Thanksgiving isn’t just the time of year where you get to gather around the table with your crazy uncle and aunts, avoiding heated conversations while scooping a second helping of mashed potatoes onto your plate. At its core, it’s meant to be about finding gratitude in things. Which I get can sound a little hokey. Of course it’s in the name itself “THANKSgiving” and we know we’re supposed to be grateful because every year a million social media posts (and now this blog post) tell us so.
But it can feel difficult. For me, I’ve always struggled with gratitude. It doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for the things I have, just that with so much still left to do or want or go after, I tend to put my focus there. And as an indie musician, I think that default is just as strong. Even if you’re excited about where you’re at, you always want more. You want a bigger follower count. You want that opening spot on the show. You want that licensing deal. You want that record label.
And it can be really easy to forget how amazing it actually is being an indie artist—the freedoms you have and the path ahead of you. Ask any label artist and they’ll tell you, there’s a significant part of them that does miss being 100% independent.
So this Thanksgiving we thought we’d shed some light on some of the amazing things indie artists have going for them. Happy Thanksgiving!
You get to choose your own adventure
Remember when you were a kid and you’d flip through the pages of those choose your own adventure books? Go to page 25 if you choose to go through the cave and see what’s on the other side. Choose page 43 if you run away. That’s the music industry (forever choosing page 25) and that’s what it is to be an independent musician. We’ll sometimes mess up, make mistakes, struggle—but that’s true of almost anything in life. As an independent musician, the benefit is that you get to be in charge. You decide what’s worth going through the scary cave for.
So if you want to release a new song next month, you get to! If you want to play a certain venue, have at it! You don’t have to ask permission, plan your schedule a year in advance, or check with 20 different people first. Truthfully, this is a BIG reason to be thankful you’re an indie artist. Every major label signed artist I’ve interviewed has cited this as one of the things they miss the most—soak it in, and enjoy the fact that you truly are in charge of your career here. That’s empowering!
You keep 100% of everything you earn
When you’re signed to a label, the deal is that they get to bank some of the money you’re earning. Usually, it’s a fair deal since they’ve put up the resources to accelerate your career, but it doesn’t mean it stings any less when you’re handing over a chunk of change to other people.
As an independent artist, you get to keep everything you earn. This is true for ticket and tour sales, merch, licensing, you name it. Whatever you make at the end of the day is yours to split between you and your band.
You get to choose your team
When you sign to a label, they usually have a built-in team that they turn to for things like management, PR, and booking, which can end up being a really convenient thing. Unless—you already had someone in mind that you wanted to work with, or maybe you have been working with someone for the last few years and want to keep working with them. Or maybe you just don’t get along with the team the label has in-house.
Being independent means you get to choose your team, and make sure that it’s a fit that works for you. Since every artist will need a team at some point if they want to grow, it’s crucial that it’s a team you trust, get along with, and who really sees and understands your vision in the same way you do.
Being independent means you get full say over who goes on the journey with you.
You have the potential for wider reach
While labels certainly have an advantage when it comes to reach—so do you. This isn’t like it was 50 years ago where you need to rely solely on the label’s contacts and reach to have any success. The reality is that not only do you have many of the same tools at your disposal (including the opportunity to network) but you also have the power to grab fan and label’s attention (if that’s what you want) through getting yourself press placements, Spotify placements, and a solid following on social media. You can even secure radio play and a healthy tour schedule and show turnout through hard work, strategy, and consistency. All of these things are within your reach and because you’re one band doing this for yourself vs a label doing it for a bunch of bands…you have the advantage of time. Not to mention, no one knows your band like you do.
You get to experiment and have FUN
Last but not least, you get to have FUN! This isn’t to say that bands signed to a label don’t also get to have fun, but it’s different. With all the restrictions and expectations of a label, the game does change. And maybe that’s a change you welcome in the future, that helps build your career, but that just means there’s all the more reason to truly enjoy where you’re at now, and enjoy the opportunity to experiment.
If you want to try a new genre, you can. If you want to test out social media strategies, it’s up to you. If you want to guest on someone else’s album or tour a certain area or create specific merch, you get to do all of that, whenever you want it. It’s up to you.
Being an indie artist is full of incredible opportunities to be the musician you want to be. It’s an opportunity to grow, experiment, and have a ton of fun along the way. What are you most thankful for when it comes to being an indie artist?
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR. She loves ice cream, reality TV, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.