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Best Policy Music

The Essay

Why You Should Support Self-publishing Musicians and Bands

Self-publishing musicians are among the most passionate artists working today. The self-publishing, independent musician makes his art as a labor of love, and will likely do it whether anyone is buying it or not. It is through these people that you can get a sense of the true heartbeat representative of a community, a raw look at the music as it’s being made without the overbearing influence of moneyed interests and profit priorities. For the sake of developing stronger, freethinking minds, I believe that people should make an effort to support more independent, self-published music sources.

A self-publishing musician, in the context of this essay, means a musician who does not have a record contract, a sponsorship, or a publishing deal. This is distinguishable from an “independent” artist in the sense of one (or a group) who is signed to a contract with an “independent” record label, or from those who identify with the ‘indie’ genre of pop/rock music. Ryan Schreiber, former editor and founder of Pitchfork Media, says the term ‘indie’ has, “for years, been sort of the de facto label for an entire subculture of idealistic artists and music fans who place a lot of stock in the idea of making music for yourself or your friends, rather than for profit or popularity” (qtd. in Andrews). By "self-publishing" I mean the artist(s) creates their material on their own time, they write and record by their own means, and they are directly responsible for their own publicity and promotion. "Musician" in this context means someone who performs music in some way, be it on or through an instrument, by voice, or other actively-produced rhythmic &/or tonal sound that contributes to the performance of a piece. I do not, for the sake of this essay, intend to include “purely electronic music,” which, in “What is Electronic Music”, Thom Holmes describes as, “the use of computers ... software and other technologies” (5). This includes sample loops, programmed beats, and other graphically-generated, manipulated and stored sound triggers. My point is to support self-published musicians, and is not to promote these ‘DJs’, whose skill may deserve to be rewarded in its own field, recognizing it for what it is, but I do not include these sources of entertainment in my categorization of "musicians."

Supporting self-published musicians rewards hard work. It takes a lot to learn to play an instrument. It takes dedication, persistence, and, if you’re a songwriter as well, a developed sense of creativity. The mainstream hitmakers doing stadium tours around the world, they’re getting their reward. That’s not to say that stardom doesn’t come with its own challenges. But for independent, self-financed, self-publishing musicians, they still need to pay for their art, often while working elsewhere for a living. With the rise of social media and online music-sharing services, promotion has taken on a whole new path, with a much wider audience. These new technologies “enable artists to reach new global audiences and engage with them in ways that can facilitate more stable, financially self-sustaining independent careers” (Haynes and Marshall). This is a great opportunity for artists and consumers alike. Independent, uniquely creative artists can now publish their material on a nearly equal platform as that of the ‘majors,’ and consumers can explore nearly endless collections of artists and bands they may have never heard before. This means that, without a big investment, they could listen to fresh music every day.

By the time music shows up in the soundtrack of our world, it has usually been through a rigorous process of milking all the value from it at every stage of its development. We hear what ‘they’ want us to hear, and we are conditioned to like what they want us to like.

The self-publishing website for musicians, Bandcamp, uses the tagline, "Discover amazing new music and directly support the artists who make it." This is a concept that has grown exponentially in recent decades. Self-publishing artists can record what they want and what they feel, and they can distribute it without going through a chain of producers and executives who want to make changes to maximize sales, eliminating much of the passion in the process. They can “circumvent the ‘major label’ hegemony and market directly to a potential audience using new media” (Brown 522). Self-publishing musicians and bands offer much more variety than you get in the mainstream. You will hear ideas and creativity that you are not going to get from the major labels and popular television.

Those of us blessed with the auditory sense listen to music. It’s everywhere: on the TV and the radio, video and audio clips on websites and social media, in the background of every feature and advertisement and news program. We may not even realize it’s there, but it’s setting a mood. Patrik N. Juslin and Daniel Västfjäll, in “Emotional Responses to Music: The Need to Consider Underlying Mechanisms”, note that “people value music primarily because of the emotions it evokes” (559). We’re actually being conditioned by the types of music commonly used in all these instances. The popular styles are what we hear, and we choose our preferences from among them. By the time music shows up in the soundtrack of our world, it has usually been through a rigorous process of milking all the value from it at every stage of its development. We hear what ‘they’ want us to hear, and we are conditioned to like what they want us to like. In his Psychology Today post from January 17, 2012, Raj Raghunathan Ph.D. explains, “one could say that we are hardwired to feel that the ‘known devil is better than the unknown angel.’” That keeps us buying the high-priced tickets and extensive download packages, not to mention the products these personalities endorse. It also has the potential to combine the messages of the mainstream artists, creating a general brainwashing and programming based on the agenda of the rich. We are conditioned away from music that defies the standards of the mainstream and encourages us to think for ourselves. If it doesn’t aspire to take its place in that role of being a shill for the megalith of mainstream, it’s less likely that you’ll hear it.

