How Independent Are DIY Musicians Really?

When I was a teenager, my dad sent me a Youtube video where Patti Smith gave advice to aspiring musicians. She said:

“Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned about doing good work and protect your work.”

Patti Smith Interview: Advice to the Young

Those words always stuck with me. Whatever I was doing, I heard Patti Smith say in the back of my mind: “Your principles are all you have.”

Last month, my musician account was disabled on Instagram because of suspicious activity, leaving me unable to access any of my content or reach out to any of my followers. With an upcoming release on 11 June, it was also the worst timing. I panicked. I cried. I called my friends, outraged about the injustice. Then, I heard Patti Smith in my head say: “Are you actually crying about Instagram?” I remembered her words about protecting my work and staying true to my principles, and something clicked.

As someone who values slow living, mindfulness, and real connection, I was very quick to jump on the bandwagon of promoting everything on social media. However, the return on investment of Instagram – at least for me – has been pretty low. All the hours put in only resulted in reactions from people I already knew engaged with my music. And just like that, they were all gone. So, in reality, I had spent hours promoting Instagram instead of my music.

After my account was shut down, I spent weeks trying to recover it, only to get messages back saying that no one could help with my issue. As I was getting increasingly more frustrated, I also started realising how dependent DIY musicians are on social media. Where do we promote our music if not on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, etc.? Maybe we aren’t dependent on labels anymore, but we are still not independent. And again, I wondered: why did I bother with social media? Did it make me happy? Was I being creative through it, getting any sort of fulfillment, fostering real connection? No. But I was compromising my integrity as a musician by spending valuable time obsessing about social media.

Instagram made me show people a highlight reel of my life and made me jealous of the people I admired. It stressed me out in a way that wasn’t healthy and pushed me to do a form of marketing that felt unnatural to me. So, last week, I made a U-turn. I decided to stop promoting my music on social media. We keep thinking it’s the only option, thus making it the only option. Musicians become increasingly dependent on networks they don’t control, spending valuable time producing content no one pays for, and paying Facebook to get posts seen by at least their own followers. For some musicians, the return is high – they go viral or keep a dedicated following interested in their work. But am I wrong in thinking that for most musicians it really isn’t?

Besides, if everyone is on social media to promote their music, how effective is it? I started brainstorming on other marketing tactics that resonated with me more and fostered a sense of connection I wanted to create with my music – zines, free online workshops, blogging, building my mailing list… The possibilities are endless. Sure, I might not reach thousands of people a day, but let’s be honest… I wasn’t anyway.

Instead of posting on Instagram, I am now gonna run a blog about my music life on this website, so keep an eye out. You can also subscribe to my mailing list and follow me on Bandcamp. My next song ‘Strongest Woman’ is coming out this Friday and all the proceeds will go to Good Night Out, a UK non-profit that’s creating safer nightlife by training up spaces, event organisers, and communities to respond to and prevent sexual violence.

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Published by Erika Severyns

Erika Severyns studied music in London and has recently moved to Berlin to live her best bohemian life. She writes poetry and occasional folk songs about shitty flatmates, having sex in Berlin, and rocking up at boyfriends' houses in the middle of the night.

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