The DIY ethic

A good friend of mine pointed out something to me about 10 years ago that never occurred to me, even while I was right, smack dab in the middle of it:

“Nobody is going to help you.”

Let me add some color and context to this. At the risk of bringing this up yet again and having you roll your eyes, I’m gonna do it again anyway.

I played in a fiercely independent, angry, hardcore metal band in the 1980’s. I was a rocker kid. In grade school I discovered KISS, Black Sabbath and Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, etc and I just ate it up. All the older kids in my neighborhood were desperately devoted to 70’s funk: Funkadelic, Gap Band, Fatback, etc. I just thought guitar music was rad, I guess. Anyway, once I actually taught myself to play guitar I wanted to see how hard it would be to start a “band”. I had absolutely no interest in performing (AND I STILL DON’T. STORY FOR ANOTHER TIME). I was just interested in playing music with friends. It was only a month or so before I started writing music. Terrible, amateuristic, simple music. Man did I love it!

It took us awhile but eventually we found ourselves involved in the local thrash metal scene that was the center of the universe for metal music. Metallica was still playing clubs, the Bay Area Thrash sound was something bands all over the world were trying to figure out. There were literally hundreds of bands in the suburbs all “competing” for the same gigs in the same 10 or 12 clubs in the bay area. We were literally 4 nice kids from the suburbs that wanted (and didn’t want) to be part of the scene. We weren’t great for the first year of playing shows and we took some grief because we were easy targets being so young. I was the elder statesman at the ripe old age of 17. The other guys were all 14 years old. Yes, we were playing clubs as YOUNG teenagers. Once we felt that rejection we decided to curl away from the genuinely gritty East Bay / San Francisco metal scene and try and do some shows in our own neck of the woods.

Ok, yeah, some of it was rejection and some of it was more The-Devil-You-Know. Regardless, we are finally rounding the corner to the point of my blog post (aren’t you stoked?). Our whole premise for the band was this: Do It Yourself. Doing it myself was a theme that would follow me all my life and I’m fiercely proud of it. However, the best career advice I ever got from my mentor was this: “You need to ask for help sooner”. When you’re spending the clients’ money to learn a new technology, you damn well better be able to justify it in the deliverables. He was right.

The DIY ethic as I understood it (related to the music “industry” of course), was all about rejecting the ethics and bully tactics of major record labels. We took it a step further and didn’t just record and release our own records, but we booked our own tours, did t-shirts and controlled 100% of our music. In hindsight we may have taken that a tad too far, as it became a bit of a career-limiting decision. I genuinely wasn’t interested in having a “career” playing music after seeing the damage done to lives similar in age and motivation to my own.

At the end of the day (yet another cliche’ I use, but detest!), we were able to build something that stands up even by today’s standards. We did it, quite literally, ourselves. Funny thing is that we were ready to ask for help but there never seemed to be any available. We did get pretty acutely aware of people glomming on to what they thought was a money-making enterprise but they tended to fall away like autumn leaves when they realized this was a bootstrapping type of thing. I had no business starting a record label at 19 but I did it anyway. I wasn’t about to wait for someone to tell me “Nobody is going to help you”, even if they weren’t.

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