The Rewards and Pitfalls of Being an Independent

       My name is Travis Hawley and I am the frontman for the Central California based band Night Riots (Formerly known as PK).  We are an independent band that has amassed a notable amount of success entirely on our own.  We have been fortunate enough to have been featured by such outlets as MTV, FUSE TV, Rolling Stone Magazine and have played shows with Angels and Airwaves, The Script, Youngblood Hawke… and believe it or not… Aerosmith.  Yes, it's a wild world.  I was asked by our friends at Macbeth to write an article on the struggles and costs of seeking success as an independent band in today’s music industry.

       I think it's important to get the negative but realistic stuff out of the way first so that we can move onto the positives. The cold hard truth is that creating a flourishing and long lasting career in the music industry is extremely difficult.  It is a career which relies on the strangest varying combinations of talent, personality, timing, perseverance, business savvy, and luck in order to achieve success.  It is a job where you might pull the best cards out of a deck only to find yourself cheated with no authority to call the hand unfair. While there are signs pointing you in the general direction of being in "the right place" there will never be a clear path to being "successful".  It is a daunting and pay-less 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job, until you literally traverse a gauntlet of poverty and struggle. Then you MIGHT have a moderate amount of success but will probably still not be guaranteed long term security. There is never a point where you are able to say "Ok, I have done everything there is to be done. Now let us just coast and relax for awhile."  There will always be another song to write, a CD to design, an agent to call, a show to book, or a fan to write back. When you are independent it’s the people in your band and the small team you have assembled around you that have the power to further your career.  If you let up for even a second then the band slows down.  There is no record label with all of it's different connections and assets backing you.  You are the bank.   If you make 10k on a tour and have an upcoming album to release then it is up to you to appropriately budget that capital into different aspects to fund your future.  Not only is it financially stressful, it also becomes extremely taxing to separate your personal life from the music.  You find yourself staying up until 4:00am every night planning, or designing, or writing, or unproductively stressing out about what needs to be done the next day.  Even worse is that as your band begins to build momentum it becomes more difficult to draw a line between creating a solid business platform and doing what you are wholly meant to do as an artist which is CREATE MUSIC.  That IS why we decide we want to play music for a career after all isn't it?  Unfortunately, in this day and age as an independent band there is no way around it.  We must find a balance of creating and keeping the band afloat.  Time management, discipline and determination become crucial allies.

       While the independent route may sound overwhelming and stressful it can also be very rewarding.  This is especially true if you are able to delegate your responsibilities to all the members of the band and diligently separate your creative time and your work time.  Being an independent band gives us the freedom to be creative to no bounds and in complete control of everything that is associated with our band.  Whether it’s writing a song or coming up with a marketing strategy to release a new music video, we are constantly able to create what WE want to create.  A simple difference between an independent band and a signed band is that a signed band has a built in team with connections and capital provided by the label, whereas an independent band is a startup comprised only of the band itself and the team members that it has selected.  While you are given a leg up as far as connections and capital there is also the risk that the label that you side with might have a completely different vision of what you are.  It involves more people, all with strong varying opinions about your music and your career which in turn can dilute your vision.  When you are using other people's money to push your music forward, you have less of a say in the decision making process of who and what exactly you are.  Also decision making drags as you filter through multiple layers of opinions from people who have no real investment in your music. As an independent artist you are not given a large crew to help spread out the work load but you ARE able to slowly and carefully build your own "super team".  When we started Night Riots the five of us assumed different branches of the business side of the band to be responsible for.  Mikel books shows, Matt works on marketing, Nick is our business manager, Rico is our sweeper and I am in charge of aesthetic and vision.  All of these areas of Night Riots intersect and we are therefore able to help each other with the different sectors of the band without overstepping or doing other people's jobs.  As we have picked up momentum we have slowly and carefully added new members to our team to help distribute the workload, expand our reach and increase effectiveness.  By starting from the beginning with a strong business model we have prepared ourselves for whatever comes next.  If we continue as an independent band we will continue to be in complete control of our identity.  If the perfect partner comes along who shares our vision and can help us move forward, then we will be prepared and confident in who and what we are. Another great part of being an independent band is that we control our our money. As we play shows, sell merchandise, and license songs we know exactly where each penny is going. There is minimal wasting of our resources and literally no middle man between our audience and Night Riots.  The money that you pay for a shirt at a concert goes directly into funding future endeavors for the band.

       Regardless of whether you are an independent band or a signed band it is an extremely arduous career to be in and both sides have their pitfalls.  It is also a very exciting and constantly changing job that is full of opportunities and learning lessons.  There is no single path for a band to journey through their career.  Some groups are able to start from nowhere, get a perfect label team and  immediately launch to success.  Others slowly build up over many years of hardwork and create loyal, lifelong relationships with their audience without ever being signed to a label.  Others work independently until a certain point where they feel ready to team up with their "dream" label.  You need to be malleable and willing to persevere even when the future seems completely unclear.  At the end of the day the most important matter to remember is that you have to be along for the ride.  You are just an artist trying to spread your music to the world and all you can really do is focus on having a great time and learn to enjoy conquering the obstacles that stand between you and your ultimate goals, whatever they may be.

Go online now and help support Night Riots and get their new EP out to the world!

Posted May 14, 2013 09:39:34 am

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