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