Partial To-Do List for Emerging Artists:

Register your copyrights, build a website, create and manage Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook accounts, write a newsletter, form a company, get health and equipment insurance, trademark your name and logo, register with a performing rights organization, draft an agreement between band members, contact venues, schedule appearance dates and negotiate terms, design t-shirts and other merch (and sell it), write your music, record your music, produce it, mix it, and then distribute it.  And make sure that it’s all done right and above all that your music is good.

This laundry list is several occupations rolled into one where the music sort of comes last.  So, who has time for the craft?  If you think you might fall short in your knowledge of at least half of these areas, you are not alone. So is the do-it-yourself model necessary for musicians or is it detracting from the music?

At the 2010 Future of Music Policy Summit in Washington DC, Emcee and hip hop entrepreneur Oddisee explained that it is important for artists to work the business side of their craft but that artists must be careful to put the music first. He believes that “the better the music, the easier it is to get the music out. “ Oddisee turns the business switch off when it is time to create. He only works the business side once the music is totally complete.

Both Oddisee and jazz musician Marcus Johnson (JD/MBA) seemed to agree that you should work the business yourself for as long as possible, particularly the parts that you can do well. This way, you’ll know what it takes to perform each role and whether the person you eventually hire is actually making or wasting hard earned dollars. On the flip side, Eric Garland, Founder of BigChampagne Media Measurement, said that the notion that an artist has to do it all is “false if it is not in your heart.”

Composer and producer T. Bone Burnett expressed a similar sentiment saying,“Artists can’t run a marketing campaign and review data . . . you need to focus on your music.” “What good is it to sell something that is not great? Get the music right first.”

Chuck D, co-founder of Public Enemy, added that part of the DIY pressure is caused by the expectation, created by the major labels, that artists attempt to create a national audience. Chuck D assured us that a “local vibe” can be incredibly effective. Artists can be successful with a small, local fan base, which removes pressure for artists to spread few resources across a plethora of geographic areas.

So the success or failure of the DIY model is probably dependent on each musician and his ability to create in spite of the distraction that business can cause. While there are some musicians whose only measure of success is a national reputation and wealth, it is important to acknowledge that we can succeed as artists even though we might fail commercially. We have to remember what music means, how it makes us feel, and simply respect music as an art first.


Shai Littlejohn

Shai Littlejohn is an attorney in the music industry, singer-songwriter and Professional Music major at Berklee. She is currently interning with the Future of Music Coaliton, an artist’s rights lobby and advocacy group in Washington DC. Though late November, Shai will work as an integral member of the coalition team in developing, organizing and promoting both the Future of Music Policy Summit as well as the Dear New Orleans Benefit Rock Show.

Follow Shai on Twitter for continuing tips and updates on music law and policy at

See also:

Future of Music Series: Internet Streaming Revenue

Future of Music Series: The Role of Video

Future of Music Series: The Shrinking Pie

Future of Music Series: Setting the Stage on Music Policy

Future of Music Series: Shai Littlejohn