Being a damn Independent Artist..
Updated: Mar 11
Can be very, very frustrating to say the least.
If you've been following me for the last few years you should know that I've discussed my frustrations of being an independent artist on every social media platform I use.
And for those of you who don't know what an independent artist is, let's define that word before we even begin:
An unsigned artist, unsigned band or independent artist is a musician or musical group not under a contract with a record label. The terms are used in the music industry as a marketing technique. Bands that release their own material on self-published CDs can also be considered unsigned bands.
So I've been an independent artist my entire career since releasing music in 2012. I've paid for every music video, song release, physical/digital advertisement and so forth.
Like I mentioned, it can be very frustrating to say the least. But for the most part, being an independent artist can be very, very rewarding as well.
Back in the day before 360 deals, gimmicks, wannabe social media singers and mumble rappers, there were independent artists I'm sure but most artist dreamt of signing to a record label to help make them a star.
Before modern shows like America's Got Talent, American Idol and The Voice, back in the day I remember watching singing competition shows like Star Search and my most favorite, Showtime at the Apollo.
These platforms gave superstar hopefuls the opportunity to showcase their chops before an audience and what I enjoyed the most was the originality and passion that exuded from both the talented and the not so talented ones.
Passion is what kept me going and gave me the determination to grow and become better as an artist. Like I've mentioned in my previous blog, I could not sing like I can now. It took a lot of preparation and developing of my raw talent. Nearly ten years to be exact.
And I say that to say..
Being an independent artist is what taught me how to apply myself more because I know there isn't a "machine" behind me to help sell and push my music. Everything that I do and each decision I make is solely up to me.
Now that's one of the most rewarding parts of it.
But, that can also be a very daunting task for most independent artists if you don't take the time to sharpen your skillset in graphic design, learning how to play new instruments, music business marketing, recording, engineering, videography and the list goes on.
Yeah, I know right.
Back in the day, before social media, artists weren't required to learn how to create graphics for billboards and newspaper advertisements that promoted their music. They didn't have to subject themselves to daily TikTok dance videos and gimmicks to help promote their music either. The artists that I grew up listening to led with their gift and it provided a way for most of them to become the superstars that we know of today.
Those same artist went through what they use to call "Artist Development" back in the day where you were media trained, taught how to improve your stage presence and so forth. Nowadays artists don't have that and most of the artists you hear on the radio have probably signed a 360 Deal with no ownership to their Masters and have some sort of gimmick (aside from talent) that helped catapult them into overnight superstardom.
I would list a few for reference purposes but I'm being mindful of the fact that I'm still working my way into the industry and I don't want no smoke right now.
So I digress on that.
As an independent artist myself I've never really had a "budget" when it comes to anything I do. If I need business cards, new recording software, microphones, a rehearsal space or anything else pertaining to my career, I've spent thousands on it already without a second thought.
There's also some damage control that could've been done to avoid certain situations like my electric being cut off or my car being repossessed a few times because I spent the money on what I needed for my music career, but let's save that for another blog.
Artists and anyone who plan to run a successful business: Budget your damn money and make sure you have a plan. "Winging it" doesn't work the best all the time. I've learned my lesson and let's say, I'll never do that shit again.
A lot of the frustrations that most of my fellow indie artists and I have are the following:
Extraordinary artists aren't celebrated like they use to
Instead of creating great music and allowing that to make room for everything else, there's more politics that factor in todays music industry. Take Rick James and Patti LaBelle for example
They expressed themselves in the most authentic way possible. Their music was raw, funky and they "left it all on the stage" as they use to say back in the day. Their style was outrageously creative, their music was astounding and they had the "It" Factor.
Reminder: They actually could sing, dance and entertain.
That was respected in their time. Artist had a style, a sound and an essence unlike the others that surrounded them. Today, artist like Doja Cat are praised but there are other artists who can't rap or sing nearly as good but seem to top every chart and steal the spotlight because of a "viral" moment that they've had.
The talent nowadays who are extraordinary like (one of my favorites) Durand Bernarr should be number one on the charts and performing at every award show just like the mumble rappers and autotune singers that we hear day in and day out.
2. The playing field is not the same as it use to be 10 years ago
Like I said before, the music industry has changed and I personally know that you must be able to adapt in order to stay successful or "relevant" in today's industry.
