The old adage: If you want something done right, do it yourself is a pretty apt description for any DIY band or artist looking to elevate themselves above the maelstrom of music mediocrity.
Melbourne's hardcore punks Clowns are living proof of this sentiment, which has seen the band release four studio albums (their 2019 record 'Nature / Nurture' was nominated for Best Hard Rock or Heavy Metal Album at the 2019 ARIA Awards), support the likes of Foo Fighters and Rise Against, and play international festivals including Riot Fest (in Chicago), Deichbrand, and Wacken Open Air.
They've just released their first song, 'Does It Matter', in two years; a track that finds the band for the first time allowing an outsider (US songwriter-producer Matt Squire: Panic! At The Disco, Ariana Grande) to influence their songwriting process.
"It's cleaner than any Clowns song has ever been, and the sense of melody is stronger than it's ever been," enthuses the band.
Here, frontman Stevie Williams shares a few DIY tips to get your music career cranking.
"Taking a DIY approach to your music career is not only equal parts satisfying, frustrating, life making and soul crushing, for many (including us) it is actually the only realistic way to gain a career in the music industry.
"Hunter S Thompson once said: 'The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.'
"Here's a few tips from our DIY trial and error that we've learned along this narrow, plastic hallway."
1: Play 500 gigs
When I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 18 year old starting my punk band Clowns from a bedroom in my mum's house in Melbourne suburbia, I made a phone call to a renowned Australian booking agency. We had no recorded music, no touring experience and no idea how this world worked.
However, my plan was simple – call them and ask them to book us a tour! Surely they'd do it, I mean, that's what booking agencies do, right?
I have no idea who the charming person was on the other side of the phone, but I'll always remember them saying to me: "Why the hell do you think we'd book you a tour? What experience do you have? What is in it for us?"; and then they said: "Listen, it takes about 500 gigs to get an artist to the level at which they need to be. Go out and play 500 shows, and then give us a call." Then they hung up the phone, no goodbyes.
I was pretty shattered tbh, but the encounter caught a hook in the sometimes stubborn and sh.t-stirring qualities of my personality. I thought to myself 'alright, I'll go off and play 500 shows. I'm going to work so damn hard on my band that when I get to 500 shows, I'm going to call you and rub it in your face that you didn't get to work with us.
So, we played gigs wherever we could. It started at any bar in Melbourne that would take us on. Soon that would evolve to Fridays and Saturdays, where foot traffic would be more likely.
At those shows we met interstate bands who let us piggyback onto their EP launches in their home territory, where we started to grow a fan base nationally. We met strangers who were booking backyard parties in rural cities along the way and would drive out to them, play for nothing, sleep on their floor and make a whole bunch of new friends.
We even met people at gigs who knew promoters that threw gigs in the jungles of Borneo and found a way to get ourselves there too!
Little did we know that our mission to charge to 500 gigs as fast as possible was actually learning us, seasoning us and growing us into the band we had always wanted to be. Once we reached 500 gigs, I never had the guts to call back the booking agency to tell them they were right.
I wonder sometimes if I've ever crossed paths with that person again, or if they even remember. Anyways, if they do, thanks! Best advice ever.
2: Work intuitively
There aren't many people out there who start a career as a musician because they want to make some quick coin. It's an intuitive decision based off of an unexplainable life-long urge to become a musician.
Making decisions intuitively is really important because a lot of the time you will have to do things that make absolutely no sense aside from the fact that your life calling is begging you to do it.
Hell, I can't tell you how many jobs I've lost, how many awkward family conversations I've endured, how many important life events I've missed, how many personal relationships I've had melted all because I (for example) decided to burn all the money in my bank account and travel to Slovakia to play a music festival in forest.
Often, your career in music will take you to many amazing places you never could've known existed, but yet make absolutely no sense at all to do aside from the fact it is satisfying your internal urge to play music. Listen to that urge, and don't let common sense take over. You might regret it, but #yolo.
3: Be supportive
There are a lot of dick holes in the music world, but no one makes it in the music biz by being a dick hole. They become like that because the music business jades them that way.
Try your hardest never to become that dick hole! Support everyone, go to shows, listen to local bands, buy tickets to shows, be part of music communities big and small.
Make friends, not fans. We all thrive when we all support each other; and if you encounter a dick hole, just remember, it's not their fault, and support them too.
4: Rock The Boat
Not many great people go down in history obeying all the rules. When you are taking a DIY approach to your music career, don't be afraid to rock the boat a little.
If you have a controversial opinion, write a song about it. If you have something to say, say it in between the songs. If not everyone agrees, that's great! Let them fight about it in the comments section of your next insta post.
Whether you are on stage, writing a song or putting together an opinion piece for an online music magazine, as a musician you really have a very small window to say whatever the hell it is you want say, so say it uncompromisingly and with conviction.
One of the blessings of taking a DIY approach to your music career is that you get the opportunity to say whatever you want, without anyone being able to intervene on your messages. So, exercise that right and don't be afraid to say and do whatever.
5: Find what you love and let it kill you
Being real here, I've wanted to quit my career in music more times than I'd like to admit. And honestly, that seems to be a ubiquitous experience between not just musicians, but anyone who takes a creative path in life.
After those feelings subside, if you can't resolve on trying again, then perhaps the creative life isn't for you (and that's okay), but for many of us that just won't be an option. If you love your creative pursuit, then do it until the light goes out.
Even if you feel like no one cares about it. Even if you feel like you are bashing your head against a brick wall. Do it because you know that at its deepest level, it is satisfying to you. Ironically, that sense of obsession and determination is what people may come to admire about your project.
Someone once told me that we are all on a different path to the same location. Some people might seem to get there easier than others. Some people might encounter more hurdles, but we are all united by the fact that we are all on the same journey, just on a different track, so let's look out for each other. Safe travels my friends.