RECAP: The DIY Musician Conference 2022!

It’s difficult to encapsulate the whole spirit of 2022’s DIY Musician Conference, but I’ll try anyway:

  • Three days of music mentorship
  • Much-needed camaraderie with fellow artists
  • Career growth following years of lost momentum
  • A long-overdue party with new and old friends

After three-years away, CD Baby’s annual event for independent musicians returned to Austin, Texas with all the actionable advice, inspiration, and collaboration of previous years. Plus the extra excitement and relief that it was all finally happening again!

I’ll give a recap below…

1000 musicians, rededicated to their art and careers

Planning a massive educational and networking event is an undertaking in the best of times. It was all the more difficult this year with Covid contingencies, skyrocketing airline fees, and general inflation.

So when the registration room started to fill up Thursday night with excited artists who were there to learn and share their stories, it kicked off the weekend with a really powerful and positive energy.

Sorry to sound woo-woo, but it’s true. Getting the chance to talk face-to-face with a thousand DIY musicians… I didn’t know how much I missed and needed that. It was like the first sunbreak after months of Portland rain; you suddenly notice dozens of people staring at the sky and think “Wow, I didn’t realize how long winter was until just now.”

Our conference is always a welcoming space where artists are there to simply be artists, not get lost in comparisons, name-dropping, and industry buzzwords. But this year felt even more like a real community, and I think most attendees experienced their own version of my sunbreak analogy.

A weekend of camaraderie, collaboration and connection

With countless chances to perform (at open mics, official showcases, jam room, impromptu collabs in the lobby),…

…to meet reps from some of the biggest brands in music (like Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, Meta, Pandora, Berklee College of Music),…

…to learn from the experts (including Alberto Chapa, Rick Barker, Indepreneur, Cheryl B. Engelhardt, Ari Herstand),…

…to get real-time feedback and critique (from pros like Ross Golan, Kara DioGuardi, Tom Jackson, Amy Wolter),…

…and to rekindle a sense of purpose (thanks to sessions by Matthew Mayer, Suzanne Paulinski, Making Movies),…

…it really was an unforgettable weekend for artists.

The seeds of new songs, new tours, new bands, new marketing ideas, were bursting open. Perhaps it will take weeks or months to see the flowers break through the soil (I’m really going with these sappy metaphors today, huh?), but the most important and difficult work was underway: STARTING.

To all the attendees who made the commitment to share their weekend with us, I can’t thank you enough. You did the difficult thing. You started, or started again.

Below I’ll share some of the big lessons I learned (or relearned) from the event…

Key takeaways from the DIY Musician Conference 2022

1. Automation and personalization don’t have to be at odds

There are countless tools to help you automate your communications with fans. That might sound cold and robotic at first, but there ARE ways to personalize your automated messages with video, audio, and more.

Plus, as your audience grows, you won’t have time to respond individually to every DM, comment, or email. So unless you automate things, you probably won’t respond at all. Better to automate than go quiet.

2. It’s time to rediscover what makes your artistry unique

There are so many artists releasing music today. In order to stand out, you have to really lean into your hook as a music creator. Get weird. Be you. Define your brand, and then figure out how to reinforce it with every song, post, and performance.

3. TikTok may be your biggest opportunity today

To some of you, this probably sounds obvious. For many DIY artists though, TikTok has seemed like the exclusive realm of trending music and youth-culture memes. But it’s so much more than that.

At the DIY Musician Conference, we heard from multiple artists who achieved viral success for niche music by making a few small tweaks to their video content. They didn’t change who they were; they simply respected how the algorithm surfaces content, and used that knowledge to get their music in front of the right people.

4. Just get started! Just say you’re done!

Our conference was a great reminder that you shouldn’t wait around for perfection. You can’t keep staring at an endless to-do list. There comes a point where you just have to do the first thing on your list. Or you just have to say the song is done, or the project is complete.

A song you think is “good enough” could change someone else’s life. The one thing you checked off your list today may be a bigger achievement than you realize, since it’s a building-block for something bigger.

5. Music’s value isn’t (just) about money

The industry focuses so much on “success metrics.” Stream counts. Concert revenue. TikTok views.

But our conference opened and closed with two talks that went so much deeper than that. Kevin Breuner spoke about a house concert where the host told his band one of their songs  — which wasn’t even in the top-50 songs in their catalog, in terms of streams — literally saved his life. What is that song “worth”? For at least one listener, everything.

In the closing keynote, the band Making Movies spoke about music’s power to not only bring people together, but allow people to be who they truly are, even when they don’t feel like they fit into the dominant culture. Music, especially niche music, can give people a sense of home and belonging. What is that “worth?” A lot more than money.

6. Genres don’t matter

I mean, of course genres matter from a marketing perspective. But what I mean is, good music is good music. And at our conference, no matter what the attendees’ normal listening preferences, they were super supportive of EVERYONE that displayed talent and bravery.

There wasn’t a “rock” crowd and a “folk” crowd and a “hip-hop” crowd and an “EDM” crowd. And there wasn’t a “young” crowd or an “old” crowd or something in between. There was just a thousand artists dancing and shouting along when anyone’s music sounded good. A thousand artists helping each other.

In a world that can sometimes feel increasing siloed and divided, it was so refreshing to just be artists celebrating artistry.

7. You need to put yourself in uncomfortable situations

You don’t grow unless you push past some limitation. For some, it was submitting a song to the Songwriter SharkTank, to be critiqued by pros in front of the entire audience. Or putting their name in the hat for an open mic slot. Or even just pushing through some shyness to just say hi.

Cheers to everyone at the conference who did something scary.

What’s next for the DIY Musician Conference? I’ll hint at the future below…

What will the DIY Musician Conference look like in 2023?

Normally in the three months leading up to a big event, the hosts are already planning the following year so they can make a big announcement and capture attention while the party is still happening. But our 2022 conference was such an undertaking (for all the reasons I mentioned above) that we just didn’t have the time to get 2023 clearly defined.

But… we do have some big plans. Now that we’re back from Austin, the next couple months will be all about finding the right host spaces, cities, and themes. Our aim is to keep the conference impactful, mobile, and affordable for artists. All that to say, the DIY Musician Conference WILL BE BACK in some form or another in 2023. Maybe even… THROUGHOUT 2023? We’ll see!

Make sure to subscribe to CD Baby’s email list and follow our podcast and blog for details by year-end. We want to make sure you have enough time to plan well ahead. (And hey, if you live in the UK, we have a single-day event in London this fall.)

What was YOUR favorite moment or key takeaway from the DIY Musician Conference?

If you attended in-person or online, I’d love to hear about your experience. Was there a particular lesson or session that changed your perspective? Was there a speaker or performer who moved you? Let me know in the comments!

 And if you want to hear Kevin Breuner and I talk about OUR favorite moments, check out this episode: 

Credits: RECAP: The DIY Musician Conference 2022!