DIY: Dead or Materialized

DIY

If you want something done right, do it yourself; unless, of course,  you can’t afford it.

The majority of hardcore and punk was founded on a DIY ethos, something that HXC has taken to heart and pursued itself.  However, in a world filled with YouTube stars and not-so-independent indie labels, it’s kind of hard to remain loyally underground when you can Google a band’s Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.  Everyone has an agenda, everyone has a way to be heard.  That’s why people make music. That’s why people write.  That’s why we put it on the internet, so people will find it.  The most DIY thing you can do nowadays would ironically be to keep everything you do to yourself because otherwise you’re helping fund major industry ploys like various social media outlets as the internet continues its shameless take over.

Let’s look at DIY as the mindset of finding funding, promotions, gigs and profits all on your own in an attempt to 1.) avoid the corruption of your art by industry heads or 2.) because you simply don’t have the proper financial backing to pay for the industry established services you need.  In the end, DIY keeps things local and directly in and of the scene they spawn from.

“My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.”

This line is sung by Tyler Joseph of twenty one pilots on their latest single “Stressed Out.”  While twenty one pilots is far from hardcore, from punk, and from being a band I’d ever admit to listening to regularly, this song has some serious significance in the modern music scene and beyond.

Beginning with the tell-tale tragedy of being incapable of making something original in modern music because every chord progression, lyrical concept, rhyme, and reason has been exhausted time and time again, Joseph extends his song’s meaning to life in general.  We all begin as innocent, imaginative kids chasing our dreams only to get suffocated by the millennial dilemma of needing to make money just to survive.  Can you really compromise your art for cash? Do you have to? The idea of “originality” is now determined simply by who can do what’s been done before better because we are no longer in an age of “do it yourself” but of “do it better.”  And in the end, once we all get wrapped up in that school of thought, are we even the artists we started out as to begin with? “My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.”

Perhaps “do it better,” or DIB, really is the future of music. DIY is now just a part of the major production of it all. We have seen multiple times how a DIY aesthetic can make or break a movement, early punk and hardcore being the most prominent flag ship examples.  However, there are numerous other music realms that have greatly benefitted from the DIY momentum.  EDM, dubstep, house, and basically the entirety of contemporary electronica is rooted in self-serving, SoundCloud blaring, warehouse playing DIY promotions.  Who needs a label and a studio when you have a laptop, social media and a solid wifi connection? The same can be said of the major indie revival that has been taking over the airwaves these last five years.  Many cool cats and Brooklynites have been able to get their sound out simply through connections and home studios, thus growing into their own, as we saw with Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear, among many, many others.

And of course, in the hardcore, metalcore and punk scenes of today, DIY is blazing through at rapid rates.   Beartooth and Vanna are playing house shows.  Terror is refusing to use a producer on their latest album, The 25th Hour. FrnkIero andthe Cellebration‘s debut record, Stomachaches, was recorded in a basement in full before a label ever saw it. The Ongoing Concept are hand making all of their instruments for their upcoming record aptly titled Handmade.

So is this the future of the music industry? Finding ways to bypass the enormous fees people lose from having to pay venues to play or sell merch?  Finding ways to bypass the ridiculous costs of working in a studio?  Finding ways to bypass the very nature of affording instruments (why not make ’em yourself)?  Perhaps.  And truly, I find this to be a rather endearing sentiment.  But, naturally, there’s a catch. Major labels are picking up EDM artists.  Grizzly Bear will remain decidedly broke if they simply bank off of their own touring and record sales for income. Vanna is playing house shows between dates of large venue tours. FrnkIero andthe Cellebration have the clout created by Frank Iero’s time in My Chemical Romance to get them noticed more. And in the end, these great sentiments and artistic routes are merely artists finding ways to do things better than the ways of the set systems, better in favor of the artist, not the labels or iTunes or Spotify, etc.  Unfortunately, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other promotional platforms are benefiting and–in the vein of Facebook–profiting off of these promotions seemingly done on the artists’ own.

“When I grow up I’m going to be an artist and not a cover girl.”

–“Cover Girl” by The Ongoing Concept

“Out of student loans and tree house homes we all would take the latter.”

