Any independent musician will tell you how easy it is to lose confidence in your work and the industry, especially when it comes to the indie scene. Over the last decade, the marketplace has become saturated with artists in every genre imaginable, with everyone vying for attention. Those of us who were already selling music online before streaming became so popular, may have also seen a clear decline in download sales on sites like Bandcamp or CDBaby as the world has taken to music “on tap” thanks to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, etc.
We’ve seen music become devalued in recent times – it feels like a commodity more than ever before, with tracks churned out as if to feed a great monstrous mouth. Add to that the infuriating term of music being “dropped”. In the past, being dropped was one of the worst things that could happen to an artist! When you’ve spent months or years crafting your art, you want it handled with care. Of course, that’s just the buzz word of the moment, but to me, this epitomizes the way things have gone. Fast, cheap and disposable.
In short, it’s getting increasingly harder to both get heard and profit from making music, particularly if like me, you’re just a studio artist. It’s these moments of doubt where you wonder why you bother.
Have you found your music on sites as a free download you never authorized? Comment on your thoughts about it.
Poll for Alex Storer, link to his article on Indie Music Bus in the first comment.
— Indie Music Bus (@IndieMusicBus) November 1, 2021
My personal tipping point came in 2018 when one day, I found almost all my albums freely available for download on a couple of Russian forums and filesharing websites. It was very tempting to give it all up there and then, but why let the pirates win?
With the help of the British Phonographic Industry and Google, I got the sites unlisted and the links deactivated. In the aftermath, I decided to view it as a compliment – that somebody had gone to the effort of ripping my music and posting it for others to discover.
Fortunately, my music is only a side-line; I don’t tour or play live – music is a personal creative endeavor that I’m lucky enough to be able to put online. To see my work stolen was initially disheartening and infuriating, but in a strange way, realizing somebody thought it worth freely distributing, it encouraged me to carry on.
Before that though, I decided to take a step back and take stock of my output – a process I have learned to embrace, usually in between projects or when deciding what to do next.
It’s always easy to move from one project to the next. Usually, by the time an album is complete I’m so fed up with hearing it, I’m keen to do something new. But months later, I listen back to my work, and that little perspective makes a big difference. OK, you’ll always hear things you wish you’d done differently, but there will also be moments that surprise you.
As an instrumental artist, my music always starts with a concept to drive the musical narrative. One of my most popular releases was Traces, a dreamy, melancholic and reflective album produced in 2013. After several years exploring what I could do as a self-taught musician, I really established a specific sound and style with that album. The underlying theme was the passing of time and the notion of parallel existences – influences that came from some of the books I was reading at the time. That album and the feedback it received at the time, has driven me forward ever since.
Back Into the Light in 2017 was another turning point – this was a project to celebrate ten years since by first fully-fledged album, Into the Light, and it was one of those rewarding projects that just came together. Everything was in the right place at the right time. Sometimes the best kind of songs are those that seem to write themselves; they fall out of nowhere and work almost straight away. Those are the ones that you need to make sure you don’t overwork, or try and make too perfect – a lesson I learned through reading David Byrne’s How Music Works. That little bit of rawness adds a human touch, something I’m especially keen to maintain, as an electronic musician.
In the age of streaming, I’m more determined than ever to bring to focus back to the album as a whole – a piece of work designed to be played in a specific order, from start to finish. This really came to the fore with 2018’s Crossover – an ambitious project comprising three long, continuously evolving tracks. Crossover paid tribute to the iconic concept albums of the 1970s and the golden age of the LP. Listening back, I can’t even work out how I made it!
I started 2019’s Chiaroscuro simply through the love of making music – but having just returned from an inspiring trip around Austria and Germany, a theme of travel soon emerged. I found myself composing music for moving around cities; the nightlife, the architecture; the history and the colours – reflections in the rain, the shadows and lights.
I view a lot of my albums as imaginary soundtracks; storytelling through mood, atmosphere and titles. My most recent album was another ambitious conceptual project; this time a dark, cinematic suite. The Ministry of Machine Building took inspiration from classic science fiction combined with specially-written sleeve notes, to back up the concept – though instrumental music is always open to a degree of interpretation.
I am now in that place again – looking back to move forward.
As artists, we’re forever riddled with self-doubt and insecurities about our creations – yet we’re putting our work out into this volatile and uncertain landscape. Every project is a learning curve, and every project is only as good as you are in that very moment. An album is a snapshot of a point in time and creativity. Sometimes you wish you’d spent longer on a release, sometimes you might wish you’d done it differently, or even not at all! But making music is an evolutionary process, and once it’s out there in the world, it will find its place. It is easy to feel deflated if your single or album doesn’t sell like hotcakes, but most self-publishing projects are slow burners and can be rewarding over time.
My creative motto is that whatever you’re working on and feeling inspired and fired-up by, there will always be other folk out there who will love it too. But you need to be enjoying what you do, and that means making music for yourself, first and foremost.