How to Build Your Independent Music Career with the Digilogue's Drew de Leon
We caught up with The Digilogue's Co-Founder Drew de Leon in NYC to get his best advice for new artists wanting to build their music careers.
Drew de Leon is the Co-Founder and Brand Director of The Digilogue, a community-driven music and tech education platform with a mission to bridge the gap between the rapidly changing music industry and independent artists. Collaborating with some of the industry’s most forward-thinking brands and thought-leaders, The Digilogue supports independent artists with the tools, information, and networking opportunities needed to help develop their careers.
We caught up with Drew in NYC to find out his advice for building an independent music career as a new artist, chatting about everything from community development to social media, digital marketing, and managing mental health.
Hey, Drew! Can you start off by telling us about The Digilogue and why you started the platform and community?
I’ve worked in the industry for almost 10 years now, but at the start, I never really had a path into it. I never had family that worked for labels or friends that were musicians, so for me, I had to build everything from scratch — relationships, opportunities, and so forth. What I realized after the digital boom, was that anyone could be an artist and upload music to the internet. So I wanted to create a platform where people could connect and get information from thought-leaders who are making an impact in the space. It’s one thing to have the tools, but it’s another thing to know how to use them.
What I realized with the independent space growing so fast, is that a lot of these artists are still figuring things out — from music distribution to publishing and marketing. I wanted to create a safe space where these artists could come together, not only to learn but to collaborate with their peers. Everyone wants to be able to connect with people that are doing the same thing and have the opportunity to learn from people impacting music.
Photo: SXSW "The Future Is Independent" event with The Digilogue x amuse. Taken by @jwillpro.
What inspired this mission to support independent artists?
Because I came from an artist management position, where I was building marketing plans, booking tours, and creating a lot of opportunities for the independent music community, my will came from seeing artists take on so many different parts of their journey. When you’re indie, you have to. I realized that I could only help three or four artists if I was working with them on a one-on-one basis, but what impact could I make if I was able to scale and amplify my work and affect a large group of the independent artist community. Whether you’re a marketing creative or an artist, everyone can learn. And that’s really my passion.
Information is very fragmented right now, I think a lot of people don’t understand the workings of things when they first start — whether it’s publishing, knowing how to protect your masters, music distribution or how to generate revenue. Even when it comes to playlisting on DSPs, people default to “playlisting is my strategy.” And I’m like, “you shouldn’t default to that.” I’m really trying to educate artists so they’re not caught up on what they think they know and focus on information and community instead.
What do you think the biggest barrier is for independent artists trying to take their careers to the next level?
For a lot of artists, the product has to be good first — that’s number one. And then building the right teams around them. You can have a great product, yes, but if you don’t have a great team around you, you’re screwed. There are a lot of factors that come into play, and we live in an on-demand society that gives us instant gratification and we want everything to happen now, at this moment. I think artists feel pressured to do so many things within a six-month period, and it’s the slow burn that’s the go.
It’s a proven case study when you’re developing artists — you build the fans first, whether it’s the first 100, 500, or 10,000. Because as you’re doing that, and your streams go up, it can translate to hard ticket sales. You’re developing a real fan base versus “I have a great song, but I have no fan base to invite to my show.” These are the things I try to educate artists on — having a long-term outlook and being able to manage expectations. It’s important to have reasonable goals. Everyone’s not going to be a megastar. That’s just the reality of it. But you can still be successful in your own way,
What’s the one thing you tell artists to focus on in the early stages of their music career?
I think it’s about content because the way music is translated now is really just based on the content you put out. It’s all about showing the artist’s personality and how vulnerable they can be with the content they put out. Artists are so focused on the songs they release, but you need to have something strong to complement it because we’re all visual people and we’re really keen on storytelling. So for us to really understand you as an artist, and connect with your song, there has to be something to bridge that gap and for me, that’s content. You need something to connect the dots.
How can artists show more vulnerability through their content?
It’s all about persona. How authentic can you be through your content? The artists that win are totally unapologetic about who they are. It doesn’t have to be extreme but I think it’s important to show emotion — you can’t just be an android. A lot also has to do with how you interact with your fans online, whether it be commenting or responding. It’s a full-length campaign and you constantly have to do it. If you’re only spending time in the studio making music, it becomes a one-sided conversation. If you’re not talking to people, you don’t have an audience to put your music out to. Artists tend to get caught up in a one-sided conversation, and they need to understand it’s a two-way street. Talk to your fans!
amuse has a mission to support up-and-coming artists in their music journey and not just during the shiny parts — what’s your advice for artists who are struggling to balance their careers with positive mental health?
I think the key is to be self-aware and not be ashamed to ask for help. When it comes to mental health, it’s also about understanding your body. Being an artist isn’t about spending 20 hours in the studio, and showing that you’re grinding. It’s important to hustle and work hard yes, but at the end of the day we’re like batteries — we need to get recharged. A lot of artists get caught up in the vices of the world, whether it be drugs or alcohol, to cope with these things. It’s about recognizing that you’re not feeling well, taking a step back, and talking to the right people.