As frustrating as that is, I know that I must TikTok, do these silly challenges and take the long road to where I eventually want to be. Along with that, record labels are giving shitty deals due to record sales plummeting and the evolution of the digital age.
Along with this 10+ year change, social media has given people who aren't even "artists" the opportunity to showcase their "skills" and become famous from something stupid that they've said or done online. Imagine building your skills to become the best that you can be and a record label that you'd love to sign to signs someone who never even thought about becoming an artist.
Trust me, it's happened way too many times.
Let's discuss some of the things that I actually do enjoy.
I do what I want, when the fuck I want to do it
As exhausting as it is being an independent artist sometimes we need to take a break. Even the most successful artist like Beyoncé takes a break every now and then to recharge, sharpen our skills and just simply relax.
As an artist or public figure we are always expected to be "ON" all the time. We entertain, we smile, we sing, we act and we're suppose to be this perfect role model to those who look up to us. I use to put a lot of pressure on myself to always stay on social media, write music and so forth but I've noticed that some of my best work comes after taking a fucking break.
What else do I enjoy about being an Independent Artist? Well..
2. I own my shit and I can potentially make more money overall
3. I'm able to be more creative and experiment with my sound while growing
Overall, I think there are pros and cons to doing anything but as an independent artist right now I'm enjoying my freedom. I know there's more responsibility and work that I must do to become successful but I think when I do decide to sign to a label, I should be more informed about the business and far more grounded in who I am as a person/artist without negative outside influences.
As an independent artist I also support other Independent artists.
Here are a few other independent artist that I follow and you should check out too:
"J.Larry is an eloquent wordsmith from Panama City, Florida. As a rapper in today’s climate, J.Larry’s artistry is consistent with the true essence of Hip-Hop. With the rapping prowess that J.Larry possesses, one would think he’s somebody that’s been rapping his whole life; but surprisingly, this is not the case whatsoever. Without a clear direction of where he wanted to take his life, he enlisted in the Air Force upon graduating high school and ended up being stationed in South Dakota of all places. As an aficionado of Hip-Hop and with nothing better to do, he started writing raps and poetry in his phone and the rest is history."
Most people who I follow on social media don't have my personal phone number but J. Larry does so obviously this guy means a lot to me. We've collaborated before on multiple songs including "Cain Griffin" and "Bittersweet Tendencies" that are both very uplifting and super dope records that I was honored to be apart of.
J. Larry is one of those rappers who is far from gimmicks and amateur in anything that he does. Everything is authentic, genuine.. done with soul and purpose. It's very rare to find someone who's as talented as he is in music and now photography but also down to earth uplifting everyone around him too.
I sent him a text a few minutes ago and asked a few questions that I think will help showcase his greatness even more. Check it out and don't forget to stream his music everywhere.
1. How would you describe your connection to music as an artist yourself?
Music is a form of expression. Often times music allows us to express ourselves when we don’t personally have to words to describe how we feel. (Or from the perspective of an artist, it may be a form of therapy where you can release how you feel with no judgement.) Music is vibration that taps into everyone’s “core frequency” in a different way.
2. You often use the word “passion” in everything your associate with including music, your visuals and social media posts. Why is passion important to you and how does it help represent who you are as a person?
Passion: to have a powerful or compelling emotion. I am passionate that’s just who I am, may have something to do with the Zodiac not sure. But me saying “passion” for an example before rhymes is just a reminder to self… to CARE. Don’t half ass it, anytime i do something & I’m passionate about it.. I succeed.
People can hear it, hell they can see it.. so “PASSION” (which I say before a lot of things) is literally just self programming to reminding me… to CARE about what is it I’m doing.
Other honorable mentions:
With a sound that has been coined as "Gangster Musical Theatre" by Qveen Herby, Durand Bernarr is one-part Little Richard, one-part Rick James, plus a heavy dash of powerhouse vocals & witty lyrical storytelling. The result is uniquely Durand - your favorite singer’s favorite singer. In 2020, Durand made huge waves with his self-titled album DUR&, which debuted at the #1 spot on the Apple Music R&B charts. Featuring collaborations with the likes of Ari Lennox, KAYTRANADA, Anna Wise, & bassist, “Buddah” Foster Jr., DUR& is as playful, witty & sonically imaginative as it is packed with infectious hooks and just plain GOOD singing. In the words of Lena Waithe, who named Durand as one of her favorite singers, “Durand Bernarr is an amazing artist that kills it all the time.”
