“That was great. When are you going to be a success then?” an audience member says to me as I come off stage at a local gig in Forest Gate.
My mind goes blank and I’m not quite sure how to respond...
Many DIY artists like myself are used to impromptu comments and advice by folk who have caught a glimpse of our live performance. “You should do X factor, they have more contestants who are songwriters now.” another audience member suggests after a gig in Liverpool. “It’s not really for me, thanks.” I reply politely to which the audience member says, “Well you wouldn’t be performing in a dump like this if you did it.” The music venue wasn’t a dump and even if it was I had a blast so this type of unwanted opinion sprinkled lightly with hostility isn't fun for me or any DIY artist especially after having such an enjoyable gig.
I first started to take music seriously in the late 90’s when an A&R at Peer Music Publishing heard a cassette tape of my songs and showed an interest in signing me. At the time I was determined to carve out a career in film and as an actor which was beginning to feel quite stressful whereas music was bringing me the joy! Having a music professional see the potential in my artistry was enough for me to start taking my singing and songwriting seriously as a career.
Although things didn’t materialise for me further with that publishing company I’ve been working in music ever since. In the early noughties I signed a management deal alongside other emerging artists at the time, Plan B & Anita Blay. I received interest from a few major labels and was close to getting signed. Over the years I've been inspired seeing my peers such as Estelle, Ed Skrein, and Amir from Rudimental go on to have tremendous successes in the music and entertainment world.
I tried my best to get that so-called 'big 'break' and on many occasions felt close, only to be knocked back down. The music industry has at times felt reminiscent of my school days where the appointed popular kids hold the power; or at least that's how it can feel and how indeed one can be made to feel. When I was a younger artist I made it my duty to be the gift that kept on giving, eager to please because that's what was being asked of me. However, I was never really given much in return. I've received recognition from some well known radio stations and had audiences moved to tears during my gigs but it's never been enough for industry folk to invest in me.
As an artist you are a commodity and if the shareholders don't see your value you're on your own.
In recent times I've found it incredibly helpful reading reports that have highlighted the misogyny that runs rampant in music. I've experienced misogyny and gender bias for as long as I can remember. I hadn't realised until recently how that had contributed to the restrictions and obstacles I'd faced in my music career. Add autism, ADHD and queerness to the equation and we have a whole cocktail of challenges.
I'm an Ambassador of The F-List, a UK music directory for female and gender diverse musicians founded by Vick Bain. As it reads on the website...
"The F-List directory grew out of research she undertook in 2019, analysing the gender of the rosters of over 300 UK record labels and publishing companies. Her findings were published in the report ‘Counting the Music Industry’. For the first time, it provided data that demonstrated how few women are supported financially by the music industry, in comparison to men.
Combating gender imbalance isn’t the only challenge. Brexit and the pandemic have been tough on DIY artists plus big streaming platforms pay musicians practically nothing. So how are we surviving? I asked my good pal and musician Chloe Hawes about their experiences.
“Things have definitely changed post pandemic - people seem less inclined to buy tickets in advance, which can make it really difficult to know if a show is viable to go ahead. The cost of living has significantly affected live performance as well, it's very difficult to even break even when factoring in costs of travel, merch, food - and it doesn't feel like artist's rates have increased, despite costs everywhere else increasing. It also makes it more difficult for audiences to be able to afford to come to shows in the first place.”
Award-winning independent artist Little Simz cancelled her US tour in April 2022 citing financial unviability as an indie artist.
So what's it like for smaller acts when touring?
Chloe says, “Touring Europe has become more difficult to do post Brexit, there's a lot more paperwork and new legislation that needs to be catered for, elements of which can also be very costly. I've seen artists have to turn down great opportunities as a result of having already spent x amount of time in the EU due to the time frame restrictions. This wasn't the case pre Brexit.
I ask Chloe how they feel music lovers can support? “If you can get out to shows, do so and try to buy your tickets in advance. Equally if you're in a position to buy merch/pay for music, that makes such a massive difference.
One of the reasons I love DIY artists and bands so much is that the music being created isn't dictated by the music business. I find that what we are sometimes fed by the mainstream can be sonically generic.
Indie artists are an integral part of the music universe. We are literally the grassroots.
Throughout all the burnouts and ups and downs I finally found my groove and comfortability as a DIY artist and community worker. I record and self release my music, perform paid gigs around the UK and EU, I've curated many live music events, I get invited to speak on music panels and work behind the scenes to incorporate more diversity and gender balance in the music industry which is still seriously lacking. The community work that I do has included facilitating music sessions in mental health wards, performing in male prisons along with Q&A's on LGBTQ+ issues, leading vocal and songwriting workshops and working on a wide range of music projects to support young people and vulnerable adults.
So let's hear it for the DIY artist, please if you feel, celebrate us. For all the battles and obstacles we've gone through we're still here making music and connecting to audiences who choose to embrace us, along with our lyrics and melodies that come from our tired roots.
Check out MIRI's music on her website here and for further info follow @miriofficialuk. You can also support MIRI by purchasing a limited edition tee via her bandcamp which she can hand-deliver locally email email@example.com