DIY 2.0: The More Mature Discussion Arrives

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The do-it-yourself, direct-to-fan honeymoon is over, thanks to the arrival of some complex issues.

Against the backdrop of an energized audience at the New Music Seminar in New York on Tuesday, some battle-weary executives reexamined a space that was once filled with disruptive euphoria.

So what were the top issues being discussed?  These floated to the top:

(1) DIY responsibilities can, and will, crowd out quality creative time.

What happens when music is your full time job?  Creativity often takes a backseat to endless fan-building, Twittering, emailing, coordinating, and MySpacing.  Pandora founder Tim Westergren even cited a study that showed that creative channels get blocked and muted in the brain if not exercised regularly.

The answer?  Westergren predicted the emergence of an executive group to fill the non-creative needs of the talented artist.  Others pointed to a definitive role for the label – especially the independent label.

But good music is paramount, and artists should specialize in what they know best.  “If the music is bad, none of this stuff matters,” said Vin Rock of Naughty by Nature.

(2) The amount of music being released is soaring, and that presents serious marketing problems for artists.

Tommy Boy founder Tom Silverman opened the event by pointing to a swell in the amount of music being released.  The ability to create cheaply and distribute quickly means that fans are getting inundated with content.  Of an astounding 105,575 releases in 2008, just 1,515 sold more than 1,000 copies, according to presented data.  And just 110 artists sold more than 250,000 units.

(3) The reality?  Most artists are selling very little.

So, quit the day job?  Not so fast, according to several on hand.  Naughty by Nature’s Vin Rock noted that he was “up at 5 in the morning scrambling eggs,” but that a job kept his artistic ambitions alive.

On that point, Westergren noted that “a lot of artists think they have to be all in,” but a hardscrabble existence can force sub-par gigs like “Holiday Inn piano playing” and “playing covers” to make rent.

But the bigger point was critical.  Smart artists have moved beyond expectations of grandeur, and instead redialed their expectations towards middle-class success.  But just drawing a comfortable living from music remains a huge challenge for DIY artists, a shift that may keep only the most passionate and dedicated in the game.

Report by publisher Paul Resnikoff in New York.