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  •  The EvO:R-Pedia Musicians Tips Section

    Welcome to the EvO:R Tips Section. We call this section EvO:R-Pedia because it is like a complete reference library for Indie musicians...Just about every tip has been used so you won't find false promises and a series of books to buy after reading each tip. This section was put here by musicians so that people that followed can take this knowledge and use it's power.

    Getting Real About Going Independent
    By Gian Fiero

    Once upon a time, not too long ago, most music artists wanted a record deal. Being an independent artist was more of an ambition than a phenomenon. While Ani DiFranco, a non-commercial music artist and the poster child of independence, garnered attention and respect from her peers, she didn't exactly serve as a catalyst to the independent movement.

    Then a highly publicized feud between Prince and Warner Bros. erupted in which he likened his contractual obligations and restrictions to that of a "slave," caught the media's attention and truly galvanized the movement.

    More recently acts such as Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and Madonna have left the homes of major labels and taken-up residency in the independent hotel. Will it be a permanent one? That remains to be seen, but one things for certain: rooms are filling up fast.

    It's apparent that being independent has become a right of passage; a badge of honor and valor that's proudly displayed for other music artists to identify with and applaud...a blueprint for greater autonomy, creativity, and financial dividends. But what does being an independent artist really mean?

    In short, it means being a business person and an entrepreneur. That's the one little (and often overlooked) aspect of "going independent" that I never hear artists discuss, and it's the one major issue I have with industry professionals who promote being independent as more of a lifestyle, than a career choice.

    Most artists are creative, emotional, right-brained people. Those are the intrinsic qualities that make them what they are. Those are also the qualities that make it difficult for them to function and thrive as business people who are required to engage in left-brained activities. But at every conference I attend, and every panel discussion that I witness, there is no mention of the necessity to think and behave like an entrepreneur while being an independent artist. It never comes up.

    Why is that?

    It's because for artists, the choice to "go independent" is often an emotional decision, not a business decision. It's not really a choice that they make, but rather one that is made for them when they are unsuccessful in landing the elusive and rarely obtained record deal. They are not responding to the scarcity of recording contracts, they are reacting to the frustrations that stem from not getting one. This frustration either becomes the fire that fuels their motivation to prove their worth, or the wet blanket that extinguishes their dreams, and validates someone else's opinion about their lack of commercial value.

    They also don't mention that the most successful independent artists either came from, or have affiliation with, a major label.

    By overemphasizing the creative freedoms and bigger paydays that await independent artists, focus is diverted from the monumental task of marketing and promoting music as a business person and entrepreneur. It's tantamount to telling people that they should just leave their jobs and work for themselves. That's unrealistic and downright ridiculous - especially without having the fundamental knowledge of what being self-employed entails. How many self-employed people do you know? Cut that number in half and that's how many successful independent artists there are.

    Make no mistake about it; being an independent artist is the equivalent to being self-employed.

    While everyone can recognize the fringe benefits such as freedom and flexibility that the self-employed enjoy, there are a myriad of challenges that they are constantly faced with in order to survive and succeed. Funding, legalities, taxes, overhead expenses, operational costs, accounting procedures, and attending to endless administrative details are functions of their everyday life. They also have marketing costs, but unlike music artists, they don't sell products that can be obtained for free.

    So what does it take to succeed independently?

    Ironically, operating like a major label. Go figure. The independent movement reminds me of teenagers who don't know what running a household requires, involves, or entails because their parents handle that responsibility. It's not until they have to run their own households that they are forced to learn how to do it own their own. The same holds true of the independent artist who attempt to run their own labels: they discover how expensive it is, and how much work it takes.

    If you are going to get real about going independent and being successful at it (i.e. profitable), be aware that it can't be something that you just do on the weekends; it's a huge business decision that impacts your world both professionally and personally. It requires the same level of preparation, organization and commitment that being a prosperous business person entails. Establishing your success and maintaining it will be one of the hardest things you can do in your life, and one of the most rewarding.

    Gian Fiero is an Independent A&R Specialist who facilitates the commercial use of music and talent in the media, entertainment, and music industries. He currently represents Grammy nominated music producer Cori Jacobs (Beyonce, Pussycat Dolls, Lauryn Hill, Teedra Moses, Brooke Valentine, George Clinton, Hope) and Chris Carter (Backstreet Boys, Jasmine Trias), in addition to being an adjunct professor of music industry studies at San Francisco State University.

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