25 – LEAVE THE DIY TO OTHERS
The DIY principle in the music industry has its origins in the punk scene. DIY, as you know, stands for ‘do it yourself’, and that effectively means: so you don’t want to help us? We’ll do it all ourselves. Because in the
era when so many successful rock ’n’ roll and punk bands were being born, the music industry had a surplus of music and too little time to help all those sludge bands get a serious career. A big problem, because in those days no one could predict which band was going to make it.
The solution came swiftly: make choices. And when you start making choices, there has to be a residue. And the residue was made up of bands who weren’t offered recording deals, or management or booker’s deals either. Naturally, that wasn’t the coolest story for band members to tell in their squats, so the term ‘DIY’ came to the rescue. Everyone who hadn’t yet managed to make it in the big bad world of music grabbed hold of the concept and got cracking: they released their own records, did their own promotion, booked their own tours and of course sold their own merchandise.
And to be honest, there’s not all that much wrong with DIY, at first. Most bands and artists start out like this. But as soon as it’s clear that it’s gone on too long, or they start bringing out their band biographies, it becomes very embarrassing. And no one is sitting around waiting for embarrassing self-written, self-published biographies of unknown DIY acts. These
are the acts that are still harassing people in the music industry with their over-enthusiastic optimism for their latest album full of country- inspired marching band covers. And yes, maybe I’ve made that sound worse than it really is. But these kinds of bands won’t ever be more than hobby bands. That’s just great, go right ahead and book your own tour and release your own albums. But stop pretending you’re a successful act, when everyone knows that you’re still playing the punk rocker for an audience of twenty-five, because you’ve constantly made the wrong choices. Yes, it’s a hard world, and I’m simply telling you what it’s like.
In the big bad music industry it’s all very simple: there is no DIY. Because the success of a band or an artist largely depends on the fact that other people think you’re great. An audience, for example, that’s a crucial factor in success stories. If you can’t manage to get one, and the only people who put feathers in your cap for your creative endeavours are your family and a couple of friends, then maybe it is a good idea to stick the ‘DIY’ label onto your career. It comes across as being less embarrassing to the couple of venues who still want to book you. But the question is whether in among all that DIY there isn’t something you could do that you’re really good at, such as screen printing or tour management, because probably your strengths lie in a different sphere. Leave the real work to the people who are naturals, and reconcile yourself to the fact that the stage was not made for you. Then later, when you’re a day-to-day manager or whatever, you can say you just rolled into that job, and that’s why you’re so good at it.
But the real question, of course, is: how can you tell that you haven’t
got talent? What tells you that no one is sitting around waiting for your act? True enough, the music industry has sometimes scared itself to death because of the so-called ‘masses of missed opportunities’. Artists who weren’t signed, but who did eventually become megastars. But
it’s actually a bit silly to talk about missed opportunities, because The Beatles did eventually get a record deal after all their rejections, and so did U2 and all the other mini and mega-artists. Nevertheless, between
us we’ve come up with an excellent solution to such rejections: we pass people on. So if someone asks for your opinion about a particular artist, you’ve got three options. They’re fantastic and you’ll start work with them immediately. No problem at all: success and the cash comes rolling in. Possibility number two: you think they’re terrible and reject them outright. The risk is that if the artist does turn out to be successful, that eats into your ego and the outside world suddenly values your opinion
a lot less too. That’s why the last option is the most popular and most effective. Whatever your opinion happens to be, you can say you’re too busy or it’s not really up your street, but you do know someone who could perhaps help the artist a little more. And then you give them the number of a colleague, competitor, friend or acquaintance. It doesn’t matter exactly who, as long as you pass the buck. If success ever comes, then at any rate you were the one who set up the relationship. If nothing comes
of it, no problem either, no one’s spent too much time on it – not you, at least.
The art of passing the buck: if you spot that happening, as a musician, you can do two things. Stop and look for another job, or decide to do everything yourself. And that brings us back to DIY.
25 – LEAVE THE DIY TO OTHERS