Across the Internet and in the zines of yesterdecade, there have constantly been cries of “sellout.” According to a recent study, the kids of today don’t care who sold out, who’s punk or what’s the score any longer. But what every music fan does care about are the artists they love being tainted by the influences of A&R douches looking to shape our favorite acts and turn them into something they are not. I can vividly recall when two bands I was managing at the time, Man Overboard and Transit, signed to Rise Records and the comments on PropertyOfZack and AbsolutePunk were cries of how the bands’ would be influenced by Rise and would soon sound like Miss May I or Attack Attack!, with swooped haircuts and deep-V T-shirts (and proved wrong by both band’s existence in the subsequent years).
Music fans have grown to understand that musicians need to make a buck nearly any way they can, though they don’t want to see the musicians they love betray the characteristics they fell in love with just to make a buck. With that said, the tears shed on Reddit over whether acts are DIY or not seems kind of silly to me. I have long believed that DIY’s message got crossed a long time go and since I just spent the last 4 years of my life writing a 700 page book with DIY in the title, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it.
What really matters to music fans is when the musicians we love stop being in control of their decisions and succumb to the pressures of success, making music they think they should make, instead of the music they enjoy making. They get told to dress a certain way, work with a producer who slicks up their sound too much, enlist song co-writers or do branding that makes fans cringe. After all, would you rather your favorite musician sitting around silk-screening T-shirts and stuffing envelopes or writing more songs for you to enjoy?
The most ridiculous of these cries seems to come from those who can’t stand Macklemore (note: despite all the praise I am about to give him, I am no fanboy, in fact his music is a light form of torture for me) success and claim he is not DIY, despite the fact he runs his own label, fulfills his own merch, and his booking agent is also his manager— making him far more Do It Yourself than anyone else in the pop charts in the last 50 years. Macklemore has become the ultimate example of this stupid outrage as many people claim he isn’t DIY because clearly he doesn’t do every job all on his own.
But what he does do is make the decisions himself. There is no record label pressure, since he owns his own record label. He fulfills his own merch from a trailer, and connects with fans personally. If you endure any sort of small success there isn’t enough time in the day to keep up with the demand you receive to do it all yourself. It’s astounding that anyone with three #1 singles would be doing anything like this (I imagine he has since delegated these jobs to others), with the demands that get placed on their time. Even with those demands it is stunning someone would do all of this, but does that even matter?
What matters to most of us music fans is that the musicians we love remain uncorrupted and continue to make the decisions themselves. Dave Grohl’s amazing SXSW speech made a great point that musicians do the best work when they are left alone to do as they will. As long as musicians don’t get corrupted and continue to make music we love and keep us from cringing, we stay happy. Does it really matter that they didn’t form the plastic for the CDs they sell, cut the vinyl with a lathe themselves or deliver the packages themselves instead of using the postal service? What’s important is that they keep making the decisions themselves and have their musical output and image be a decision that is their own expression. This is why I say it is time to drop Do It Yourself from being the meaning of DIY and start chanting Decide It Yourself.
More and more we see musicians being tagged as part of DIY culture and saying they aren’t a part of the ridiculous influences of the major label system, making the decisions to do things their own way. What makes this distinction important is that we are in a time in music where musicians can rise to the top of the pop charts without being corrupted by ridiculous influences to do the things as part of a system that homogenizes all culture to the boring norms that are common in pop music. Throughout the years some groups have eluded this influence whether it was The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, or The Clash.
The chance for musicians to do this and rise to the top is more available now than it ever has been. Let’s not stifle this growth by imposing ridiculous titles on DIY that don’t matter. Instead let’s celebrate artists are making their art their own way and music fans responding to it. Instead of succumbing to temptations, like getting famous and listening to the A&R guy who would tell someone like Macklemore to not release a gay pride song because it could alienate a homophobic hip hop community and about 40 percent of this country. We now have a song changing minds and a unique voice pushing a culture forward, because he gets to make this decision himself.
Let’s celebrate the fact that we live in a time where musicians are successful without a team of people trying to fit them into demographics and that once again those who innovate can succeed instead of only those who emulate the cookie cutter models established in marketing dial sessions. Let’s celebrate that musicians can decide how they want to handle their career — even if it involves with getting in bed with a corporate giant or two. Many of them have the power of their fanbase to say no, when they get pressured to do something they don’t want to.
The Internet has made a flat enough playing field that musicians who connect with fans and do honest art and can rise to the top without having to enlist influences of those who seek to change them. Let’s champion this great new era of music and leave behind the negative, unrealistic expectation that you need to do everything yourself to be a great artist. Instead, let’s be happy these artists now have enough power to make the decisions themselves and the power is in their hands instead of bald guys in suits who think they know how to best connect with us as music fans.