The Dirt: Bedroom DIY
Hey, you! Yeah, you there in yr bedroom. We see you.
You've been tinkering and noodlin' away on some ideas for songs for a while now, haven't you? That's actually super exciting! But how to take those ideas to the next level and take your first steps beyond the comfortable confines of your abode? That is the question. As part of our ongoing industry-insider series, The Dirt, we've knocked on the doors of a bunch of DIY Australian legends including 2016 Unearthed J Award winner Tash Sultana, nomadic coastal folk artist Ziggy Alberts and Melbourne’s Dan Oke, the solo-savant behind Jarrow to get their advice on how to get your music out of your bedroom and into the ears of new fans.
Always Be Writing
Once you’ve caught the song-writing bug you’ve got to keep feeding the beast, so remember those three beautiful words and always be writing. It’s a mantra that’s helped Dan from Jarrow keep up a prolific release output over the last couple of years and foster growth with each new song.
“If you know how to play an instrument already, give yourself a few hours a day to just come up with anything. The more time you give to teach yourself and practise writing melodies and progressions, the better and more versatile you’ll get over time. It just takes a bit of patience and motivation to reach those goals,” he says.
Embrace The Noise
As our DIY brainstrust can attest, it's okay for your humble beginnings to be just that. Dreams of expensive, high-tech gear can wait but for the time being work with whatever you can find.
"When I started out with Jarrow, my gear setup was just a beat up electric guitar, a stolen copy of Ableton Live and a USB guitar lead I bought from Toys R Us," Dan says. "The result of this meant I was able to create and discover sounds with a bit more grit and abrasion that I feel like a majority of studio setups are designed to avoid."
Tash agrees, preaching the affordable practices of DIY recording. "Turn your ears on and train them well; you will always be able to find the sound that you’re after. Second hand stores always hold hidden treasures".
Get Your Gig On
Opportunities for your first forays into the live arena are going to vary depending on where you are around the country but take it from those who've gone before you and make the most of any opportunities you can create for yourself or that come your way. Rocking up to open mic nights was the favoured route for a teenaged Tash Sultana who boasts to playing “every open mic night at every pub in Victoria” on her way up. Tash’s advice for the long run? “Take every gig opportunity that you could possibly get but make sure you don’t sell yourself short”.
“For me, busking as much as I did in Byron Bay a couple of years ago was the most integral thing in developing my career,” Ziggy says of street-side start to performing. “It taught me how to build confidence [as a performer] because people aren't focusing on what you're doing, so you've got express yourself confidently. It's also great for building your stamina - if you're performing for two or three hours all the time that's going to help you in the long run. Busking gives you the legs to play in all sorts of situations, from out the front of a bank at peak hour to turning up to play Splendour and even though you're freaking out you've got the legs to smile and pretend like you're not freaking out!”
“Once you’ve got a collection of songs that you’ve either written or recorded, get a band together or start playing the tracks yourself in a live setting,” Dan likewise encourages. “Lots of advantages that can come from this; building an audience of fans interested in your craft, meeting other bands who will provide support and join you on your line-ups, as well as an opportunity to let yourself develop previously written material even more.”
Keep It Real
Don’t sweat it if what you’re making at first isn’t the crisp HQ package that you’ve been dreaming of for ages now – it takes time to realise the ideas in your head and get them down. Find what works for you and keep doing it. That approach worked for these legends. “Allow yourself to make mistakes, audible errors and happy accidents in your song-writing and recordings,” Dan says. “This was something I wasn’t expecting when I started out, but came as a pleasant surprise.”
Injecting your own personality into your music makes it and you memorable, like the environmentalist themes that flow through Ziggy’s music or how Tash converts flocks of followers with her magnetic live performances. “At my live shows I just play my music exactly how I feel,” Tash says. “I think people resonate with that when they see it”.
Upload Your Music
Well, you’re here on triple j Unearthed, right? It’s a massive melting pot of music being shared around by fans, artists and the ears behind triple j, Unearthed and Double J. We wanna hear what you’ve been working on! “You will be very surprised how quickly a song will spread once it’s easily available to stream online, not just in your network of friends and family either, but pretty much anybody on the planet who’s lucky enough to find it,” Dan says. “Who cares if it’s not even 100% finished, it’s not worth missing out on an opportunity like that.”
Opportunities are what came to Ziggy Alberts after he began to upload songs onto Facebook, leading to small cafe shows around the Sunshine Coast before busking in Byron Bay. “That’s the reason I could tour nine countries in Europe - I’d sell CDs to backpackers from Sweden or Germany and then I messaged them on Instagram and asked if anyone would have me over there.”
For Tash, who uploaded ‘Gemini’ and ‘Notion’ to her Unearthed page in 2016 and then stormed that year’s Hottest 100, another would be to suss out recording some DIY video content. “That’s as real as it possibly can get,” she says of the powerful videos she posted in early 2016 of her playing and looping. “It just started in my bedroom; it’s like an invitation into my home to watch me jam”.