It is the goal of many self-publishing musicians to become financial successes with their music, potentially signing to a major label, getting a movie deal, or landing a video game soundtrack or the like. One of the dreams is “...finding music business success via the Internet and related technologies” (Brown 519). The Centre for International Economics states that, “far from making a living by making music, the majority of musicians finance music making by making a living” (qtd. in Brown 521). However, with the shift in the culture of music marketing, it has become more likely that someone might aspire to move the other way, from a major label to independent publishing. Take, for example, the story of alternative rock group Radiohead. While they became wildly successful with their debut album Pablo Honey, released on Parlophone Records (UK) and Capitol Records (US) in 1993, after a string of successful albums including The Bends and OK Computer, the band chose to cancel their major-label deal with EMI and revert to a self-publishing arrangement, with which they continued to be successful, and on their own terms. “It can be argued that Radiohead’s success is strongly based in its past relationship with EMI. Without receiving wide exposure, the band may not have ever gained such a large fanbase” (Suhr 127). However, with the self-publishing options made available with do-it-yourself streaming services and social media, a band’s or musician’s career can be in their own hands, giving them complete creative freedom, and control of how and when their music is used. Los Angeles artist Megan Winsor was able to self-release her first studio album, and she “retains creative control over her project and 100% ownership of her music without compromising her vision or independent goals” (Megan). This freedom can be very liberating for an artist, not to mention that bucking the conventions is one of the criteria for establishing “viral” content.

We've all heard the term "going viral." It's a dream for a lot of people who seek attention, or "the limelight." To suddenly become famous overnight is a fantasy far older than the worldwide web, but it's easier now than ever for average citizens to find it happening to them. Independent and self-publishing musicians and artists are those who pay for the privilege of sharing their craft with the world. These are people who are likely to be aware of every sale, appreciative of every view. “The growth of playlists and social media means that an unfamiliar song can pop into a listener's feed and be heard, saved and shared” (Independent). The irony of finding immense viral success from self-publishing a song or video is that, after you’ve found a way around “selling out” for a taste of success, that is when major labels become interested in taking you on. Viral sensations and their reverberations across the internet serve to make people feel included in the world consciousness, the vast awareness. By listening to self-published artists, the listener increases the chance that they will be in on ‘the next big thing’ before it hits: this is a commodity valued by many fans in the music world.

Viral sensations and their reverberations across the internet serve to make people feel included in the world consciousness, the vast awareness.

Stop feeding the beast: The mainstream media machine is a multi-billion-dollar operation glorifying wealth and excess. Too many people fall into the ‘comfort zone’ of buying artists they already know and listen to, even if their music isn’t that good. Name recognition means so much; just because a consumer has heard of the person before, they are much more likely to purchase unheard music based on the familiarity. This is one of the instances in which ‘thinking outside the box’ can pay off. With self-publishing artists, you have a better chance of finding free music, or inexpensive downloads of albums. “[B]uyers in the digital music market can avoid the situation often encountered while shopping in traditional bricks-and-mortar music stores that they buy an album in which only a few songs are interesting to them...” (Liao, et al. 584). Even when you’re not landing on your new favorite act on SoundCloud, you’re finding entertaining examples of what you’re not looking for. Share these with your friends just for the novelty of it. Just because someone is a mainstream success does not mean that they are the among the most talented. In “Understanding the Hegemonic Struggle between Mainstream Vs. Independent Forces: The Music Industry and Musicians in the Age of Social Media”, Hiesun Cecilia Suhr explains that the ‘talent scouting’ of major labels “does not necessarily pertain to the actual talent or a genius of an artist, but rather relates to the evaluations of people in authority and the creation of hype surrounding an artist” (129). This is where the aesthetic appeal of a performer, or a controversy or other attention-getter, is associated with the artist, and the name recognition or sex appeal is the foundation of the marketability of the act. This tends to lead to ‘artists’ creating music for fame and profit, rather than a love of the work. And don’t be fooled by the “indie” label put on some mainstream artists simply because the major labels caught on to the marketability of independents as a genre. Catherine Andrews, in “If it’s Cool, Creative and Different, it’s Indie” explains, “The adoption of indie music by corporations started in the mid-90s, when Nirvana, a fiercely independent rock band from the state of Washington ... convinced mainstream radio and labels that their kind of music could be popular.” This naturally led to the exploitation of the “indie” moniker by the marketing teams of the major labels.

Many people’s lives stand to be enriched if they opened up a social dialog with independent, self-published musical artists. If you don’t know where to look to find music outside of the mainstream, open a SoundCloud or Bandcamp account. Browse through YouTube, clicking the ‘follow-up’ links at the ends of videos to find more obscure things. Try searching keywords that are of interest to you. Bookmark the ones you like, and when you get the chance to listen to music, log in and put on some of these unknown artists. Interact with them: you never know what connections you’ll make. You'll get to hear something that not everyone is listening to, you may come across a few surprises, and you get the chance to possibly introduce some intriguing new sounds to your group of friends. The artists will most likely appreciate the traffic. If a video has 15 or 20 views, then every view is a larger percentage of the total than the drops in the bucket of when you purchase mainstream pop hits. You’ll have a much more satisfying experience with music if you support artists who know you’re there, who you can talk to, and who you can see perform for little or no cost, and with whom you may form lifelong friendships.

If a video has 15 or 20 views, then every view is a larger percentage of the total than the drops in the bucket of when you purchase mainstream pop hits.

©2021 Best Policy Music