(Note from MooseJuice: This is a guest post with some nice info for any aspiring bands wanting to do it in true DIY style. A lot of the bands here in the Sonic Abyss didn’t have the technical resources back in the day, though many of them are still able to live the dream because of it. Our guest writer’s info is at the bottom of the article)
When musicians used to dream about being signed to a label, it was partially because it meant that they could record, advertise and sell their albums with a huge budget behind them. For indie artists, getting noticed has always been a challenge. Playing in underground clubs, by definition, doesn’t reach a large audience and having to sell your albums alongside major releases with huge promotional budgets was oftentimes futile.
Things have changed.
Recording Does Not Have to Be Expensive
There are two things about modern music that have made recording professional quality albums possible without a large studio facility. First, many of the instruments used in modern music are electronic and that means that there is no actual recording that needs to be done in the traditional sense. You don’t have to worry about mic placement when you’re using a DAW. Second, many of the tools that musicians need to record are very affordable, leading to them being in the hands of musicians around the world and freeing up the means of production to the masses.
You can record a professional-quality album, but remember that a budget still does count. The advantage that musicians have today is that they can at least record and album that showcases their music in a way that makes it sound great instead of relying on very low-fi recordings to try to get noticed. The tools are out there and many of them are even free.
Distribution Is Easier
If you were an indie musician a decade or more ago, distributing your albums would have been very tough. For those who produced their own music, it sometimes meant going to every record store in town and putting the albums on consignment. While this could move a few discs here and there, it was unlikely to really get anyone noticed unless they were very lucky.
Digital distribution changed all that. Because music can be distributed on many different sites, there is a worldwide audience for just about everything. If you were an indie band in Cincinnati in 1999, the chances of you ever selling an EP in England were directly related to your ability to get CDs in British stores. Today, these boundaries really mean nothing, but make sure you get with a good distribution site. Not all of them are particularly high traffic. You can check out which ones get the most traffic on Alexa to get an idea of what sites are worth working with.
Preorders Minimize Risk
If you’re trying to sell music in CD format, you’re likely wondering how many you should order. There’s actually a better way to go about ordering your CDs: wait until someone commits to buying them.
Before your release, start promoting your album and make it available for preorder. If you want to purchase a small quantity—100, for instance—you can fund some of that purchase with your preorder sales and cut down the amount of risk you’re taking printing up CDs.
Remember the Playing Field
The playing field is much more level today than it was in the past. Indie artists have tools to promote themselves that have changed the musical landscape. If you manage your money intelligently, put the time into making a good product and make sure it’s available in as many places as possible, you’re likely to find out that you can get your music out there and have a real chance at breaking into the big time without signing a record contract with anyone.