Musicians, Is DIY Dead? (It’s Time to Work Together)

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Do-It-Together[This article is written by guest contributor Eric Eckhart of A Headful of Bees.]

Artists united will never be defeated

For me, DIY is dead. Long live DIT!

I have been writing, recording and releasing music for nearly 30 years as a DIY musician. Some of those years I have had limited success but most have been spent in relative obscurity.

Like you, I’ve tried countless excellent DIY ideas, strategies and methods. Some worked, some didn’t. 

My wake-up call came five years ago.

I arrived in Berlin looking to expand my musical horizons and dig deeper within my creative self.

I kept meeting fellow artists experiencing the same joy of music as me yet also sharing the same struggle to build a career out of their passion.

We started discussing what we were up against as DIY artists.

Why it’s time to do-it-together

One of the most important weapons that record companies have is their ability to pull all of the components of the music industry together to make a mighty push to help break through the noise and give their artists a shot at being successful.

We realized that to be taken seriously and compete at a higher level than the ground floor, we needed our own machine behind us.

So we pulled all our collective knowledge, skills and experiences together and form an artist collective called “A Headful of Bees”.

We threw out the idea of DIY and adopted a DIT (Do –It-Together) approach to everything we did.

When we hit a wall trying to book good paying gigs, we started our own monthly House Concert series that now sell out weeks in advance.

We built a database of all our booking contacts, press contacts and radio contacts.

We started our own record label to release each other’s music.

We teamed up with photographers, filmmakers and various other creative types.

And just as importantly, we created a place where we could share each other’s stories of what we wanted to achieve and talked through the obstacles we faced trying to get there.

All of this work culminated in our DIT:Do-It-Together (www.do-it-together.com) project last September where 100 independent artists came together for one week to record, design, mix, master, film, promote and release my new album, all in front of an audience and all without spending any money at an old empty grocery store in Berlin.

What musicians can accomplish when they pool their energy and resources

I can’t eloquently enough explain what an amazing, inspiring and powerful experience that was for me and for everyone involved.

For that one-week, in that singular seven-day moment, our own alternative music industry came to life. We put it into motion and stood proudly above the silent past of our former DIY endeavors and fully embraced the DIT idea that we are stronger together.

Artists, not professional business people called all the shots, made all the connections and produced a professional album and film without spending a dime, in a week’s time and with a spirit of generosity, respect and appreciation for one another. So, take that the man!

We released the album as a free download and under a Creative Commons license.

Is it a success? Yes!

We have a new album, new fans, new creative friends that have join our community, a film that will be screened in cinemas and at film festivals and a wealth of publicity.

Crucially, we have no debt. We enter the market with a clean slate and the freedom to make decisions based on what we want to do instead of what we have to do.

My future lies with DIT.

What do you think? Have you come together with other artists to make things happen? Have you worked in an artistic collective? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • I get what you are saying and you're right of course – it takes a team. But "DIY" has never truly been a "Do It All Yourself" thing. You basically just explained DIY and what some people call a "mastermind forum" which you no doubt have read about in the countless articles about DIY. So, this is good info for sure, but "DIT" as you put it is nothing new.

  • Not really doing it yourself though if you are using someone else to release your record and having everyone else handle things you should actually be handling……

  • Blues Jordan

    My own experience is well beyond 40 years of travel organizing and traveling with bands and very little of that resulted in anything remotely common to what you're suggesting. We (my father and sister) were/are songwriters and singers gracing the stages of everything from local bars to weekly radio broadcasts on WSM and the Grand Ole Opry. But I quickly discovered unreliability and general disorganization lurking not only from my own close ties but also within the ranks of trusted band members of many years. The history of actual famous artists such as Paul McCartney and other artists demonstrates a trail of broken trust and break-ups. Back in 1980 McCartney teamed up with Michael Jackson for one of the biggest hits of the decade (Say Say Say). Yet shortly after that, Michael legally outbid McCartney for ownership of the entire Beatles library….the friendship ended and the two never worked together again. If someone out there is getting along and relationships are holding together for fun and profit, that's awesome!…It would be quite interesting to see where you are in say five years from now. The best to you.

  • Wow, thanks for the awesome post and inspiration! This is the idea my band has had for a while now. We'd love to join up with other like-minded artists!!

