“Submitted for your approval…”
Anyone remember Rod Serling? He hosted a little show called ‘The Twilight Zone’ which started every bizzare-o episode with the above. I use it because I’ve been trying to tell people since I got started doing my little sideshow that the world the ‘Internet-Empowered’ world they think that they live in is as surreal as anything Rod ever cooked up. In fact, ‘surreal’ isn’t really the word for it because far from being merely an entertaining alternate reality — like believing in Santy and the North Pole, this illusion is specifically designed to delude, control and exploit pretty much every one of us. So perhaps the analogy I’m looking for is actually ‘The Matrix’.
As Jaron points out, the story that there are lots of indie musicians out there making tons of money through self-promotion is just a myth. It just doesn’t happen. Well, actually it does but in such small numbers as to be statistically insignificant. Pretty much every artist you can think of that is exploiting the internet already had a good thing going with a traditional record label and now has been able to break away and do it all themselves. And that’s great. But the myth is a bit different.
The myth says that young unknowns don’t need a record label. They don’t need distribution or marketing or artist development or PR help from anything else from a big company in order to succeed. The myth says that all the tools are in place for anyone to ‘break out’ on their own using a combination of talent, hard work and YouTube. This is simply untrue.
So why on earth would such a myth be propagated? Money, of course. Think of all the money that gets made by all the new institutions who provide the tools of self-empowerment. These include:
- CD manufacturers
- Musical Instrument makers
- Recording Studios
- DIY marketing firms
- Web designers
…in short a complete array of a la carte services that have sprung up to ‘support’ the indie musician with exactly the same stuff that used to be provided by the record company. The pitch? You are being used by the record companies. You don’t have to jump through their hoops to get a contract! Pay us instead and hold onto your money. A libertarian dream come true!
Here’s the thing: the record companies are like any other publisher/distributor. They provide a quality filter. Yeah, you may be an undiscovered wonder who’s talent is not yet appreciated by the mucky mucks. But if you ain’t getting noticed by the record companies, it’s because they don’t think the can make any money with you. And that’s probably because you are either:
a) Not talented (sorry)
b) Not hard working (shocking, but they only want people who are willing to work their asses off)
The record companies are probably not ignoring you because you’re Van Gogh and will not be appreciated by the establishment. Frankly? They could give a shit about how out there you are. So long as it looks like you have gigs that pay, they’ll talk to you even if your axe is tissue paper through a fuzz box.
I don’t resent the above-mentioned indie providers for doing what they do. They provide valuable services that guys like me, who are trying to scrape out a living, want and need. What I object to is talking up the indie possibility of success as a reality when in fact it is merely a very remote possibility, just to sell stuff. This alternative reality reminds me not just of The Matrix, but of Las Vegas where ‘everyone is a winnah!
But at least in Las Vegas, everyone who isn’t addicted, knows that the house is there to take your money. You might win. But mainly you’re paying them to have fun— not to help you get paid.