You know that feeling you get waking up from a sleepless night on the floor? The almost premeditated occasions where you wake up, hour by hour, wishing you were in a king-sized bed at the Hotel Del Coronado. As you finally stumble out of floor, you are greeted by the welcoming crack of your spine. Well, being an independent artist is a lot like that (sometimes literally). When I first built my home studio, complete with recording booth and mixing area, I literally had no room for a bed. My roommates’ friends always took the couch, so I had to resort to the next best thing, the floor. Now it took a lot of trial and error to figure out a plan that worked for me (I ended up getting a fold up cot), but the moral of the story is this: as an independent artist, discomfort is inevitable. It is something you must embrace and learn from, and is one of the hardest things to adapt to.
Finding the right balance of emotions takes a lot of work, and often a lot of mistakes. As you dedicate your life to your art or passion, your priorities shift. Everything you do, in the end, will be done for your craft. What was once just a job is now a source for financing your new recordings or buying new equipment. Parties become a place to find new fans. School is just an institution built to help you find new tricks for getting your music heard. These new perspectives change the way you look at day to day activities and ultimately change the activities you choose to participate in. As if that weren’t enough, what really get hit the hardest are relationships. Friends and family get placed on the backburner as you choose to focus on your music or craft. Significant others, if not on board with your project, can sometimes feel left out of your life. What is important is to find the right balance in these emotions. By just looking at celebrity news, we often see artists “break” under the pressure. There are sacrifices you have to make, yes, but you also need to have someone or something to fall back on. For me, it is my fiancé. She keeps me in check and is often the reason I do not get crazy. Don’t lose track of those people that were important to you before your art came into play.
Secondly, being an independent artist definitely tests your physical endurance. Whether it is hitting the road for nationwide tour or staying up late to finish recording a new song, your body is going to take a lot of hits. As we talked about earlier, your lifestyle changes once you become an independent artist, and for me the biggest changes came with sleep and my diet. At one point I was working two jobs, going to school, participating in my church activities, and dedicating time to a committed relationship, all while doing my music. Needless to say, I didn’t have time to sleep and forget about cooking a four course meal. What I’ve learned since then was again, “you have to find a balance”. Everyone has heard of the “starving artist”, but the fact is, your health is important. Think about it, how can you create a quality product if you are too tired or do not have enough energy? Taking care of yourself is the best way to keep your creativity fresh and your craft focused.
Being an indie artist will also affect your mental capacity. No matter what stage of life you are at, there is always something to learn. This of course means you have to actively work on your craft. One thing that most artists do not realize (and something that we will talk about in my next article) is that your art is also your business. If you want your passion to grow into a legitimate source of income, you have to treat it as a business. Having to run a business takes a lot of learning and placing yourself in situations you are not quite used to. I myself have had to learn networking, accounting, marketing, promotion and countless other subjects which have stretched my mind. If you want to be successful you have to embrace the discomfort of learning new trades, but in the end it is all worth it.
The last discomfort and the one which is probably most noticed is the financial toll it takes on the indie individual. You may have bought equipment here and there to build up your craft, but once you decide to go pro at it, upgrades are inevitable. If you count professional recording, album production and distribution, and merchandise creation, an independent artist can quickly rack up the bills. Needless to say, these costs must also fit in with your living expenses. If you are the raw definition of an independent artist, you have to account for your day to day life and your artistic endeavors. It is important to keep track of every expense and to make sure you save at least a little monthly. It doesn’t matter how talented you are, most of us do not get discovered overnight. You still have to put bread on the table.
Becoming an independent artist is no easy road. It will take its hits on you emotionally, physically, mentally and financially. Discomfort is inevitable and it is important to be ready for it. If you really love your art these inconveniences are worth it, but you have to make sure that you account for the troubles you might face. Keep yourself in the stress-free mind state of when you first started creating and then your love for that passion will never go away.
Tyler Turk is the Co-founder of NorCal Indie Productions, a business dedicated to exposing the independent, artistic talent in the Sacramento area. Turk is also an entertainer himself, working on his fourth self-produced rap album.