  • Riley Lynch

    I think this is the future of the recorded music industry. Major labels have been able to take advantage of artists because they have all been in competition with one another. Now that artists are realizing that they're actually co-workers, they can pool their resources and find that they don't need the machine to get where they want to go!

  • waldo farela

    Well the truth this has been very inspiring! I am Colombian musician and my gender is salsa! singing and also produce my music, I always wanted to get together with colleagues, and realize good projects, but in Latin America and mostly in Colombia that is a utopia, that among artists hatred and envy are enormous

    but I'm glad to know that these things happen.

    greetings!

    • I wish you the best on finding like-minded people to work with you! They are there, it's just a matter of finding them or them finding you.

  • Juan Zavala / Mexico

    I think that the DIY philosophie is not about that you have to do all alone, i think is to be your own boss and take the rides of your carrer, independently of the people you work with…

  • @facebook-779699617:disqus Thanks and glad you enjoyed the article. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, give us a shout. @bluesjordan:disqus Good point! Working collectively is not for everyone. We have had people leave and new people come in. But the core people and the core ethos have stayed for 3 years now. Finding the right mix of people is vital for sure. @twitter-1129449654:disqus Very True! DIT is as old as it gets. Most DIY people do have people helping them but what we have tried to do is formalize things with our collective and try to approach each project as a team and with a common purpose. Language is powerful so using DIT instead of DIY for us is a constant reminder that we are all in it together.

  • After toiling in obscurity for the past fifteen years as a DIY myself, I've come to very much the same conclusion. I've started gathering creative types – musicians/producers, graphic designers, film makers, animators, multi media artists, etc – into a collective called Sudohuman where we can all benefit from eachothers unique skillsets and talents and network connections. The ants united shall conquer the elephant.

    • Always great to hear of others doing this type of thing. All the very best to your collective and if you ever fancy collaborating with us, give a shout.

  • This is a genius idea and one that really has been around awhile (record labels). With the right people this would be great. Right people as in artists that are willing to put in the work learning and growing and serving the greater good. You definitely have my wheels turning.

    Question: How much thought was put into trying to keep all the artists within roughly the same genre?

    • Thanks Corey! We kept things focused as the album was my songs and a band that I picked to back me up. We then opened the door and invite basically anyone in to help sing, clap, stomp, hand-make each CD, do PR, social media stuff, you name it. We even had someone come in to run a yoga class during the recording to help set a certain mood. Everyone had a hand in it and the final product shows that.

  • Inspirational!

  • AERIA Entertainment

    OK cool, but how are you any closer to deriving a sustainable living from making music?

    • Very good question. For a number of us, the biggest hurdle we face is all the costs that go into recording and releasing our own music. Most people I know take an average 7-12 months to do an album, go into big debt and then spend the following year trying to dig themselves out of debt and make a little bit of something at the end. Then, two years later, they do it all over again. For this project, by removing money from it, ie costs, we have an album going from start to release in only one week, with no debt and all the initial buzz and excitement that comes with that creative experience of making a record. With a clean slate, we can now make decisions about monetizing things based on what we want to do instead of what we have to do to get out of debt. We make a profit from the first €. You are right, it is not making a living yet, but it is a huge leap forward for many of us who have stayed in continual overall debt with music over the years.

  • Sunrise Review

    It’s always struck me as a grand irony that “DIY” in mainstream United Statesian culture recalls the (now thoroughly de-bunked) myth of Self-Determination, which has stayed alive for almost 150 years because it’s useful to the 1% – workers raised on a steady diet of such myths are unlikely to organize.

    When it comes down to it, everything comes back to building community, and almost every success story has a strong aspect community support, help from friends & family, etc.

    Working in a band these days, “DIT” makes a lot of sense to me. We’d never be anywhere without help from fans, and (this might surprise you,) advice from other Musicians’ union members and officers. (Portland’s lucky to have a pretty hip local)

    I’ve been working for years to make the music profession more sustainable through the Fair Trade Music Campaign – http://fairtrademusicafm.org . We now have chapters in LA, Seattle, New Orleans, Rochester, and growing every day. (in Portland – http://fairtrademusicpdx.org )

    “We were DIT before DIY was even cool. Sha.” (throws scarf over shoulder)
    Jake Pegg, basses, tubas, brazilian drums… coordinator, FTM-PDX