Dimitri has used the inspiration from his time as a Michael Jackson tribute artist to become a pheonom in his own right. He has spent countless hours learning and developing routines to the point of crisp precision that makes a presentation that just has to be seen and is always worth the price of addmission. The legendary Vaughan Mason, best known for his million selling hit " Bounce, Rock, Skate Roll", chose to be Dimitri's manager for all these reasons. Dimitri has been recording a versatile collection of pop and R&B songs guaranteed to rock the club, the radio and, combined with his visual performance, sold out venues across the world. He is currently continuing to work hard paying his dues to complete his climb to stardom.
Versatile hitmaker Furillostar proves he is a force to be reckoned with. Hailing from Flint, MI, Furillostar sheds a new light on his city as he seamlessly blends R&B and pop to form head bumping radio-style hits. Furillo’s most recent EP, Flame , sent his name on a skyrocket through the industry. Flame debuted at #47 on iTunes R&B album charts, landing Furillo a slot among some of the most notable names in the industry. The success of Flame led to Furillio being featured in some of the most esteemed publications in the industry such as Billboard and PAPER Magazine. Preceding the success of Flame, Furillostar released a remix of breakout hit “Txt’n Me” which reached the artist’s all-time high peak of #7 on iTunes R&B charts. As “Txt’n Me” and subsequently, Flame , rose through the charts, Furillostar became a name associated with fun, flirtatious, and feel-good songs. “Furillostar's music often recalls the glorious early-aughts heyday when mainstream pop radio was saturated with insanely catchy R&B melodies by everyone from Destiny's Child to Jagged Edge” (PAPER Magazine). With a wide range of influences, Furillostar leaves his listeners begging for more. All eyes are on Furillo, as his rise to mainstream success becomes inevitable.
Flint native Brelia Renee from stepping into the ring and following her dreams. The singer-songwriter and dancer has made waves throughout the community with incredible vocals and stellar performances. Compared to her peers in rap and Hip Hop, Renee is one of two handfuls of R&B singers in the city—a fact she wants to see change.
Bronx-bred rhymer ASARU who now calls the South home, is emerging in music with his limitless lyrical approach that is both versatile and assertive. As a result, this trailblazing talent was recently dubbed one of Creative Loaf’s “22 Tampa Bay Rappers to Watch in 2022”! As a NY-native, staying true to his roots, ASARU rocks the mic like a boxer stepping into the ring declaring “it’s showtime!”! Although, this lyricism is reminiscent of a bygone era in hip- hop — ASARU manages to keep the style fresh and exciting! With a decade into his artistry, Asaru is gearing to take the culture by storm displaying skill, authenticity and originality. Additionally showcasing strength and power in his voice to produce a significant shift in energy. At a young age, Asaru possessed an unmatched stage presence that striked every person who witnessed it. Too young to get into clubs, the godfather of Tampa hip-hop, DJ Sandman provided the emerging emcee a platform to perfect his craft. Since the start, Asaru has touched and dominated a number of stages and in 2022, he’s taking things up a notch.
Hailing from San Diego, CA, Ryan Nealon is an up and coming singer/songwriter who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. With his music being cited as “fragile, emotional, and beautiful” (Robert Dye, American Songwriter), Nealon strives to connect to his listeners through his own personal experience. After relocating to Los Angeles in 2013, Nealon has performed across the United States, has been included in over 100 publications such as Earmlik, the San Diego Union Tribune, Instinct Magazine, and American Songwriter, has had his music placed on both Apple Music and Spotify editorial playlists, is an ambassador for non-profit organizations such as AFSP, MADD, Boo2Bullying, and NoStigmas, and has garnered over 5 Million Streams on his catalog. One of Nealon's latest releases "What Makes A Man" has already garnered over 200,000 streams after going viral on TikTok, and had even gained the attention of Grammy Award Winning Singer/Songwriter Meghan Trainor. Nealon's next release "Strangers," is about his experience living in Los Angeles during his early 20's and dealing with imposter syndrome and is out now.
To all of my independent artists and other entrepreneurs, continue to do what you love and do not rush the process. It's okay to be discouraged, loose confidence, take a break and rediscover yourself all over again to become better. It's all apart of the process.
Thank you for sharing your gift to the world. Not many people understand the ups and downs of this business and are willing to sacrifice it all for something they love like we do. It's tough, but can be very rewarding if you remain persistent.
Take care of yourself,