Before the late 1970s, it was nearly impossible for independent musicians to tour and release albums without major label backing. Punk came along and changed all of that in a few different ways. Kids saw that they could, in fact, play music without looking like rock stars or playing like virtuosos. Punk bands also set up concrete DIY models for releasing their own records and setting up their own tours that anyone could follow. The major labels were cut out entirely, and it actually became a case of “you can do this if they put the work in.”
The Internet, in that way, is in those exciting golden years. The infrastructure has been set up and there are several credible models available for reference. There are a staggering amount of resources available to independent bloggers so they can, in fact, do it themselves. That might seem obvious, but it also becomes a valuable thinking point when you start to incorporate the ethics of DIY, independent music into blogging.
Networking, Not Money
After my band played a show the other day, I was sitting around having a beer with another band’s singer while the bar closed up. We were, of course, talking about music. He said something that I knew I already believed—but when he said it, it made an immense impression on me. “Dustin, guys like you and me aren’t playing music to make money or become famous. We do it because we love actually playing music and because we might make some good friends along the way.”
Networking – Bloggers write because, fundamentally, they want their words to be read. In theory, they also want to connect with the people reading those words. They want to talk about what they wrote and why they wrote it. When you begin those conversations, you’ll naturally find some kindred spirits. People let bands sleep on their floors and cook them spaghetti—people comment on your blog and ask you to guest post. You’re making some friends along the way.
A Living – On a small scale, independent level most “career” musicians have a hard time making ends meet. Some of them are even miserable, homeless in between tours and working dead end jobs. “Career” independent bloggers are the same way—just generally without the touring and the homelessness. There are good times to be had in blogging. There is great art to be made. There are new friends to meet. There’s even some money in it—it’s just a hard life to live. If you want to dedicate your life to blogging and make it your primary job, know that there’s a rough road ahead. Dedication is the key. Just as most working stuffs can take a week off go on tour and dedicate some evenings (and sleepless mornings at the office) to play some local shows, know that you can produce great blog content without having to live in your van.
Recognition – There’s a difference between recognition and fame. Famous people make vapid pop hits. Good bands make amazing albums that are recognized by dedicated fans and music lovers. A good blogger strives toward that recognition, but also knows it’s more about the work being understood and appreciated more than it’s about becoming a household name.
Brendan Kelly, front man for The Lawrence Arms, The Falcon and the Wandering Birds sums up the difference between artists seeking some amount of recognition and people who are hungry for fame at any cost, “Frankly, I don’t need to be hanging out with anyone who needs that much attention, and that’s really saying something because I, as well as a lot of my best friends, like to stand on elevated platforms in front of crowds and loudly shout things into amplified microphones. That’s some serious attention seeking behavior, but there’s a difference. Namely, it occupies a time and a place and there’s a certain point where it shuts off.”
The difference between the quest for fame and the quest to be recognized for doing good work is knowing when to shut it off, which is an important bit of knowledge for a good blogger.
Book Your Own Tour
In the 1980s, American punk pioneers Black Flag set up a network of small venues, promoters and housing options for touring bands. Indie bands still follow that network to this day. Likewise, intrepid Internet trailblazers have set up some amazing resources for the independent blogger.
Location – Just as a real indie band does, a good blogger decides where s/he wants his/her content to go. It doesn’t matter what the “pros” and “influencers” say, because as a blogger it is completely up to you. You make your own destiny, and thankfully there are a ton of good maps lying around to guide you to wherever your end destination may be.
Audience – People will tell you “where the money is” and “how to succeed as a blogger.” A good blogger knows, however, that selecting the right audience is imperative. It’s not always about money or the most retweets—it’s about finding the people you actually connect with. Just as Brooklyn indie pop band Hospitality might not go over well at a popular metal club, your content might not be a great fit for every “good” site.
Make Your Own Merch
For DIY bands, it takes a little bit of time and money to get going. They usually spend some cash on their first t-shirts and front the recording bill for their first demo—whether they buy the equipment to do it themselves, or find another local, DIY artist who specializes in those fields to help. Similarly, a good blogger knows that there’s an upfront cost associated with blogging, and that payment can come in the form of either time or money.
Site – There are people out there with good advice, but you should decide what works best for you. Free WordPress and Blogger sits work well for plenty of people, as do bare bones affairs with easy interfaces and inexpensive-but-elegant themes. The people that shout “you must always spend thousands on a web designer!” are full of baloney. Web designers are awesome and do great work, but you’ll know exactly what suits your purposes—which might be a free blog or even just a Tumblr account.
Marketing – Again, there are a ton of marketing professionals and firms out there that can help you get anywhere you want to go, but they’re expensive. If you take the DIY approach you can still make a pretty good run at marketing yourself. There’s plenty of great advice out there, and if you’re a blogger then you’re already a creative person. Who knows—maybe someone will be asking you for marketing advice pretty soon.
The essence of the DIY ethic is this—you make the rules for yourself and put your work out on your terms. No one can tell you where to put your blog posts, what to name your site or who to make friends with. As an independent blogger, you make the choices and put in the work. At the end of the day you might not be raking in cash and writing a regular column for Gawker, but you just might write something innovative that people will actually remember and talk about.
Which one sounds better to you?