In this day and age, so much technology is accessible right at our fingertips. We now live in a time where expensive agencies, studios, and many professional services are no longer out of reach. Tech companies have capitalized on the recent DIY nature of our culture, and have thus provided numerous software systems available on home computers, laptops, and even the smallest of devices to put once inaccessible technology at our fingertips and in the comfort of our own homes.
For many reasons, this is fantastic. Artists are able to learn new crafts, extend their knowledge and know-how, and, most of all, save money. But what happens when, in an effort to be thrifty, the vertex of DIY intersects with loss of quality standards in your work? I’m all about saving a few bucks, but here are four examples of when DIYing your career is actually going to end up costing you more in the long run.
1. Being cheap in the recording studio
The recording studio is one of the most fun places for an artist to be. Time seemingly flies when creativity is flowing and – whoops, there’s the clock, and you're way over budget! Though putting a cap on your studio time is often the fiscally responsible thing to do, sometimes that can be a musician’s biggest downfall. The worst thing you can do is rush through a session to then get home with a product you're not proud of – one that sounds, well, rushed.
For the few hundred bucks you’re probably wrestling with, it’s worth it in the long run to invest in finishing out your project the right way, so you're mostly happy with it and excited to share it with the world at the end of the day.
2. Not spending enough on professional legal assistance
Some of the most expensive mistakes you can make in this industry are legal. Not knowing or understanding the laws could mean you get sued for things like copyright infringement or breach of contact. Or if you cheat yourself out of the legal advice and protection your career requires and deserves, you could easily be taken advantage of in a variety of areas, such as signing a bad deal you don’t fully understand, being caught up in a long-term agreement you don’t know the ramifications of, or not protecting your intellectual property and being forced into a legal battle that bleeds you dry financially, all just trying to prove and defend what is rightfully yours.
3. Cutting too many corners on your marketing materials
Here’s an area that everyone generally feels like they can tackle on their own. But nothing sends a stronger message of unprofessionalism than mistakes like bad photos and poor (or worse, nonexistent) business cards. Inconsistent branding leaves the impression of amateurism. It makes people who perhaps want to give you opportunities feel like if you haven’t taken the time to do things that are this important for yourself, why would you make the effort to step up to meet the standards of someone else?
4. Making a music video that exposes your limited budget
Nothing looks worse than a cheap attempt at a professional music video. If even the most novice of eyes can see that you did it on a shoestring budget, then you’re honestly just better off not doing one at all. Save your time and save your money until you’re ready to get it done right. You certainly don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars like the big-wigs do, but take the time required to thoroughly vet the videographer you hire so you get a product that you're amped to share that at least looks like it was a big-budget production.
So whether that means you go with the video guy whose work you’ve seen and heart-eye emoji’ed all over the internet, the referral from a fellow musician buddy, or the recent film-school grad who answered your ad on Craigslist and is looking to build up his portfolio, just make sure you do your homework and create something with value that meets the quality of your great musical work, and doesn’t distract from it.
So, in a nutshell, take advantage of every free option that exists today to save you time and money. But don’t be cheap, don’t be lazy, and don’t be uneducated. Know where you add value and where you don’t. Be honest with yourself that you can’t realistically do it all well enough to be proficient in every area. And once you’ve discovered the places where you struggle, fix the problem.
Don’t be disillusioned and think you're saving so much by cutting corners you think no one notices. We all notice, and we're all creating a perception of you and your artistry according to what we see. Don’t let your thriftiness cost you more in the long run. Seek the right help where you need it and make the changes and investments necessary so you don’t fall victim to my favorite plague of the music industry: complacency.
Christine Occhino is the founder and artistic director of The Pop Music Academy and has experience working at Columbia Records/Sony Music Entertainment, in addition to working as a performing artist for over a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in music business & management with a concentration in entrepreneurship and vocal performance from Berklee College of Music, where she was a vocal scholarship recipient and former editor-in-chief of The Berklee Groove. She is also the proud founder and CEO of Hope In Harmony, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that brings music to those in need.