We caught up with The Digilogue co-founder Drew de Leon in NYC to find out his advice for building an independent music career as a new artist.
Written by Leni - March 26, 2019
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 everything from community development to social media, digital marketing and managing mental health.
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 realised 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 realised 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.
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 realised 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.
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 which gives us instant gratification and we want everything to happen now, in 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,
I think it’s about content, because the way music is translated now is really just based off 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 compliment 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.
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!
I think the key is about being self aware and not being 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 recognising that you’re not feeling well, taking a step back and talking to the right people.