Good advice can be a godsend when it comes to starting and growing an independent operation. Trouble is, terrible intel is as plentiful as the good stuff, and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference. Here, DIY vets, from both decades-old indie collectives and tiny one-man operations, share some of the most common misconceptions that a small-scale entrepreneur can have about operating on your own.
1. If a business model worked for one successful indie label, it will work for you, too. “The shittiest advice is to know what everybody else is doing,” Sub Pop executive VP Megan Jasper says. “What works for one company — even if it’s a like-minded or seemingly similar company — may not work for the next. What do you do best? [Answering] that is the only way you’re ever going to be able to put your best foot forward-not copying Matador, or Epitaph, or anyone else who may be doing awesome things.”
“[People] give us good advice, but it doesn’t really fit with our core principles,” says Joe Steinhardt, co-founder of New Jersey-based Don Giovanni Records, home to bands like Screaming Females. “‘What values should I have?’ — that’s the wrong question. There’s no such thing as ‘DIY values’ or ‘independent values.’ The thing with doing it yourself is that you set your own values, and then you figure out how to do things [while] following them.”
“I don’t know if our model — a group of longtime friends who trust each other — would be effective for anyone else,” says Dessa, rapper and member of Minneapolis hip-hop collective Doomtree. “And I’ve seen a lot of methods that are successful for others that wouldn’t be for us. If people tell you it’s important to be mindful of trends and what’s going on with [other people], you can go ahead and not listen to that.”
2. Don’t spend too much time drafting a budget. “I feared doing budgets, and once an industry professional told me, ‘All you got to do is pull a number from your ass and add a couple zeros at the end,'” Jasper says. “I was like, ‘Are you fucking with me right now? Because that is the most fucked-up thing I’ve ever heard in my life.’…I hope it goes without saying: Do not take that fucking advice.”
3. Contracts are less important when you’re working with your friends. “Anyone doing anything DIY [will probably] work with their friends,” says Sebastian Cowan, founder of Arbutus Records, the Montreal label/collective responsible for acts like Grimes and Majical Cloudz. “Even though you would think having contracts with your friends is unintuitive because you understand each other, those lines get blurred. Be really clear about where your professional obligations are. Never work under the guise of ‘let’s assume.’ From the very start, even if you’re only making 50 cassettes. It’s just so important.”
4. Always present your product in the clearest, most straightforward manner. “The advice that ‘young kids have ADD, and they’re stupid, and you have to drill [work ethics] into their heads,’ blah, blah, blah. I wholeheartedly, fundamentally disagree,” says Christian Clancy, manager of hip-hop collective Odd Future. “I used to get into arguments at my old job, because I was a fan of confusion — because it means you’re [exploring] a part of the brain that no one else has gone to. It’s OK if people don’t know the answer. If they’re confused, they have to think and they have to do research.”
5. Good advice is good advice is good advice. “The best advice today can be the worst tomorrow or vice versa,” says Hunter Giles, founder/operator of Infinite Best Recordings, home to Brooklyn acts like Ava Luna and Twin Sister. “I could tell you, ‘Never turn down a song you can have for free,’ but that’s not a good policy in the wrong hands. The most important thing is to just try and think critically about all possible hypotheticals, even the unpleasant ones.” Dessa says, “There are as many successful methods as there are successful stories. I would be really wary of anyone who tells you they have an unbreakable rule or a steadfast formula for success.”