No Oversight and Ryan Adams: The DIY Music “Revolution” Is Busted


The days of record labels scooping up an unknown artist based only on a strong demo are over. An artist can no longer rely on a label to pair them with the team they need to cut a professional record. In this day and age, while labels are still very helpful in taking an artist to mass market (with their big budgets and marketing expertise), in order to even be considered by a label, an artist must come to them fully-developed with finished, radio-quality songs in hand. This means that there is now an unprecedented pressure on the artist to navigate the music production process all on their own, with no professional 3rd party to help them. And the artist is often caught in a gross power imbalance when dealing with producers and other music pros. While in the past labels oversaw these collaborations, today, in this new DIY age, young, vulnerable, inexperienced songwriters are expected to navigate this landscape on their own and figure out the intricacies of a game with deeply hidden and complicated rules. They’re expected to know how to properly vet a producer, determine a fair price, maneuver through tricky interpersonal dynamics in an unbalanced relationship, and protect themselves from potential scammers or just plain bad seeds.


Furthermore, because recording hardware and software is now so easily accessible and affordable, the market is saturated with individuals who might call themselves a producer, but who are actually under-qualified and inexperienced. This causes further problems and confusion for the artist and, at the same time, makes harder for the truly talented producers to rise above the noise and land clientele.


The gist of it is this: while a gross power imbalance between artists and the professionals around them may have existed in the old music industry, the problem has been even further perpetuated in the new DIY age — with many artists working with producers in unregulated private settings, with no oversight to ensure that collaborators adhere to a certain standard of compliance regarding:

  • Quality

  • Fair pricing and invoicing

  • Fair and secure legal contracts

  • Safety and behavioral standards

Left unchecked, we see the worst that can happen when the DIY music industry fails artists as witnessed within the #MeToo movement with stories like the Ryan Adams FBI Investigation — exposing what can and is happening in an industry that functions almost entirely behind closed doors within an unbalanced framework.


Read: Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price. The New York Times


THE DIY AGE = A LACK OF GUIDANCE, REGULATION AND COMPLIANCE


Again, for all its faults, record labels were (and still can be) extremely valuable in the area of music production. They have provided the guidance, connections, expertise, and capital that can provide a powerful pathway to real success for an artist and is almost impossible to come by any other way. They have also been able to provide some level of protection for an artist by holding the people the artist works with accountable and honest. And nowhere is this needed more than in the realm of the artist-producer relationship. Today, though, the independent DIY artist collaborates with a producer with no label at their back. Left to find and work with a producer on their own will often result in one of two equally frustrating scenarios:


Scenario One: On one end of the spectrum artists may be solicited by well-disguised amateurs without much real-world experience but with access to software programs like Pro Tools or Ableton — people calling themselves producers when in fact they’re lacking some really key skill sets that are imperative to the facilitation of a high-quality, artistic product. These types of producers might charge less (or nothing) for their services, but if an artist wants to really move forward in their career, as most do, they are actually hurting themselves by wasting both time and money on cheap, low quality work.


Scenario Two: Then, on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps feeling disheartened by Scenario One, artists may take the alternative road and search online (or ask around) to find industry veteran producers with long lists of credits (sometimes substantiated, sometimes not), hoping a strong resume will translate to better results. The problem many artists find after taking this road, though, is that with no oversight, these producers may often charge inflated prices and/or underdeliver, not feeling it necessary to put in the same innovative work for an unknown artist as they did for their previous a-list client. Or perhaps the producer has honorable intentions but the artist discovers that, despite their resume, this particular producer just wasn’t a good fit for their particular song (due to clashing styles, influences, workflow, or a slew of other potentially dissonant factors).


THE DIY AGE = A LACK OF ARTIST DEVELOPMENT


Another thing major labels did well in the past that doesn’t exist at all in the DIY world is that they provided the space and created an environment that allowed the artist to develop early on in their career.


So for example, Prince. It was a manager named Owen Husney who discovered Prince and brought him to the chair of Warner and said something along the lines of: Here’s a 17 year old kid, he’s never made an album before but I think he’s talented and deserves an advance so that he can put some music together. And Mo Ostin who was the head of Warner at the time replied saying basically: Okay. I believe in this artist, even though I know we’ll probably have to spend our resources to give him the time and tools to help him flush out his style and essentially DEVELOP.