–“Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots

The major problem with going DIY in today’s world is expressed perfectly in these paralleled lyrics.  The mentality and sentiment to be a true artist is stronger than ever, but so are financial pressures. Living in NYC, one of the major cultural hubs of the world is hella expensive.  For $1,500 a month you can find yourself in an apartment the size of a closet with a job that allots only $30,000 a year before taxes.  That math doesn’t quite add up.  Student loans are increasingly sought after leaving art kids who have spent their whole lives being told to go to college in immense debt with nothing but low income, entry level jobs to look forward to in order to offset it. These financial realities are forcing the movements of various musical scenes out of major modern cultural hubs because no one can afford to actually be located in these places like they were back in 1979.  The Bowery is now a hip and almost bourgeois section of Manhattan, no longer the artist slums of the city. Brooklyn is the most expensive neighborhood in America. To be DIY nowadays, you  have to have a trust fund or those crappy minimum wage gigs in which you can actually fund all of the stuff your labelless music can’t and pay for people to see your band’s Facebook posts. You really have to suffer for your art or move somewhere cheaper yet less opportune.

Jay-Z’s catastrophic self-supporting streaming service, Tidal, is simply the latest example of a DIY facade in the industry.  Instead of marketing Tidal to the artists who desperately needed that kind of self-serving support and funding, however, it immediately became an elitist platform.  Madonna, Jack White and Beyonce were all names included on the promotional roster, however, bands like Vanna, The Ongoing Concept and FrnkIero andthe Cellebration were not.  In fact, it would make more sense to see Gerard Way’s solo project appear on this streaming service’s campaign rather than Frank Iero’s simply because Way is backed by a bigger label and therefore is a bigger name in the modern media’s eye. (Staple Records vs. Warner Bros. Records; Warner Bros. will always win.)  By carving out a niche hole, the entire notion that musicians can survive off of their work is still being dominated by the “giants” in the industry who feel they have some semblance of a say on who should and should not be promoted.  Jay-Z is helping to create a hierarchy that will rule out any artist in need of a more profitable outlet than Spotify or Pandora.

So where do we go from here? Yes, in many instances, bands like twenty one pilots can be hated for their quick ascension and immediate backing by “scene-driven” powerhouses like Alternative Press and Fueled by Ramen, but at the same time, we are still watching people like Pete Wentz extend the grappling hook to struggling artists to make it big, to bring them up to a mainstream level instead of reaching out to names already on par with the pop culture greats of today, unlike Jay-Z’s actions.  Without Wentz, the world wouldn’t have Panic! At The Disco the way they are known.  There potentially wouldn’t be a surge in pop punk or as significant an emo revival.  While this is still in a sense “selling out,” it is the lesser of two evils.

“Wake up you need to make money.”

–“Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots

“Don’t be the print of someone else’s painting.”

–“Cover Girl” by The Ongoing Concept

Is there a way to stay original and make money without selling out? Can you truly do it on your own in today’s world? While twenty one pilots may have been picked up by Fueled By Ramen, at least they were not completely overtaken by FBR’s parent label Atlantic Records.  There still is a sense of obscurity around them, obscurity, however, in a way that is still boosting them to the tops of festival line-ups and tour bills.  The Ongoing Concept, however, will go down in a history recorded by low budget bloggers and retrospective hardcore fanatics for making all of their instruments by hand, yet chances are they will not make it to radio play or ever grace magazine covers.

But then again, maybe there is hope.  Kory Grow and Grayson Haver Currin over at Rolling Stone seem to like Beartooth and Marmozets, respectively, enough to have given them print coverage–even if it was in the form of a blurb.  So where is the line drawn for acceptably selling out?  Fall Out Boy was right when they said, “This ain’t a scene/It’s a goddamn arms race.”  It all depends on what bands find the right weapons and how/if they choose to use them to get places.  Until then, I’ll stay happy in my DIY realm with a bartending gig to fund my writing.  The Ongoing Concept will continue to shine in their niche scene with their skills in both instrumentals and woodshop.  FrnkIero andthe Cellebration will still have way more communal gigs in dingy basements than Gerard Way could ever hope to accomplish playing his large venue shows.  twenty one pilots can continue to ride their wave and Jay-Z can make attempts to support his elite and shut himself off from the rest of the industry all together.

So I ask you, where did the DIY party truly go? I think I would like to be a member of that secret Facebook group.

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