Many musicians are creating new models of success for themselves. Here are tips for how to work with your local independent music community rather than exclusively remaining in the typically competitive 'solo artist' or 'band' structure.
Collaborating within the framework of the music industry was once associated with the concept of following a dream toward 'making it big. Now, this archetype is generally only idealized through talent contest shows, gigantic corporate-sponsored festivals, and getting to the top of the charts. However, this plan seems to lack much cohesion with the everyday reality of independent musicians and many are creating new models of success for themselves.
To be a successful musician today is more about playing live as often as possible, getting paid, and getting your music to people who would truly appreciate and support you. Landing a sync deal or signing to a label can certainly help you on your route to success but it won't necessarily give you the organically grown foundation to create a lasting career. Naturally many musicians are finding new ways to collaborate by creating veritable grass-root networks for themselves. Here are some tips for working with your local independent music community rather than exclusively remaining in the typically competitive 'solo artist' or 'band' structure.
Don't Paint Yourself Into Any Corners
Often times we associate our music making, consumption, project formation, and hence the collaboration with a genre, style, or brand of music that is particularly favorable to society at the time. Have you ever noticed that when a band becomes popular, many musicians seem to copy them in sound or style? Don't paint yourself into any corners and seek to be authentic in your collaborations within the craft.
Learn New Skills Through Diversity and Openness
The more varied musicians you play with and the more various concerts you attend then statistically the chances are better that you will learn new skills, especially if you are open and paying attention to the finer details and mechanics of the performance. There are always new ways to weave together the many-colored threads of creativity in music by taking the parts of one act and putting them into another. Especially jazz players, blues players, and rappers have been doing this for a long time, breaking down boundaries, pushing away borders, and developing incredible tunes. I recently saw an improvised concert where an American swing-jazz fiddle player performed live with a traditional Syrian folk singer. The result was a piece of beautiful music that I'd never heard before.
Team Up For Projects
It can be thoroughly rewarding to team up with players and producers for developing 'one-off' projects, such as recording a single, EP, or even a whole album, playing a concert or going on a full tour, or even for just a Youtube video. Still, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to build a whole band with a destiny out of it. You don't have to be exclusively married to a band or project. It's healthy to play with others and can be beneficial in many ways, like expanding your fan base, income, contacts in the music business, and versatility on stage and in the studio. You can be independent and committed to collaboration at the same time.
Go Out, Find & Connect
I go out to many jam sessions, open mic nights, and concerts and I like to connect with musicians that don't seem to have anything to prove. Find people you can learn from and perhaps collaborate with rather than simply be impressed by. If you don't go out and find what suits you, chances are you won't grow much as a musician.
Just Play Music
Isn't it easy to spot a performer who seems to be on a 'mission from god'? (Blues Brothers reference) The most successful musicians I have met are playing for the love of making music and that is what keeps them going. Look out for those! Because collaborating with someone who has a hard-line agenda, who keeps talking about convincing plans that turn out to be like some kind of mission can turn out to be a real drag.
Collaborations between musicians can take you down a wide range of pathways. Know yourself, what you want out of the collaboration, and know when to draw the line when you feel your independence and energy are compromised. For example, if you form a group to play a few 'one-off' concerts and take on the responsibility of booking those concerts, don't let the other players assume that you will be booking every concert you play after that with them as a group indefinitely. Be sure to communicate directly your needs and goals.
Here are a few examples of successful collaborations in the Indie scene that I find worth checking out. Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe, Modest Mouse and Johnny Marr, everything U.N.K.L.E, Atoms for Peace, Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney, and Beck's Record Club. Remember that collaborating on a project should be fun and ideally with no strings attached, except for the ones on your instrument and the ones attaching song credits to bank accounts when it comes time to sell your collaborations to that new green energy car commercial.
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