And that’s how the world was given an artist like Prince.


But a label offering the funding to allow the time and space for an artist to develop would never happen in today’s DIY age. At least not early on in an artist’s career when they need this type of nurturing support most. Today, artist development has fallen on the shoulders of the artists themselves, which is almost a paradox, as to develop in anything one needs the right tools, qualified collaborators, and guidance.


As far as what music and which songs and which artists will “make it” today, the road is really still the same as it always has been — developed artists and quality production get noticed. The difference is that now it’s the artist’s responsibility to navigate this road alone. Today’s artist — doing it all themselves — is in the most vulnerable spot they’ve ever been. Where do they even start? How do they know who they can trust? This grey and lonesome terrain is an especially critical problem for young artists who are inexperienced in the world and inexperienced with people and the business. Often naive and trusting, these young artists are usually dealing with much older, more experienced, and even, perhaps, slyer industry veterans.


If you CAN manage to “make it” by doing it yourself, the upside is that you own your brand, call your own shots, and keep the money you earn. This is powerful and it’s the whole appeal of the DIY “revolution”. The problem, though, is that when you’re doing everything yourself (and footing the bill), the likelihood that you’ll get to a place where your art is actually profitable is slim.


Unlike in other industries also experiencing a DIY “revolution”, such as in film, where it is not uncommon that independent writers, cast and crew work together as an unpaid team to make movies to pitch to festivals with the hope of being picked up by a major production company (as famously demonstrated by indie filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass), in the DIY music scene, solo singer-songwriters and artists are often working alone. Getting a “cast and crew” around them to create their product usually resides in the hands of just ONE other person — the producer. And while you may be able to find a producer who will work with you for backend (if he or she believes in you), more often than not, today’s independent music producers expect to be paid upfront or upon completion of a finished product. So now you have artists, often underdeveloped, coming to an unvetted independent producer with no guarantee of compatibility or quality paying whatever rate the producer chooses to charge, and often without proper legal contracts to protect the artist’s best interest.



THE PROBLEM WITH DUE DILIGENCE


Some industry insiders make the argument that all of the problems we’ve just described can be avoided by the artist simply doing their due diligence to find the right producer — someone who fits their style and will provide quality, passionate work. They argue that the artist can check references and ask around to make sure the producer is a person of integrity, is honest about rates and their intentions, and has the proper legal contracts.

The problem with that argument is that many artists who are looking for a producer are doing so early on in their careers, at around 14–25 years old. As we’ve already said, at this age a songwriter is likely too young and inexperienced to perform these due diligence tasks effectively. They likely do not understand the business, do not understand how to judge interpersonal relations, and aren’t discerning enough (or jaded enough) to know how to protect themselves (especially if charmed or otherwise coerced into a collaboration).

Also, just as a job applicant might omit information on a resume about prior employers who would not speak highly of them, it would also be unlikely for a producer to hand over a list of references/artists who they’ve failed to produce good honest work for in the past.


And again, this conversation just cannot be had without mentioning the power imbalance — or, even worse, improper predatory behavior — that exists in producer/artist work relationships as it relates to gender/sex that can lead to a total dissolution of the work, lost time and money for the artist, and a slew of other negative repercussions. It’s unclear just how an artist can ‘due diligence’ their way out of avoiding this scenario — which is not at all uncommon in an unmonitored, unregulated independent industry.


The vulnerable position that a young artist is in, combined with the prevalence of frauds, parasites, and predators in this business is the basis for change. For a producer to say to an artist “you should trust me because I have a list of [unsubstantiated] credits” or because “I’ve been in the business for 20 or 30 or 40 years” is laughable — in fact dangerous. And for a producer to defend this position by saying that all of these problems are easily overcome with a contract is equally nonsensical. Contracts can be broken, manipulated and ignored. A producer or engineer can have an impressive resume and can have worked with countless big names in the past and still provide subpar results. There is an awful lot of mediocre music being created these days by experienced and established producers.


When we started our company, ItyDity, we knew at the core that the mission was to solve these problems and step up to fill in these gaps that now exist in the new DIY music industry, specifically in the realm of development, recording and production. Because as an artist in today’s industry, in order to even have a shot at gaining a wide audience, garnering industry attention and furthering your career, it all starts here — with artist development and quality production.


