Let’s face it: being a DIY musician is hard. Even with the many ways musicians now have (thanks to digital technology and the Internet) to reach an audience without having to be “discovered” or signed to a major label, the flip side is that there is no support system built into the process. Label artists have “people” who handle administration, promotion and marketing, while DIY musicians have to take care of those kinds of things themselves. Over time, it can become exhausting, and with all the work put out and seemingly little return for your efforts, it can also become discouraging.
Wait a minute. Isn’t this guy supposed to be making us feel better? What’s with all the discouragement talk?
Stay with me. I’m getting to the good stuff.
The reason I opened with that paragraph is that it’s important to understand the reality of an indie musician’s struggles, so when you go through them, you understand that you are not alone. But the other thing I want to point out is that when you are in that place of discouragement and exhaustion (and we’ve all been there), you have to watch out for the pitfalls of tunnel vision and overwhelming negativity. When we’ve had a string of “no”s and very few yeses, it’s gets very easy to focus on what we can’t do, rather than focusing on what we can do. We get so busy trying to break through the barriers in front of us through sheer will and force that we forget there may be other options—creative ways to get around the obstacles, whether those obstacles are real or imagined. And this is where it is helpful, even critical, to stop, take a breath, look away from the obstacles in front of you and start looking at the possibilities around you.
The thing is, when you do this—when you start looking for the possibilities—you start finding opportunities. You start seeing more things you can do that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before.
The fact is that when you are discouraged, or when you feel trapped or blocked, it is almost never as bad as it seems at the moment. You are just experiencing tunnel vision, caused in part by looking too closely at the problems in front of you. The truth is, there is almost always another option—but you have to step back and look around in order to see it. Here are some examples of what I mean:
- If you are having trouble booking venues to perform in…you might start playing some open stages, or look at doing some house concerts. Doing well at an open stage can lead to a gig in that venue, and house concerts can be a lucrative alternative to playing venue gigs—plus it helps build your fan base at the grassroots level. Both are possibilities that can open up more opportunities.
- If you are having trouble selling your records or merch…look for a wider audience. Change the way you are doing your social networking, or find someone with some know-how to help you out. Do some videos of yourself singing some of your songs and put them up on YouTube. Submit your music to a few more blogs to try and get exposure. Don’t just decide it isn’t working; look for more possibilities. They almost always provide more opportunities.
- If you aren’t making enough money playing gigs but still want to make a go of it doing music…look for more creative ways to leverage your talent. If you are a singer/songwriter but you are also a good instrumentalist, consider joining a band as a side project, just for something more to do. Or hire yourself out as a session musician. Or give lessons, if you like to do that. These are all additional possibilities, and each of them can lead to more opportunities.
Can you see the pattern here? In each of these scenarios, you start by acknowledging that what you are doing is not working—but you don’t stop there. Instead of grieving and getting depressed, you step back and look at what else you can do. When all you do is complain about what isn’t happening, you get more of the same: nothing happening. But when you look at the possibilities, and when you open your mind to those possibilities, you are likely to find opportunities you never saw before.
Sometimes, those opportunities are just enough to get you through the rough spots. Other times, they can be life changing in ways you couldn’t have anticipated.
But either way, they are better than just staying in discouragement. Just saying.