The term DIY gets thrown around a lot, and people need to be educated about what “Do It Yourself” actually is. It is an entrepreneurial spirit that drives an attitude where everything is possible with creativity and a strong work ethic.
There are quite a few tips and methods to establishing and maintaining a successful DIY career that I’ll be laying out in a series of upcoming articles for Riot Fest. We’ll be posting columns on such topics as how to book a show, how to trade for sponsorships, punk band book-keeping, and how to run your own music publishing. In the meantime, read on to learn the points that steer this machine.
My brother Francis and I founded the rock n’ roll band White Mystery in 2008 with a ten-year commitment to stay independent (which means no exclusive contracts or relationships), to release new music on April 20 every year for a decade, and to dedicate a laser focus towards “going where no band has gone before.”
Since then, we self-released a new record of original music every year, produced a feature-length film called That Was Awesome, played almost 1,000 shows on three continents, modeled for Levi’s, and licensed music to MTV and films without a manager, publicist, or licensing agent.
I was first inspired to play guitar in a punk band on my thirteenth birthday, while at my inaugural Fireside Bowl show. My first group was called The Psychotic Sensations, which played in basements, garages, and Chicago Park District field houses. We experimented with four track recording, which was a great way to learn about the studio process.
Moving forward, I played with my friend Alisa in a two-piece called The Red Lights, and duplicated tape cassettes to sell at shows. At age 18, I started a record label with my friend Chris Playboy to properly self-release music on 7″ vinyl records.
To fund the label, we saved money from each show and summer jobs, and collected pre-orders via a one-page website with a PayPal button. It was enough cash to fund a 500-unit release with photocopied sleeves, shipped in manilla envelopes to word-of-mouth customers around the world. We saved every penny to put into the second record, and then a third for the notorious punk band, The Spits.
I graduated from the Chicago Public School system to study business and entrepreneurship at DePaul University. The goal was to learn how to run a record label even better, with the books Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth by Kim Cooper and David Smay as guides. I viewed major labels with a raised eyebrow, questioned authority, and watched the mainstream music industry change – or in some eyes, collapse – at the turn of the twenty-first century.
The contemporary punk scene is educated by more than fifty years of bad decisions in rock n’ roll history – from uncredited musicians, to stolen royalties, forced addictions, managerial betrayal, and so on. Most success is an illusion and it’s up to you to create your own reality.
After I toured the United States and Europe with my garage punk outfit, Miss Alex White & the Red Orchestra, I quickly learned how a band could be run better and more efficiently. This inspired me to start the ultimate band with my brother Francis and apply everything I learned towards a truly DIY, independent music project.
We played multiple times a weekend and per night, sold homemade shirts, developed lasting relationships with show promoters, created trust through demonstrating follow-through, and kept costs really low.
You can imagine our surprise when Riot Mike emailed us directly in 2012 to invite White Mystery to perform with Weezer, Urge Overkill, and Teenage Bottlerocket at Riot Fest, back when it was indoors at the Congress Theater in Chicago. We have since toured all around the United States, Europe, and Japan, and we mentor college students who pursue music business.
I am here to tell you that it is actually possible to make a living as a punk musician in the twenty-first century and remain completely self-reliant.
Here is the White Mystery DIY manifesto:
What is DIY?
DIY is booking your own shows directly with show promoters.
DIY is managing yourself and your band at home and on the road.
DIY is talking directly with press people to procure publicity.
DIY is raising your own capital to fund recording and touring.
DIY is driving yourself safely with accountability.
DIY is finding the most thrifty path to your goals and putting in the sweat equity to accomplish them.
DIY is releasing your own records and distributing them to stores.
DIY is remaining independent.
DIY is persevering through transitional periods and constantly reinventing oneself.
DIY is dedication to what is morally right.
DIY is connecting one-on-one with your fans, who are your family and friends.
DIY is always following through with your commitments.
DIY is gracefully accepting rejection and celebrating your triumphs.
DIY is loving every minute you perform with your bandmates – whether there are 20 people or 1,000 people in the crowd.
DIY is writing and performing your own original music.
DIY is truly expressing yourself.
DIY is TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN.
DIY is taking responsibility for your gear, vehicle, money, and bandmates.
DIY is taking risks and learning from failure.
DIY is explaining what DIY is instead of what DIY is not.
Now, make sure when you’re DIY that you also DIT, which is to “Do It Together,” as a community.
The views and opinions expressed within the Why DIY? column are those of its author, Miss Alex White, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, and business practices of Riot Fest.