After I released my drum & bass album back in 2008, I took a long timeout from writing music. I had delivered this huge project with 12 tracks where I did everything myself. I had an amazing time doing the album and independently releasing it was a crazy experience. In the end I sold the entire batch of 1000 pieces and 2000 posters, all over the internet building the entire thing myself, from the music, to the mixing, mastering, to the artwork, to writing the payment processing system, doing all the promotions and folding posters, becoming a publisher to collect my royalties, putting CDs into envelopes and going to the post office on my bicycle to send the new orders off every week.
“Early in the 17th century, a tiny country in Western Europe laid the foundations for what was to be the largest metropolis in the United States. This tiny country was the Netherlands and the city was called New Amsterdam. However, British troops spoiled the fun and invaded the town sixty years later. It was renamed New York City. The Dutch have waited all these years for the right time to strike back. Now four centuries later, that time has come. Let’s retake Manhattan!”
The site is still up at http://retakemanhattan.com if you’re interested.
What I learned was that to be successful in music, you cannot do everything on your own. And even if you can, you don’t want to. You are always going to need others, be it tastemakers, big DJs that push your name. The internet has not changed that. Arguably, I could have benefited from actually getting their respect first before releasing my own album. I did some, but not enough I argue. I also learned that you can market your music to success but you can not force people to like your music.
So my advice to musicians all over the world would be: be stubborn and do your own thing, don’t rely on labels to push you, but do rely on tastemakers (be it DJs or niche YouTube channels) to push you and don’t release your own stuff independently too early. Get really good at making music first. Also, people want to at least see you pushed up by others first before you can go your own way. And with others I mean significant people in a music genre’s scene. And significant people will in fact find you when you make good music. They will. Great music is like valuable information, it wants to be free and it will at some point.
I believe this point goes further than music. Marketing your product and putting it to the market yourself can get you far, but an absolutely great product pushes itself. So did I make a great product? Yes, but it could be a lot better and if I had dedicated the time I spent on marketing and promoting it on making the music better I think it would have gone much further. (Although, it did spin off into a very popular YouTube channel)
Make a great product. Chances are it will push itself before you even thought about marketing it.
P.S. I'm on Twitter too if you'd like to follow more of my stories. And I wrote a book called MAKE about building startups without funding. See a list of my stories or contact me. To get an alert when I write a new blog post, you can subscribe below: