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Reasons why I like being an independent, DIY artist – no label

2016 March 7
by Mike Vial

(Heads up, Ginny’s getting fussy, and I’m not proofreading this blog until she takes a nap. Typos be ignored.)

There are many reasons to sign with a label. In 2016, it seems even more difficult to get the word out on one’s own without the connections, a bit of capital, and support.

However, I’ve passed on a few, small deals over these years.

While I’ve never been approached by a major label (or major independent), I’m not sure what I would do if they did make an offer…Did you know that major labels drop 98% of the artists they sign before a second release?

I’ve been profitable on three EPs–funded all by myself–out of constant gigging and the kindness, of well, you! And I’m playing my 1000th gig.  (Watch my 1000th gig Sunday online here!)

DIY is not an easy road, though, and part of being a do-it-yourself artist is a personality trait, not simply circumstances.

Not everyone needs to be DIY, or DIY in all forms. However, in 2009, I hired a designer (upon a recommendation) to make a website for $1000. I gave her 50% up front. She met with me about the initial design, than disappeared and didn’t show up to our final meeting to launch the site; then, she wouldn’t respond to my calls or emails.

I was left high and dry without a website, but Natalie and I were lucky a friend (thanks Sherri!) taught us how to use WordPress one afternoon at the Plymouth Coffee Beanery.

In the end, I view that lost money as an investment in myself, since I’ve been able to do all of my website creation on my own without paying anyone.

And that moment has guided all of my decisions with my music.

Here’s some reasons why I like being a DIY, independent artist: 

1. I own 100% of my rights of my songwriting and publishing.
Wait, the label doesn’t like the record, doesn’t hear a single? Well, no one is going to shelf my record if they don’t like it! (Except me.)

2. I see all of the accounting
I can see every stream earning from Spotify and Apple Music. I know they are paying me $0.005-0.006 per stream on average. I’m not a major artist getting millions of streams, but I’m happy to see people are listening to my music.

3. I control my voice on social media.
Wait, the label wants to handle of the social media posts? Nope. Sorry. That’s my name. My voice. My little corner on the Internet.

4. The label wants me to work with a producer I’ve never met?
Nope, I’m working with Eric from Solid Sound, moon:and:6 from Hamilton, Dan Achen (RIP) at Catherine North Studios–because I like them as people and like the work they do.

5. The label wants to wait a year to release the music?
Nope, here it is, world. I can decide what, when, and how to release it to the world. I’ve chosen not to “window” a release, and I’m the one who decides where the music is, whether on the Spotify, iTunes, Bandcamp, etc…

6. The label wants to put a generic cover on the album?
Nope, I’ve hired people I know to do my artwork. A former Holly High School graduate, Jake Smith, has designed my third CD and one single. I did two simple designs myself for singles. A longtime friend and artist Caitlin Kronk has done the hand-drawn artwork for my next album, as she did for the “Burning Bright” single.

There was a time when I could relate the common statement, “I just want to write songs! I just want to play guitar!”

I’ve learned  over these last five years of full-time music that I like doing the work, and I like seeing the real-time impact.

I like managing my own Bandcamp site, and no, I don’t want to give that over to a label. I like managing my own mailing list and typing the letters to fans who have signed up. No, we aren’t giving that to a college intern in your office. I like deciding who I’m going to team with on a show. I like being  a person and not a brand.

It doesn’t make the work easier, nor does it mean this is the best path. Creating art is often about finding who you are in the process.



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