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History of DIY Music
by Alex Cosper (02/25/15)



The history of do-it-yourself music can be divided into two eras: pre-internet and internet era. The pre-internet era was usually not practical for a regional artist to compete with national acts, although some unsigned acts proved they can still make a living at music by playing a lot of local shows. Artists that end up getting signed typically made a leap in the local scene due to printing up fliers and generating word of mouth advertising on top of doing good shows.

There have been DIY music since the early days of the recording industry with the jazz and blues booms of the 1910s and 1920s. By the 1920s there were hundreds of independent labels, as every major city had some connection with record manufacturers. The cost of making your own records was relatively cheap through the 1960s. Once recordings entered the era of multitrack stereo, it became a much more expensive game to craft hit songs or even demos. The age of sounding like a finished product happened during the seventies, when producers began to shape the sound of pop music.

DIY music of the seventies through the ninties could be summarized as the tale end of the old era of homegrown music. It was the last era that required manufacturing units of music in order to make a mark in the market. While much attention was placed on national acts, a handful of local acts made musical dreams seem possible through the mid 1990s. The nineties was the last time that the number one goal of a band was to get signed to a major label. Since that time there have been an explosion of DIY music projects thanks to easy to use software and cloud-based platforms that make artist management well organized.

Starting in the late nineties DIY music has had a strong advantage of being found online due to its relation to a certain niche. Getting indexed by Google helps create an internet presence that becomes the audience for the DIY musician. Now there are several platforms that any musician can turn to, such as ReverbNation, SoundCloud and BandCamp, allowing music to made available to the public for free or for sale. The missing piece of the puzzle is all the promotion work that goes into building up an artist buzz. The most powerful buzz is one that's organic and just happens because fans sincerely love the music.

Studying the timeline of how DIY musicians have been empowered helps put the new world of music marketing in perspective. Prior to 2004 indie artists lacked essential marketing tools, but could still earn a living by connecting with people on simple websites and forums. Broadband was a huge breakthrough in 2004 as most people began shifting to high speed internet rather than dial-up. After Google bought YouTube in 2006, home videos became part of mainstream entertainment. By 2010 Facebook had become the number one social network in the world. Google, YouTube and Facebook have been key drivers in the DIY world.

Here are key milestones in the history of DIY Music:

1997 - Online music retailed CDBaby is founded by Derek Sivers in Portland, Oregon.
1998 - PayPal is founded in California.
2001 - Apple launches iTunes Music Player.
2003 - Apple launches iTunes Music Store. WordPress launches.
2004 - Broadband becomes a mainstream technology.
2006 - Google buys YouTube. ReverbNation launches.
2007 - Apple launches iPhone and App Store. SoundCloud is founded in Berlin.
2010 - Facebook has replaced MySpace as the leading social network.


The future of DIY musicianship can only get brighter. Some of the DIY artists who have developed loyal following did so because they were experts in other fields besides music. This century's DIY musician is a multi-task artist who wears many hats. It helps if you can share expertise in a field so that you can write about it in a regular blog series. If a blog develops a reputation for sharing useful information, it can get high search rankings. Appearing as a guest blogger or being written about in blogs are promotional activities that can help raise community awareness about DIY musicians.

See also:

A Salute to Modern Music Pioneer Steve Jobs
How to start a music project
Tips on how to produce music
Job of a live sound engineer
Affordable ways to promote music online





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