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DIY to the Top!

Brian Toye
June 27, 2013

It’s A DIY industry!

Record labels with budgets are few and far between. If you find one you can bet your bottom dollar they will be looking for artists who have proven themselves not only as musicians but as dedicated hard workers who have pushed through tough times.

If you are a band who:

• Have written at least 4 great original songs (and a few other O.K ones).
• Consistently get 200 fans out on a monthly basis in various cities around Southern Ontario or the GTA.
• Have paid for your first 4-10 song recording and have sold over 1000 of them.

Then you might be in line for someone (record label) to invest. You have done the leg work, written the songs, played the shows, built the fan base and sold the music. It sounds easy putting it into one sentence like that, but it’s very difficult (many try and fail).

Here are some possible things/events/feelings you could encounter on your way to being the type of band a label is looking for:

It usually begins the same way, with a few talented musicians jamming in a living room near you. A few song ideas evolve into well written pieces of music. A band name is chosen. The chemistry between each member grows. There are many forces that are against you at this beginning stage, so be aware of them. You all have day jobs and maybe even teach music lessons on the side. The daily grind and stress of your job (you hate it, but you have to pay for rent, food, insurance, gas, cell phone and that student loan) leaves you tired at day’s end. You must push forward, you still force yourself to work on your material, strengthen your songs and grow as a band.

Over the coming months you save your money by staying in and working on your music. The money saved will be used to record in a professional environment with an experienced engineer. There were many days and nights you wanted to give up (and more of them to come), but somehow you made it through the year and your songs are pretty good. You manage to avoid the temptation of using the recording money to take the band members on an all inclusive trip to Cuba. You book the studio time and close the sell off vacations tab in your browser, you begin the recording process. You feel a hint of happiness and begin to relax, the tough part is over you think “look we are recording now, we’ve done it!” You will soon realize that the work has not ended and is only really just begun. Recording requires a whole new skill set; there is a lot to learn with regards to giving a performance in a studio environment. As well, you will be coping with your band mates who are going through the same learning process, you may see different sides of them under this stress/pressure, be ready for it, be there for them. It's your hard earned money on the line, so don't blow up if Jimmy hasn’t perfected his bass part or if Bobby tracked drums for that second song without removing that pre chorus you all agreed would be removed. Communication is key, organization is key, being prepared 110% before tracking begins is super key (but if things go wrong, don't shit on one another). Once the recording is mixed and mastered you will have gained a lot more than a physical recording. The experience and lessons from the overall experience will have been priceless.

You press 1000 CDs and hit the circuit hard. You play the Reverb, Kathedral, the Bovine and the Horseshoe in Toronto. You play the Merchant Ale House, City Lights and score an opening spot for a touring act coming through Barracuda Pretty. You hit the road and play Ottawa, London, Smithville, Tillsonberg, Peterborough, Bowmanville, Welland and then you go play all the same clubs again. You use social media as your tool to communicate with new fans after each show, you know in your heart this is just the tip of the iceberg and giving up pushing forward at any moment will mean failure. You know all your hard work could fall to pieces if just one member stops pushing forward or even quits. It happens, but it’s not the end, it’s just another speed bump. Speed bumps do not stop you, they just slow you down for a few seconds. It’s the year two mark and you’ve managed to push through all those speed bumps and jump through hoops of fire. You’ve sold 1000 CD's and you’ve got 300,000 views on your YouTube channel. Yes, you still work full time at the call center or the local fast food place. You still teach music lessons on the side. You still manage to write new songs in the van and rather than going out drinking on a night off the band will work on that new arrangement.

This is what small indie labels and managers are looking for. Persistence, hard work...not giving up or using excuses like “well my job takes up all my time” or “I can’t find a job in Niagara so I could never afford to record my songs”. Those mind sets just clear the crowds for those musicians who are willing to go the distance. If you are not willing to invest in yourself, meaning time, money, and pain then no one else will either.

So get off the couch and do what that voice inside you is telling you to do. Get a minimum wage job and put your ego aside for a year. Stop wasting your money getting drunk on the weekends and dig deep into the world of songwriting. Read books that inspire, surround yourself with like minded people. Live. Love. Laugh. Create.

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