Whether you consider yourself indie, underground, DIY or up and coming - and whether you are dedicated to staying grassroots or have your designs on the big time, just about everyone experiences faces a disconnect between what they can afford to do and what they would really like to do at some point in their music careers. Indie labels, musicians, promoters - it really doesn't matter so much which aspect of the industry you work in - the fact remains that sometimes what you need to do to advance your career will run in direct opposition to what you need to do to advance your bank account (in the short term).
Sounds like a pretty desperate situation, right? Well, it doesn't have to be. First, step away from the credit card. Next, look around. See all of those friends and colleagues who are in the same boat? There's strength in numbers, and cooperating with other people facing the same challenges of you can help you all take a step up. There are countless ways you can cooperate with your fellow musicians, labels, promoters and so on. If you can dream it up and convince people to contribute their talents to make it happen, you can pull it off. Here are just a few examples to get you started:
Gig Swaps - Want to play a show in new town to expand your audience? Find a similar band that draws similar numbers in their town that you do in your own usual gig spot. Ask them to book a show for you both where they live. Let them headline that show. Show up and wow their fans. Repay the favor by booking a show in your town and inviting them to play. Bonus points when everyone provides a place to crash on show nights in their respective towns.
Joint Releases - Let's say that even though it is pricey, you just have to have that 7" release. Well, do it as double A-side joint 7" single with another artist, and suddenly you have double the promotion and half the price. Don't think that collaborations like this have to be linked to 7" singles or even physical product, either. You have the absolute freedom to work with other musicians to devise any kind of release/release promotional campaign that allows everyone to maximize the promotion and exposure while keeping costs down.
Club Nights - Consider, for instance, an indie label and an indie promoter trying to set up roots and get established. One standing night a month working together at a local club can do wonders. The label can be a source of musicians to play, and even on nights when no label acts are around, someone from the label can show up and do a DJ set, plugging some label releases into the mix. For the promoter, a standing event can help them develop a reputation with local venues and press. The label also gets a press boost.
These are ideas are just the tip of the iceberg - and are inspired by things that I have seen work. They are small scale things you can do even if you are really just starting out, and they can help you play a little above your rank without spending money. You can use this kind of cooperating and collaboration as a stepping stone to bigger things. Ready to get into the working together spirit? Keep these things in mind:
You Don't Need Permission - As long as you are not breaking the law (copyright or otherwise) or violating the terms of an agreement you may have, you don't need anyone's permission to collaborate with someone on a new idea. Doesn't matter if no one has ever done it before, doesn't matter if some people think your idea is a little kooky. You're primarily investing work and creativity here, not big cash, so you can afford to take some chances and "think outside the box" (as they say). The biggest winners in the music industry are often the people who tried when everyone else said their idea was nuts.
Reciprocate - Cooperation and collaboration are two way streets. Return the favor, bring something to the table, hold up your end of the bargain - all that good stuff.
Don't Sweat The Competition - Some people are hesitant about cooperation because they see everyone else in the music industry as competition. Music isn't like ketchup, though. You don't refuse to buy Musician X's release because you already have Musician Y's like you would refuse to buy some Hunt's because you already have some Heinz in the fridge. Sure, at some level in the industry there are bidding wars and all that jazz, but often in the music industry, you have a lot more to gain by cooperating rather than competing. This is especially true at the indie level and extra especially true when you are just getting started.
Check out more music industry quick tips here.