Tips and tricks for the age of the DIY musician

This is a guest post by Ben from Subreel, a website for DIY musicians featuring how-to guides, equipment reviews and tips for audiophiles.

People often look back on music from 20, 30 or 40 years ago with rose-tinted glasses. Music can be tied to memories, and those who make music are more guilty than most of uttering the words ‘in my day…’

Music is subjective, and though it is entirely pointless to compare genres or even quality of music, one thing that cannot be denied is how much easier it has become to learn, write, record and distribute music. Musicians should feel liberated, and though many of us have romantic images of being involved in music scenes from years gone by, the hurdles we had to jump over years ago made being a musician downright difficult.

In the 90s, for instance, the process would have looked something like this:

  1. Write some songs alone or with other musicians.
  2. Find the money to head to a recording studio to create a (far from polished) demo.
  3. Send demo to everyone and anyone who will listen in the hope that somebody pays the big fees to record and produce a release, which they will then take about 85-90% of the income on, on the off chance that you sell any copies.

This was the pattern for hundreds of bands and gave rise to some exceptional music, but this process was long, expensive and for most of us, frustrating.

Home Recording

It is not an exaggeration to say that a song could be written, recorded, mixed and released in the same day here in the 21st century. It is an extreme example yes, but it goes to show the technology we have at our fingertips. This doesn’t assume a home studio either. Much as we would all love to have access to an abbey road replica in our garage, it isn’t going to happen, and in most cas, s some homemade acoustic treatments and a USB microphone can do a good job of at least seeing us through an acoustic demo of a track. “I don’t know how to record music” is the next obstacle, and brings me nicely to my next point…

Access to Knowledge

Learning. We live in an age of information, trade secrets are becoming a thing of the past as we all have access to tutorials and guides to empower us. Musically, these sorts of tutorials are everywhere. A quick search for “home recording guides” brings hundreds of people ready to show you how to record piano, acoustic guitar, electric guitar and even begin to add virtual instruments, drum patterns and effects. If you get stuck, forums full of musical fanatics are ready to help on your musical journey. New information is being uploaded to YouTube every day, and in virtually every musical niche you can envisage. Tutorials for your chosen software, instrument, even your particular type of microphone can be found with a simple search.

Releasing and Distributing

Releasing is the next step. Even a decade ago this was a challenge, but not anymore. Thanks to companies like Bandcamp, releasing your music is as simple as…well, uploading it and naming a price (or not). No need to deal with your own website or complex paywall systems, just upload and let other companies do the work. Likewise, there are plenty of distribution and marketing companies ready to, for a small fee, get your music on iTunes, spotify or Spotifythe other massive music marketplaces and streaming platforms.

Promotion

For those of us willing to put in the legwork, promotion is something made far simpler by the internet. 20 years ago promoting your music without a budget was nigh on impossible. It isn’t easy now, and the shear volume of music created means that making yours shine through can be a challenge in and of itself. If you are willing to hustle though, finding music journalists and blogs on twitter, building a following on YouTube and promoting your music and gigs on Facebook and other online platforms can propel your music to the next level.

Are all of these methods flawless? Perhaps not. USB microphones have come in for criticism, but the technology is improving. Recording yourself may not be quite as good as if you have Tony Visconti and a $1million studio at your disposal, and emailing music journalists may not be as effective as a major record labels PR team, but the point is that it is easier than ever to get started, and musicians everywhere should be extremely excited by that.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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