How do you define success?
[This piece was originally published in Hot Press Magazine on Wed 7th February]
I’m going to jump right in and suggest that most musicians who self-release music these days experience the process as a mixed blessing: there’s a lot of freedom, as well as a lot of limitations. I’m at a stage where I release a good standard of music, but not at the stage where I’ve used a PR service, or have a manager or booking agent, or anything like that. I’m somewhere in between. My day-to-day schedule is a mixture of music, English-teaching, and college (psychology/psychotherapy).
The best part of self-releasing, for me—aside from the freedom element—is the hands-on industry experience you get. This includes everything from copyrighting songs, to negotiating door-splits, to buying barcodes. I like the idea of creativity being the joining-together of old ideas in new and relevant ways. I think it’s important to try and dip your toes into all of these various pools of knowledge to create space for those sparks to ignite. That being said, the practical and financial considerations of releasing music independently are a worry. Then you have the emotional stuff of managing expectations, and trying generally not to go mad in the process!
For me, success is defined by the intrinsic reward of writing songs that I’m happy with artistically, and painting them onto a canvas of imaginative sound worlds (in collaboration with producer, Daragh Dukes, in the case of my latest release). Quiet, focused work, crafting and chiselling away at the emotional and sonic landscapes I’m trying to create: in a sense, luxuriating in the solitary world of musical introversion.
After the release, you’re into the great unknown of the post-release limbo, and this has been the biggest challenge, in my experience. The quiet, focused work takes a back seat, and the expectation is to push yourself publicly, visibly, frequently, across multiple platforms, to optimise exposure. The self-releasers have to find the energy and confidence to push through with renewed vigour, especially if they have opted to go without additional PR support. Tough going.
The trouble for me, in this regard, has been staying focused while navigating the various forces influencing perceptions of my work. Unlike the earlier stages, it’s hard to find a yardstick for post-release success. Airplay? Reviews? Interviews? Gigs? Venues? Audience numbers? Streams? Followers? Money?
What’s more, it’s probably not particularly fruitful: a lot of what happens within those domains is likely to be out of your control. Your conscious control. Your unconscious control. Other people’s conscious control. Other people’s unconscious control. (I was reading about this recently. It’s complicated!)
And then, out of the blue, some independent voices can come into the frame – music lovers, radio presenters, producers, writers, strangers – and they just like your music. Simple as. And that’s nice.