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An In-Depth Look at DIY with Founders

“There’s never been a better time to be a musician,” say Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan of indie band Beatnik Turtle. Oh, and the guys also just happen to be the masterminds behind – an amazingly detailed resource for indie artists looking for information on how to build their own career.

Chertkow and Feehan got their start authoring The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual For The Do-It-Yourself Musician and The DIY Music Manual: How To Record, Promote, And Distribute Your Music Without A Record Deal. In short, these guys know a thing or two about DIY.

IndieGuide_LogoWe spoke to Chertkow and Feehan about what it takes for musicians to do it all themselves, and why, as Jim Morrison put it, “the time to hesitate is through.” Here’s what they had to say:

GH: Should the process of becoming a successful band be all about getting the attention of a label, or are we at a point where thriving indies should be saying no to label attention?

RC/JF: “The choice as to whether to go with a label or not is up to each band. But that’s the important thing: it’s a choice, not a necessity. In the past musicians had to go for the record deal. Today, it’s just a business decision.

We’ve interviewed more than one musician who made it on their own, finally got the attention of a label, and were made an offer. They looked at it, asked: What am I getting for you taking more than 60% of the income that I’m living off today? The answer they got from the label turned out to add nothing that they weren’t already doing for themselves. They each said no to record deals. It would cost them too much to cut them in.”

On Gighive, we talk a lot about building an ‘alternative industry’ to that of the major label-dominated corporate dinosaur. What would you want that alternative industry to look like?

“This world already exists, because there’s no longer a single music industry. Rather, there are industries around music that are very mature now. There’s a CD manufacturing industry. There’s a digital music sales industry. There’s a T-shirt making industry. There are graphic arts professionals that handle logos and such. And there’s a music production industry.

If you think of a band as a business that needs a certain set of services to succeed — no different than any other business — you start to see how there’s income from various activities like playing live, selling merch, selling music, and licensing, and there’s products and services you need to make this business activity happen. You can choose which of these activities to do, and, even better, you can do a lot of it yourself.”

On, you talk a lot about alternative revenue streams that the average indie band can pursue. Are the days of earning a living off selling CDs and mp3s over?

“The days of bands making money solely off recorded music in some ways never existed in the first place. That was the world of the labels. Signed bands just made an advance, which was a one-time payment, and wasn’t really regular income. Most bands never saw another penny off their recorded music except for the very rare few that recouped their original advance.

So bands mostly made their money off live shows, merchandise, licensing, endorsements, and performance royalties, and considered their recorded music as a promotional cost. In some ways, it’s the same thing today for independent bands. As for signed bands today, the labels are increasingly finding that the music sales aren’t enough, and are taking a cut of all these traditional sources, hence the 360 deals that we’ve been hearing about.”

What are some alternatives that the average musician can pursue?

“Music sales are a component of it, but it rarely beats live shows as regular income. The others are all possible too — licensing, writing music for hire, selling merchandise, etc. — and they’re all within reach of musicians with a bit of work. We’ve done them all with our own band, Beatnik Turtle, except direct endorsements, but even that’s possible. For instance, 25% of now is about hooking bands up with companies looking for music for promotional purposes.”

Here’s the tough question: you say that it’s not about getting signed anymore, it’s about getting fans. However, can fans, particularly online fans, actually lead to a viable career in music?

“Yes they can, but of course you need to work to make it happen. One of our favorite indie musicians, Jonathan Coulton, is doing just what you describe. He’s making a living and paying the mortgage solely through his music income, and many times, it’s his fans that help him get opportunities. For instance, a video game company asked him to write music for one of their games simply because the creators of the game were fans of his music.

Fans are more than just people who buy your music or stand in front of the stage nodding their head when you play. They can also bring you the best opportunities. So winning as many as possible is your best path to success. The same is true of us: Our own band Beatnik Turtle recently got a music licensing deal through a fan of ours. She recently got into a position to choose music for a project she was working on with, a fantasy and sci-fi publisher, and worked with us to help them with their podcast’s theme music.”

Do you have a great success story you could share with us? Something to keep us warm at night?

“We know a lot of them. Besides Jonathan Coulton, check out George Hrab, who has been making a living off his music for quite some time. His “day job” is playing in a popular wedding band, the Philadelphia Funk Authority. But his other gigs include writing and performing his own music (he has multiple albums and tours around the country) and producing a very smart and funny podcast each week.

Also check out Grant Baccocio, of Throwing Toasters, who also has a successful children’s podcast called “The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd“. Most musicians who have achieved success have done so by weaving a number of activities around their music. By doing so, each activity promotes the other.

The stories that seem to excite people the most tend to be the Cinderella stories. But in all our interviews and discussions with actual successful musicians out there doing-it-themselves, those lucky breaks came after working hard on their music and building it themselves so they could take advantage of those moments.”

If you’d like to hear more of what Chertkow and Feehan have to say about DIY strategies for indie musicians, check them out on one of their many online HQs:

Beatnik Turtle





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