Independent Music DIY #1: Is DIY a viable success strategy for independent artists?

“Do you know how many songs there are in your music library (cassettes, CDs, Vinyl and streaming devices)? How do you find 1 song from the 1000 that you have?”

“Now do you know how many songs there are in the world right now? How will a listener notice your artist’s product from among the millions on their device?”

That was a conversation we had in our family around 10 months ago. According to Luminate’s mid-year report released in July 2023, the 6-month data shows that the average is 112,000 songs released daily (up from the annual average of 93.4K for 2022. (The Q1 average for 2023 was 120K, so there was some dip in Q2).

Talking to musicians, reading music analysts, studying media reports, listening in on music and producer chat forums, one would think artists – specially new artists – are competing against 112K songs. That’s a very big under-estimation. If you really need to think of the challenge, a new artist is up against the cumulative total number of songs available in the market, and it rises by a further 112K every day. People say no one really knows how many songs there are overall. But we can answer the question ‘how many songs does Apple Music have’? “One hundred million songs”, to quote Apple Music’s global head of editorial Rachel Newman’s news article on 3 October 2022. That figure is probably higher by about a million now.

But I am getting ahead of the story. 

So my wife and I took on a new enterprise 10 months ago: Co-Executive Producers for the music album of an emerging 16-year-old independent artist Upamanyu Mukherjee (our eldest son). I also took on the additional role of Artist Manager. So at the beginning, there was only the artist on his own. Then with us joining the process, the team was 3. By the time the debut album was released, the team had grown to 20 including advisors, co-producer, musicians, engineers, distributor, designer and promotion professionals.

The album, Negotiating Oxytocin, was released on 11 August 2023, and it debuted at No 1 on the iTunes India Top Album charts the next day. It stayed on the chart over the weekend, slipping to No 3, then to No 4 before sliding off into oblivion completely, not to be seen again on any chart (as yet). But for the three days it was on the charts, it was the only English language, alternative pop music album by an independent artist in the Top 10 on iTunes in India. Which is not bad for an unknown artist’s work in a market that is primarily ruled by Bollywood movie music, music in Hindi and several other regional languages, and only famous blockbuster names in global English language music. 

The album is nowhere near breaking even, but it made a better than expected start given our learnings from market experiments with the singles released earlier. What we did was focus on album sales instead of streams. And we focused on Apple Music instead of Spotify or Amazon or … but that’s getting ahead of the story again. What is important is that to give an independent artist’s work a fighting chance, they need a team and it is not expensive to build one since there is a lot of goodwill and many helping hands available at every stage.

It is important for independent artists to have a team with separate business and creation roles.

Creating music, crafting a musical product, and making music a viable business are three very different worlds, with most of the inter-connecting roads hidden beneath layers of carbon-undatable obscurity. Each world has different (some overlapping) stakeholders, who have to consider different aspects and take responsible decisions… right at the beginning. In our case, the first two were the artist’s decisions primarily and since we believe in complete creative freedom, we stayed out of creation and production. The third is about business. Our teen discussed it with us and decided he did not want to get into the business side of things beyond taking calls related to his Intellectual Property Rights and content that was attributed to him or use of his images. It was a considered call since promotion, marketing, sales, pitching would take his energies away from making music. The roles, rules of engagement and demarcation of boundaries were clear. The only consistent rule was to discuss key matters and stick to agreed timelines.

The artist focused on composing, writing, singing and co-producing the songs. We started studying how the music could lead to a living some time in the distant future.

To be continued…

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