By Refe Tuma
Spend enough time online and you might begin to suspect that some media folks want you to think that the DIY approach will somehow be less work than then a traditional career in music. Strange, given that the term itself implies the opposite. ‘DIY’ does, after all, stand for ‘Do It Yourself.’ More rewarding? Less artistically limiting? More fun? Yes, yes, and probably. But less work? No.
Better does not always equal easier. Creating quality music and running a business are both challenging tasks on their own. Put them together and you’ve got your work cut out for you. The artist/fan relationship is the lynch-pin in today’s music marketplace and that relationship also takes a lot of time and energy to maintain, let alone grow. As much as you might want it to be ‘all about the music’ there are many other responsibilities vying for your attention. One artist who has learned this lesson – and who has experienced its sacrifices and rewards – is Imogen Heap.
An article called The New Music Business Model: Imogen Heap has been getting a lot of attention lately. Any article with a headline like ‘The New Music Business Model’ is likely to get a lot of attention these days, but this one is worth reading. The author, Colette Weintraub of Deep Dive Marketing, describes the sometimes novel ways Heap utilized technology and fan engagement in the making and marketing of her upcoming album Ellipse.
Imogen Heap wasn’t starting at square one when she began promoting Ellipse – she already had a committed fan base thanks to a host of films and TV shows featuring her music. But with Ellipse Heap has expanded her reach exponentially, and has truly done the bulk of the work herself. She refinanced her house to fund recording, she communicates constantly with her fans, even crowd-sourcing song titles and album artwork, etc.
She does SO much, in fact, that it’s hard to see how she has any time left to create music.
I didn’t really think of it that way until I read a recent Lefsetz post about his reaction to the Weintraub article. Here it is:
I uncovered the essay … delineating everything Imogen had done to sell her new album.
And my first reaction was, is it worth it?
Now the activities took two years to unfold. But suddenly, you’re no longer a musician, but a personality. And so much of what Imogen was doing was generating no revenue. It was all leading up to a single sales event, the ultimate release of an album. Huh?
He goes on:
Do you have to be a newfangled self-marketer to have success in today’s world? If that’s what it takes, if you’ve got to do everything Imogen did, how many will say no? What about practicing, gigging, getting good? … Just about everything Imogen has done here has nothing to do with music … There’s got to be a better way to reach fans.
It was refreshing to see a different perspective on the ‘New Music Business Model’ buzz, and it got me thinking about something I had seen from Heap herself a few days before the Lefsetz post. In responding to one of her followers on Twitter, Heap indicated that she was feeling the strain the process was putting on her. The DIY model that she had embraced was leaving precious little time for what she loves most: music. You can read her updates in the screenshots below.
Building a successful career in music on your own terms and with your own two hands is a difficult task, more akin to the life of an entrepreneur than to the iconic lifestyle of a rockstar. You’re the CEO, the content creator and PR coordinator all rolled into one overworked and (usually very) underpaid package. It’s not for everybody. Not everyone is going to enjoy that kind of lifestyle, and let’s not kid ourselves – not everyone is cut out for it.
I appreciate all of the excitement Imogen Heap’s story has been generating recently, and I hope that her new album launches to enormous returns. It’s great to have such a compelling example of DIY success. Those who do choose to go for it would be wise to study her experiences.
That, and after following Imogen for while now on Twitter and in the media I can’t help but root for her. I suppose that means that what she’s been doing for the past two years is working.
Photo by Jeremy Cowart.