Ode to the Independent Music Hustler
Independent music hustler – I have nothing but love for you. That's right, each and every single one of you who have had the heart to make your mind up that you wanted to do music – and you wasn't going to wait around for someone to put you in position or show you the way.
This goes out to each and every indie music entrepreneur all across the United States, and all over the whole wide world, who has had the courage to put your vocals, your beats, your heart and soul on tape, disk, wax, and the Internet for us, the listener, to judge and listen to.
This goes out to every single one of you who have incorporated industry-speak words into your vocabulary. Words like "distribution", "points", "publishing", "placement", "market share", "page views", "box office", and "promo". You might not even know what the hell you are talking about, but at least you seem like you know the language.
Don't worry, most of the other people you talk that shit with will not know what you are talking about either.
I might have met you outside of some showcase somewhere either trying to sell me your album, or handing me a copy of your life's work for free. You have helped contribute to the world's escalating pollution issues by hanging your posters all over the telephone and power line poles. You leave flyers under every windshield. You slap stickers up against any surface they won't fall off of. You will do it all and call it "promotion". You will get your friends to help you and call yourselves a "street team".
I have probably seen a million of you on some non-descript stage somewhere, delivering the performance of your life, hoping that someone out in the audience might have the power to change it. I've seen many of you who have no interest in a powerful benefactor; you rather build your own empire your damn self.
Many of you have day jobs. You have families, bills to pay, and a million other obligations that are constantly pulling you away from your dream. Some of you are so young; you still have time to figure out if you want to do this after high school. Some of you are eligible to attend your twenty-year class reunion.
Some of you never made it all the way through high school and look at this music game as the best shot you have at being a personal success. Some of you have the education to TEACH high school, but STILL hold the desire to grip mics and/or pound out tracks on your MPC.
So many of you are standing outside the sidewalk of my local convenience store; you simply forget you just sold me your album a few weeks ago. Don't try to tell me that THIS version has been mixed and mastered better than the first, I know you bullshittin me – I've done it too.
This is for those who want to do this thing so bad that you don't take the time to learn how to work the software before you begin trying to use it. ALL your shit sounds distorted, but when I hear your sales pitch and hear your potential, I can't help but feel deep down inside that, not only might you make it, but you might make the song that is going to change someone's life.
Some of you are so good at all the elements of this game that it is CRIMINAL that the only technique you have yet to master is how to become a success. Your flows could be the music, your lyrics could be published as raw poetry, and your tracks could reinvent the game if they only had an opportunity to enter the playing field of public consciousness.
You have rewritten your definition of success a million times. Every time you do this, you demonstrate a willingness to settle for less if you could just have…something. You get excited, and then you get discouraged. Opportunities come and bring you hope, and then they turn around and break your heart.
You quit the game, place ads to sell your equipment, make the declaration for the hundredth time that perhaps "It's time I stopped lying to myself." Then you go back to Craigslist and remove the ad, before anyone has a chance to respond and start the process all over again.
You have spent your last dime on studio time, postage to mail off another CD, gas to get to one more show, another promo package, another set of pictures, an engineer who can truly "bring out the best in your sound", and a second engineer to correct what he/she fucked up.
You have purchased equipment, only to see it fall out of favor, written songs no one will ever hear, copied popular styles just to try and get a hit, and banged your head trying to come up with a signature style of your own.
You have been called great. Some have called you shit. You have seen great reviews, and you have experienced bad reviews. You have been told by many to "Stop taking this shit so personal. It's just music." You have been told, sometimes by the same people, that your music is not personal enough.
You have made a little bit of money, but more often than not, you have spent more than you will ever make back. You have gone to conferences, seminars, listening parties, DJ pools, beat battles, mic battles, open mics, and talent shows. You have been told, "You are the complete package!" You have been told that, "You just don't have what it takes."
Your look is wrong. You don't have enough "swagger". You're too "hood". You're not "hood" enough. The streets won't feel you. Your beats are wrong. Your beats are too "different". You are too old. You are not cute enough. You are too cute for this style of music. You sound too much like such-and-such. You're too "underground". You're too "pop". You're not "pop" enough. You don't sound like everyone else. You live in the wrong city. The "industry" is tanking.
No one buys music anymore. Everyone bootlegs nowadays. There is too much competition. You've been doing this since you were a kid and have seen no returns on investment. You second-guess yourself. Your confidence collapses, rise again, and then falls, once more, to the floor. Your lover does not understand. Your family does not understand. Many times, you don't understand this shit yourself.
So many reasons to just lay the game down and forget it.
It would be so much easier if you just decided to walk away.
Yet, you stay at it.
You keep pushing up against the odds. You keep submitting records for reviews. You keep hitting the college stations. You keep contacting writers for web pages, magazines, record pools, and station directors for stations large and small. You keep lingering outside the service stations, the malls, the shows, and the hotels, in downtowns of cities big and small.
You keep pressing those flyers, those CDs, and that vinyl too. You keep posting files online. You post comments to others and ask them to listen to you. You keep asking for five dollars for that CD, and when you can't get it, you accept that donation. You stay hitting conferences, seminars, listening parties, and record pools.
You attack every contest like it could be the one that puts you where you want to be – because it just might. You keep writing, producing, remixing, promoting, recording, and distributing – even when it feels like you are not going anywhere.
Most importantly, you keep right on dreaming when everyone else says you should just be happy to sleep. You do it because, at the end of the day, you love this shit – and it just might change someone's life.
Stay on your grind.
Maybe you might have to readjust the target, but there's nothing wrong with the aim.
There are no rules for this. Even though we keep making up rules for life, it is only because we are desperate to try to dictate what we want to be, and what we would like for the world to be, instead of accepting that anything can happen.
What we want is security in a world where nothing is certain.
Every note you record, every flyer you put out, every time you reach out to put your heart in my hand – and in my stereo – I feel you.
Keep hustling; keep flowing.
DS Bros, for still believing that a man and a beat can make a difference.
Jack Beazly, for being the consummate professional who only needs one real shot to blow.
Gee, for reinventing your mind, and then sharing the lessons for anyone who needs to hear it.
To Myself. Because sometimes, you need to give yourself a moment of clarity.
Originally posted: June 10, 2008