by MATT BACON >
One of the big struggles of the music industry is always going to be the lack of predictability – especially on the underground and DIY level. Sometimes the shows you booked on a tour with promoters you know end up falling apart, other times the cool new merch idea you had that you put a lot of money into end up not selling at all and make you the laughingstock of your scene. These things happen. These things force us to reevaluate a lot about our industry and make us understand that it’s very difficult to get anywhere within an industry that is frequently evolving, is fickle and which rarely has any money to back projects.
It’s the sort of thing that is frequently a struggle to really wrap your head around and developing within it requires a lot of financial resources, humility and patience, a combination which frequently doesn’t work out among 4 or 5 people in the same band for reasons that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
A lot of this instability is because on the DIY level no one really knows what they are doing.
Now that isn’t a slight against DIY as much as a comment on the youthful, devil may care attitude of the lifestyle. People can read articles and try to act on them, but at a low level your professionalism has just as much impact as luck. This means there’s a lower bar of entry and this of course has always been crucial for bands trying to get somewhere in this industry. It also hopefully means that you can do more stuff in the future. It’s a building block from which we go to create a greater and more stable thing. It’s the next step that a lot of us need to take in order for things to make sense for the broader collective. Still – it’s highly unpredictable because it’s essentially a volunteer job and the people involved often don’t have career aspirations – meaning they aren’t quite as likely to truly bust their balls for you or pull favors to get another five people out.
Furthermore there is instability because the money simply isn’t there.
You know how people talk about how folks who get paid minimum wage aren’t paid enough to care? Well it’s the exact same shit in my eyes with DIY music. If you have a promoter who is going to bust his ass for a month in order to get a show that MIGHT make him thirty bucks then you aren’t going to be dealing with the cream of the crop exactly. Of course you want to go through professional promoters but at the end of the day – those guys are in extremely high demand and they are going to be very careful to make sure that they aren’t competing with a million other shows. They don’t want things to blow up in their respective faces because they are professionals after all. Sure some of them might take a risk now and again, but not enough that you can rely on it to make you money over the long term and to ensure your long term success as a touring band. This also of course applies to managers and all the rest of it – its a fucked up world.
There’s a reason you don’t see a lot of older people in this game after all – it’s a fucking hard thing to do. You are constantly grinding and frequently playing to no one. There’s a lot of shows where even your homies don’t come out and you find yourself eating crow time and time again. I know it blows and I know it’s part of the game. It’s what we need to wrap our heads around as we try to develop in this industry because there’s simply so much that sucks. The music industry isn’t really a place where we have a lot of breathing room, rather it’s the sort of place where we need to sit back and try and reflect on the inherent suffering the entire thing gives us. While this is most prevalent on tour I think it’s easy to diminish the long hours that your bands main dude or manager might be putting into a band, grinding away until they feel weak and then doing it some more because they love some stupid little thing like music just so goddamn much that they are willing to give up years and years of their lives for it.
Ultimately this is a big part of why people vie for stability.
How even the biggest supporters of DIY, the folks who somehow figure out how to make some money off of it, are still vying for label positions. It’s not because they are selling out it’s because they want to not be dealing with the constant stress of stupid bands and struggling with promoters .I know that’s not an easy thing and I know it’s something takes a while to wrap your head around but that’s part of the inherent trauma of this industry. You find yourself constantly choking on bullshit and wondering paths forward that don’t really make sense anymore. Trying to figure out how to navigate these twisted pastures and trying to figure out a way to have some form of stability is the real trick of it. After all the struggle of the music industry largely come from the fact that no matter how hard you work you will need to rely on others and those others frequently don’t have the wherewithal to go forward and won’t be as invested as you are.
It’s a scary world out there and I know that I can’t provide a lot of comfort.
A lot of things about a lot of days in the music industry outright suck. It’s just the way it is in a world where we must constantly mourn for a lost generation. We try to buy the dream of a time that never really existed, a dream fueled by multiple viewings of Almost Famous, by glamorous rock documentaries and pictures of a time forgot. But never forget the scams and the struggles, the feast and the famine, this is what defines the industry. No matter how hard you work it sometimes will suck no matter what you do. Time to grin and bear it.