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Opportunities: CD Baby’s DIY Musician Conference Organizer on Building an Independent Music Career

CDBaby’s Second Annual DIY Musician Conference is coming up this September 30th-October 2nd in Chicago. Being a DIY musician myself, I was intrigued by an event that aspires to bring together independent musicians, songwriters, producers, labels, managers, and talent buyers to come for a weekend of talks, tutorials, gigs, photo sessions, jam sessions, and networking opportunities. It seems super exciting and inspiring, so I sat down with CDBaby’s Kevin Breuner to find out more, and to pick his brain about how DIY artists can make the most out of their careers from the unique vantage point of being totally independent.

A San Diego native, Kevin went East to attended Belmont University in Nashville, TN where he studied Music and Music Business. After college, he joined the Atlanta-based band Smalltown Poets whose self-titled debut album received critical acclaim selling 200,000 copies and landed the group a Grammy nomination. Now a resident in the Portland area, Kevin is currently a songwriter and collaborator in a brand new indie project called Hello Morning. On top of hosting CD Baby’s DIY Musician Podcast, Kevin also places music in film and TV and has had placements in national ads, major studio films, and on network TV.

Can you describe a typical day at the DIY Musician Conference? What happens there, and why would I, as an independent musician, want to attend?

The conference is 3 days of sessions, workshops, networking, mentoring, and more. It is designed to give very actionable advice to the indie artists at an affordable price [$99 as of publishing]. Most conferences don’t know what their panelists and presenters will even say until they stand up in front of the people who paid to be there. We meet with all of our presenters in advance to make sure that the subject matter covered is the most relevant and actionable for the indie artists.

What are some of the topics that seem to be rising to the surface this year that artists are dealing with?

Play listing is something that has risen to the top this year. YouTube is always a hot topic. Breaking through all of the noise and getting people to pay attention is another.

What is a “DIY musician” today? How would you define that concept?

Being a DIY musician is really about owning your career. It’s a spirit of true independence. It doesn’t matter if you are completely running things on your own, or if you have a team helping you. The idea is that the DIY artist wants to call the shots and be the one that is defining their career.

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How would you define success for the DIY musician today?

Success for a musician is solely in how they define it for themselves. For some, it’s making a full-time living from their music. For others, it’s something altogether different. When it comes to the arts, I think it’s a mistake to try and find a single metric that defines one group as “successful” and another not, because so many artists are on a creative journey for reasons besides money. I think if an artists feels satisfaction with where they are now and where they are going they are successful.

What are some of the success stories from last year’s conference?

When our artists succeed, we succeed, so it’s important for us to give them the education they need/want to help them move their careers forward. Part of the reason we launched the conference is because the artist community asked us to. It’s a way for us to take our brand off the internet and meet face-to-face with the people using our service.

The 2015 DIY Musician Conference.
The 2015 DIY Musician Conference

And how can the path to success be easier paved? 

No matter how many artists there are trying to get the attention of listeners, success comes from building direct relationships with fans. For independent artists, there are so many ways for them to tap into niche communities that have some relevant connection to who they are as an artist and the music they make. This is different than the mainstream world where major labels spend massive amount of money to blanket large segments of the population with messaging about an artist and their release. Usually there is no relevant connection to the individuals seeing the marketing. It’s about “selling fame” where indie artist are about selling their story.

+ Read more on Flypaper: “6 Top Places to Get Professional Feedback on Your Songs”

Can you talk a bit about the open mics at the conference? How does that work, and what do you think is the main draw there?

The open mic is a chance for conference attendees to jump up on stage and play a song or two for fellow conference attendees. Artist love getting feedback on their songs, and this is a chance to do so. It’s also a great community event, in that artists feel like they aren’t just performing to an audience, but to people who are a part of their community and understand where they are coming from.

Do you have any other advice for young, aspiring artists today?

There are more distractions now than there has ever been for someone pursuing a music career. The artists who achieve their goals are the ones who continue to hone their craft and put the emphasis on writing and recording new music. Building a solid catalog is key. It takes hustle, and if you’re putting in the work, you’ll see doors start to open.

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Interested in hearing about pioneering new music initiatives, check out our ongoing series, Entrepreneurship in Music!

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.