering why so many singer-songwriters play with a simple acoustic guitar, backing track or keyboard, this is why. They’re versatile instruments/support sold at a relatively inexpensive price. If you’ve got nothing but your voice and some song-writing talent, this is what I’d recommend you start out with. If you haven’t got the time to learn an instrument, then consider joining a band or collaborating with another musician. It’s a great way to spend your free time and upskill, and you’ll meet friendly people of all different stripes.
PS - My first few music videos have been made on a micro-budget, you can check them out here. A lot of creative vision goes a long way!
Getting a Gig
Here’s the next challenge, getting your music out there. Putting your music on streaming services won’t be a guarantee of revenue if you’re just starting out. In fact, from the newbie composer to the most successful pop artist, most musicians make their money from touring, not streams. For signed artists, a huge chunk of revenue also goes to labels, and of course the streaming/download platforms themselves. This revenue side of things takes us down a whole other rabbit hole, I’ll save that for another time.
You can start by going to open mic nights at pubs and other venues – if you can become a fixture on your local music scene, then it might be the right time to book some studio time and get your music out there on the internet. It’s also worth considering that live music isn’t just for songwriters, many musicians who perform cover gigs also can make a decent living off gigging (I used to do this as my full-time job, pre-covid).
Side note: It’s worth looking after yourself if you’re live gigging a lot. Vocal care is super important. After years of vocal struggles, I recently underwent a tonsillectomy (I was on the waiting list for a long time!). Since then, I’ve been using Vita Voice daily food supplements to aid my recovery. So far, so good! This product has been expertly formulated to support the general health and wellness of performers where it is vital their voice be in top condition, so it’s come in real use for me. A huge thanks to the team at Vita Voice for gifting me my first pack of supplements, and I plan on using them for 3 months to really get full use of the benefits.
Making Ends Meet
Many musicians use their talents as a creative way to supplement their income, and not solely as a career. This doesn’t mean just doing gigs - if you have access to a good quality microphone or a digital audio workstation, consider working as a musician for hire over the internet. You’d be surprised at the variety of prompts you’ll get – from jingles, to background music and complete songs. When I started my BA (Hons) at BIMM in Birmingham, I had so many bills to pay, and I was very overwhelmed. I put my creative talent to good use by writing and recording songs on Voclio, I received a few purchases that DJs went on to use in their mixes (this helped me a lot to get by during my first year).
Understand the Business Side of Things
Regardless of which role you enter in within the music industry, you need to UNDERSTAND the business. Yes, really understand and get to grips with it. Just as you see in many industries, there’s people who don’t always have your best interests at heart so get clued up. It’s you that it will affect after all! Here’s my main 2 top tips: 1. For songwriters: learn about compositional and master rights. Learn about songwriting splits and publishing. This is key and will help you when making big decisions regarding your music. It’d also be good for you to check out how PROs work (for example, PRS in the UK).
2. For singers: get clued up on contracts. Are you signing something exclusive or non-exclusive? Do you have an agent? (Meaning they will also be taking a % cut of your fee). Be sure you fully understand what deal you’re entering. I’ve signed some contracts which stop me from performing in a certain town again within 6 months of an initial gig, so it’s worth reading, then reading again, and again!
Looking To the Future
I think that all creative minded people imagine some point in the future where we’ll be able to look back on our achievements. We see our dreams fulfilled, our creative endeavours acknowledged. In short, success (whatever success means to you).
We all know that we can’t plot the trajectory of our lives. And although it might sound cliché, all we can do is try our best to express ourselves, and take full advantage of opportunities when they arise.
To the DIY musician reading this, all I can say is don’t give up, and I wish you happiness and success in the future. Remember, success doesn’t just mean income, it can be happiness, wellbeing or just reaching your personal goals. Yes, I know I’m cheesy, but I love it! Contact me if you'd like further info or just want to say hi.
VitaVoice™ Optimise daily food supplement gifted.
Stage Photo Credit: Andrew Lock