The following is a true story:
Within one week of starring in a national Kmart commercial as a rapping lunch lady, I found myself on stage behind Outkast’s Andre 3000 at Lollapalooza, dancing to “Hey Ya.” After the thrill of hearing him shout my name out to the massive audience, I wanted to stay out and party all night, but I couldn't. I needed to rest my voice for a studio session I had the next day with producers, who I was scheduled to write a song with to submit for a pop star going back to her pop-rock roots.
All of this might sound pretty cool, but it's actually not uncommon for many independent artists.
It's necessary to remind uninformed people that “indie artist” and “starving artist” do not necessarily mean the same thing. Duh—musicians don't have to be signed with a major label to have major opportunities. Not only can indie talents make a name for themselves, with or without the support of television or radio, but they can also make a good living doing it.
These days, the gatekeepers standing between an artist and an opportunity are not just stuffy old dudes in trousers and suspenders who drink scotch in the office while deciding what's cool based upon data and pie charts. In my experience, with ad agencies and publishing companies, and even the staff at the RedEye, the folks who are working these gigs are young cool people who actually like their jobs.
They're accessible, and they know something good when they see it. And for that reason, a lot of them are open to giving an indie artist a chance, directly helping consumers discover artists they haven't heard before. That's how fresh new bands end up with their songs in movies and awesome singers end up with clothing endorsements and totally badass girls with dreads end up starring in a back-to-school ad for Kmart. I'm just saying.
In my experience, being a successful indie artist requires the same dedication and hard work that it takes to excel at any job. I know, easier said than done, but the fact is people are doing it. For me, my goal is to release my project “Respect My Disrespect” independently, as well as write songs for other artists. So everything I do revolves around that. But the possibilities don't stop there.
Take Collaboraction, for example. The local group of indie talents with a passion for activism produced the play “Crime Scene Chicago” that addresses the history of violence in the city and what can be done to make it right. The group successfully organized a citywide tour that's running until the end of summer and even secured sponsors. Or take rapper Cochise Soulstar, a hardcore comic book enthusiast and an example of someone who uses his love of hip-hop to spread the word about the comic shop he manages. Cochise weaves his interests into his lyrics in a way that shows how plugged in to the world of comics he is, which keeps his fanbase loyal to both sides of his hustle.
The entertainment biz is a thinking man's game. For every starving artist someone points out to me, I can name an indie artist who is thriving. Not every struggling rapper or crappy garage band is worthy of using the word “independent” to describe themselves. Creating opportunities is the name of the game in this line of work, and lazy folks need not apply.