[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Angela Mastrogiacomo, founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR.]
How many times have you seen the words “DIY musician” thrown around? It’s kind of become a “thing” in the music industry hasn’t it? A sort of badge of honor. And fair dues, it is impressive to be doing it all alone. But, just because you can do it all alone doesn’t mean you should—or that it’s sustainable enough to get you where you want to be.
The truth is, somewhere along the way, we got the idea that DIY was an attainable way to build a long-term career. We see artists who have left their major label deals flaunting the fact that they are not totally independent and we take that and interpret it as DIY, thinking, if they can do it, then surely we can do.
There’s only one problem. (well, a few). First, they were almost always signed to a major label or had major visibility prior to becoming independent. Even if they were left with no money, the visibility and clout of that will still serve them even when they go independent. It doesn’t mean they aren’t still working hard but that leg up is something most emerging artists don’t have, so it’s not fair to compare the two.
Second, they’re not actually DIY. (and they don’t generally claim to be. Independent is not the same as DIY).
DIY is something you do when you’re making your ugly holiday sweater. It’s not a lifestyle tactic for your career. Why? Because one person can not do everything and if you pay attention to the artists who are independent but successful, they still have a team helping them. They are not a one person show. They’ve hired out for the things they are not experts in and don’t have the time for and they invest (financially and emotionally) in the things that will help their career grow.
They are smart enough to know that while yes, you can do it all alone, it doesn’t mean you should.
Here are 3 beliefs about DIY to ditch right now.
“DIY means doing it all alone.”
This is the most common thing I see with emerging artists. Somewhere along the way most artists decided that DIY didn’t just mean “do it yourself” it meant “do it all alone” and that, is a very different thing.
Doing it yourself means you’ve made the conscious decision that you want to do this thing on your own. But I’m sorry, you can not DIY an entire career. It just isn’t possible.
Can you do quite a lot of it on your own, especially in the beginning? Of course. Will you burn out and eventually need to ask for/hire/invest in help to truly scale and make your career successful at the level you want? You will.
Find me one artist who has refused help of any kind, not invested in things like marketing, PR, even help from their fans, and found any kind of sustaining success. It doesn’t happen, because one person can not do it alone.
And truthfully, it’s much more fun when you surround yourself with others who are working towards the same thing as you. Why would you want to do it alone?
This brings me perfectly to the next belief I want you to ditch…
“I have to be DIY because I’m broke.”
Broke is a mindset my friend.
And while I believe your bills are very real I also believe that we make a priority that which matters most to us, and if you’re saying you want to tour the world and be super famous but you’re not willing to get creative to earn the money to pave the way for that, then I’m going to challenge how badly you really want this.
If you’re DIY, it should be by choice, not as a default because you don’t want to budget the money to pay someone to help you. You can’t wear DIY as a badge of honor if the only reason you’re doing it all alone is because you’re being cheap.
Also, don’t tell me you can’t understand why no one wants to buy your music/go to your shows/ support you when you won’t even invest in yourself. If you won’t invest in you, why should anyone else?
“I’ll be DIY forever.”
It’s just not possible. If you want to grow, if you want this to be an actual career where you get paid a sustainable wage and can do this and only this long term, you need to have some actual help and you can not do everything. This means you’ll have to hire help and thus, will not be DIY. And that’s ok! That’s a good thing. We aren’t meant to be on this journey alone. And look, I’m not saying you need to go out and drop 10k on a team right now (though I see a lot of you dropping that much on recording and then leaving no money for anything else so…budgeting my friends) but you have to invest in some kind of help at some point—be it from a streetteam, hiring professionals, or asking friends and family to chip in.
We are not meant to be on this DIY journey forever. It was always meant to be just a starting point—not your entire career.
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, American Songwriter, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and gone on to sign to major labels and tour nationally. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.