DIY Musician Revolution

In 1998 or ’99, at the age of 15 or 16 I went on a hay ride with my Jewish youth group one Saturday night.  A hay ride, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is where Missourians get into a flatbed wagon filled with hay that’s hitched to a tractor and it drives you around some path in the woods for fun.  Funny as it sounds, that night changed the course of my life because when we got to our destination, a long haired guitar-toting musician shared his first contemporary Jewish song that he’d ever written.  At the time, I didn’t know that truly contemporary Jewish music existed but that experience was only amplified when some of us were invited to the artist's studio (in his basement) to sing on his first Jewish album.  That musician was Rick Recht, one of the top touring Jewish rock musicians today and you can see a picture of 16 year old me in the back row of teens if you lift the “Tov” CD out of the jewel case. 

Over time, I became Rick’s intern, office assistant, road crew, merch designer, web updater, project manager, etc. and he became my mentor and friend.  In high school, I worked out of the office in Rick's home, counting inventory, assembling promotional packages, updating his website with photos of audience members with Rick on his website (back when getting your picture on the internet was a novelty), printing Mapquest directions for tour because Smartphones and Waze didn't exists yet, and more.  I went off to college to study mechanical engineering but on weekends or summers on the road, I would help set up and operate the merch booth, set up and tear down sound, take photos and video, and help out however I could.  A few months from graduating, Rick called me and offered to sign me to Jewish Rock Records as an artist. 

It’s been over a decade since that phone call, and in that time I’ve released 6 albums which have sold upwards of 100,000 units, performed over 100 dates each year, and started my own indie music label.  My songs and recordings have been on additional compilations reaching hundreds of thousands of listeners around the world, and I’ve had 3 song placements in film and television.  I recently purchased my own apartment, for the second time in my life.  Even as I type I’m amazed at those accomplishments. 

For most of my career, I have attributed my success to the unique opportunities of the Jewish music genre and incredible support from the community and my fans.  But I have only recently come to realize that I witnessed and was actually part of some of the earliest history of what I call the DIY musician revolution.  Yes, it’s true that Napster and iTunes were enormous change agents, but musicians had already been recording in their homes by the time those came around, making music more affordably, and making more music in general than ever before.  And now that anyone could have a website, artists no longer needed a major record label to get on the map.

Now, with close to 2 decades of experience under my belt (if you count some of those early high school intern years), it occurs to me that I might have some tips for musicians who are starting out. I happen to believe that though the dust has yet to settle on this DIY musician revolution, this is one of the most exciting times to be a professional musician.  True, you can’t make money selling music today, but there are so many new ways you can make money as a musician, and in some ways it’s cheaper and easier than ever. 

I look forward to sharing what lessons I’ve learned, but more so, I hope that this blog can serve as a sort of water fountain for the DIY musician community, a place where we can connect, share ideas, and learn from each other on how to help raise the tide for all our ships, individually and collectively.  In that spirit, I invite you to please share any and all questions, comments, feedback, ideas for future entries, or any other requests right here in the comments.

And of course don't forget to subscribe.  Thanks for reading and rock on! 

Sheldon

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