We wanted to remove the roadblocks that currently exists in order to facilitate a more efficient, reliable, and streamlined music production process. We wanted to build a company that would be scalable and available to all artists and that would incorporate artist development, rules and regulations around compliance and safety, and an artist-producer matchmaking process that would incentivize innovative and quality music production.


Prior to creating and launching ItyDity with my co-founder, I myself was a singer-songwriter living in southern California and struggling to connect with the right individuals to help get quality production for my songs. Always an entrepreneur at heart, in 2012 I co-created and became the lead organizer of the largest songwriter’s network and meetup in Orange County. I also co-founded an artist collective, development group and production house in Los Angeles. It was during this time that I was exposed to hundreds of other artists and songwriters who were having the same struggles that I was. They didn’t know what to pay or how to find a producer who was a good fit for them. Their only options were Craigslist, where the pool was slim and sketchy, or to ask around to their friends hoping to get a good referral. But the results were always a gamble, the cost was always unclear, and the process was just a big guessing game, if not sometimes downright disheartening. These DIY artists were learning just like I had that navigating music production for your song was painfully difficult and that the power balance between the artist and producer was skewed. And yes, for me too, there was a time when I was working with a producer that it became clear his intentions for our relationship from the start were sexual in nature and my unwillingness to reciprocate the advances resulted in the work going unfinished (as well as a long term discouragement from wanting to make any more music at all). Again, through working with hundreds of other songwriters and artists, I became aware that my struggles were not an isolated incident, and creating ItyDity was a natural move I had to make.


ItyDity’s platform acts as a trusted third party to reduce the risk and uncertainty that artists face when having to otherwise navigate music production on their own. The four core benefits we provide are:


Artist & Song Development


Our patented Song-Prep template helps to nurture & elevate the artist’s vision, setting up their song for success, prior to starting production. This pre-production assistance and artist & song development happens up front and allows the artist to effectively articulate and communicate their vision, (choosing from specific styles, mixing preferences, instruments, and emotions) to producers. This empowers the artists to become co-producers in the process, helping to shape their sound, and eliminates many of the communication barriers that can often otherwise exist between these two parties.


Innovative & Quality Production


With ItyDity, we provide a trusted avenue for artists to get the best possible production, uniquely tailored for them. Artists receive multiple creative concepts for their song from top producers, then pick their favorite, finishing the song to perfection. Essentially, we’re leveraging new tech to perform a guided, matchmaking function and the artist can also rest assured knowing we always have their back and that in the end, they’ll walk away with a market-ready, radio quality mix.


Artist Protection & Security


Our entire platform is centered around safety, security and compliance ensuring fair price points & protecting the well being of the artist. Each artist using the platform is allocated their own project manager to make sure the production continues at a steady pace and that each party’s needs and concerns are being met and heard. The platform also comes complete with built-in hassle-free proper legal contracts, allowing the artist to retain 100% copyright and even offer royalty splits to their producer, should they choose to do so.


Industry Insights & Support


Post-production, and once the song is complete, the artist receives their Artist Identity Synopsis™ a breakdown of their unique production style and where their song might find industry success. This patented process also helps artists identify their strengths, weaknesses and hidden strengths which can then be leveraged to advance their music and skills moving forward.


Music production is now a very intimidating and risky landscape for artists and ItyDity was carefully designed to reduce these risks and uncertainties. Our platform allows artists to connect with a curated group of producers all at once to actually hear how their song would sound when working with one producer versus the next. This way, the artist can see what they could expect from working with each producer ahead of time. In addition, we provide built-in artist development tools up front, prior to production, as well as after-care to further support the artist’s growth moving forward. We’re leveraging technology to give artists more agency, providing tools to nurture the artist’s creative growth, and implementing rules and regulations around quality assurance and compliance to protect both parties. In essence, we’re morphing two worlds — combining new tech in the independent DIY world, with the beneficial elements of the old music business — taking the best pieces of each and eliminating all that is and has always been broken.


What artists today really need is someone who has their best interest at heart to say, “Here’s a few tools you can use to develop your sound and then here’s how to find the right producers and collaborators and how to effectively communicate and work together to make sure your music reaches its maximum potential.” ItyDity was created to be that someone.


Visit www.itydity.com

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