By: Evan Stack
The advent of modern technology has brought us a plethora of new opportunities. You can now interact with Croatian citizens on a personal basis through social media, use your phone to send a message to anyone at lightning speed, and self-release your own music, in a professional setting. I do apologize to the multitude of lackluster dads potentially reading this article, who grew up idolizing Hendrix and the concept of being a rockstar, but never saw a chance at being a full-fledged musician.
But being a full-fledged musician doesn’t necessarily hinge upon the ability to self-release music. It can, if one’s music becomes popular enough. Most importantly, however, is a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment, stemming from our innate desire for self-expression. Self-expression is not simply an expression of the self, but a genuine display of one’s own cultural interests and personality. Easier said than done is an understatement.
What seems to be becoming easier for those in this dilemma, however, is the ability to disseminate their artistic creations. Modern cultural centers have evolved to such a point that artists from across a city can gather to explore music, cooperatively utilizing resources and jumping through hurdles. And, moreover, they can find a place to show their art to interested parties. Art has never been so much ours as it is now. And as the playwright has a community theater, or as the painter has a public mural, the musician has Bandcamp and Soundcloud.
Art has never been so much ours as it is now.
Music is no longer a boys’ game, restricted to the wealthy and successful. Granted, the complexity of the release is not something to be ignored, and understanding cultural trends and the tenets of popular dissemination can still give any aspiring artist a big boost. But it doesn’t matter what skill level someone can play at, or how well they fit into the accepted sound of their locale - anyone can release any music at any time, and retain the legitimacy of their craft.
Here are seven important tips for self-releasing your music. I promise you, it’s easier than you think.
So long as you have a desire to express yourself, remaining active as a musician is one of the most advantageous things you can do to establish yourself. It goes without saying that good things take time. Even the musicians who put out a song at 11 p.m. and wake up the next morning to find their song on every relevant music blog had to reach a point where they could even potentially burst that bubble of notoriety. Keep at it, and never lose momentum.
Find your approach
They say that Thomas Edison not only invented the light bulb, but he also discovered 99 ways to not invent the light bulb. Exploration can be a good thing and a bad thing. At times, it can seem like the most disheartening thing to do. At other times, it exists as the exact opposite. There are a million different ways to write songs and record music. Everyone has their own approach. “To have every aspect of a project fully be an expression of yourself is a powerful thing,” says Adam Lerma, a local Austin artist and strong proponent of self-releasing. “Eventually I just decided to do something with what I had available to me, and I think it is really valuable and important for people to do that.”
If you’ve got it (resources), flaunt it (them) - In the past few years, it has become significantly easier to acquire the necessary resources to pursue a self-release. I’m not denying that. But if opportunity knocks, do not be afraid to take advantage of it. Say your dad’s good friend from high school plays guitar. And he just so happens to have a fully-functional Fender with a nice amplifier. There goes the time, flying right by you, while it sits there and collects dust - being proactive with your resources is incredibly important. It makes the whole recording process much easier, which in turn makes the releasing process much easier, and it can give you a more professional background for future musical opportunities.
Find your locale
Musical opportunities are more often than not linked to the local culture community in a given area, full of people also interested in further pursuing and disseminating their art. A culture of passed mixtape and word-of-mouth releases, the music scene is an excellent place to get involved if you’re interested in self-release. Without any kind of cultural support, your music is restricted to a very small circle of friends and family, and listeners who happen to stumble on your music. The local center can get you a fan base, help guide you to the resources for self-releasing (distribution centers, merchandise groups, etc.) and skip some of the longest lines in the route to self-releasing.
Nina Simone once said, “freedom means no fear.”
I find that to be a perfect fit in the context of self-releasing music. Don’t be afraid to pursue the ethos of a self-release – you own your music, and you can do what you want with it. It’s just as official as the next guy’s. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and empathize with the often crippling strikes of self-esteem and failure. When it boils down to it, however, the worst thing someone can do to your self-release is not listen to it, or listen to it and dislike it. There will be no punishments incurred as a result of self-releasing. Lerma notes his relationship with the creative freedom explored by self-release: “It’s a safer creative venture to do it yourself than to have someone evaluating it or trying to modify it, even if they’re trying to contribute in earnest. Because if you’re the only one making it, ultimately you are the one who gets to say what’s good enough.” So long as you are passionate about your artistic avenue, your ability to self-release is undoubtedly yours.
Music is no longer a boys’ game, restricted to the wealthy and successful.
Self-release is not a genre
A lot of people like to make heavy talk about the lo-fi aesthetic as a commanding and inevitably pungent aroma of the self-release ethos. Self-release doesn’t determine the genre of the music. As long as you enjoy the music you’re making, and it naturally comes from you as you wish for it to come, you are doing all you need to do. And you are allowed to change your sound however you wish. The freedom to creatively explore wouldn’t be greatly limited by a label release, but that freedom comes with no restrictions whatsoever in the self-release format. Do whatever you want - you can self-release a recording of the New York Philharmonic, and it isn’t any less of a self-release than a garage record from a Texas band.
And - of great importance - pass it on
The knowledge and experience learned by self-releasing take time to acquire. The obligations in life don’t always allow a musician to explore on their own time, and at the fastest pace possible. It’s fine to admit you need help. It’s also fine to provide it - being a source of such valuable information can only prove beneficial in the long run.