Queer Musician's Guide to Getting Heard
SO. I'm currently in the process of mixing my acoustic album for the 2/14/15 release. Telling myself I have NO excuses to push back this time. Also getting ready for a week of performances in Denver. I've never been. I'm nervous, but mostly excited to go. I dug up this guide I wrote last year. I hope it's helpful!
OMG QUEER PEOPLE ARE SO HUNGRY. We’ve held our breath anxiously waiting for the release of Ndegeocello’s next album. We’ve watched the L Word. Every episode. At least once. Regardless of how much it offended us. Downloaded Glee’s “Teenage Dream”. We waited for Raven Simone. We wait for QUeen Latifah. WE rejoiced over Frank Ocean. We watched poorly shot and written webseries just to see two women of color kissing. We are hungry and we need media, music, film and art badly. If you are a queer musician, there are tons of people out here who want to hear your music. My name is Be Steadwell, I'm an independent queer musician and I've put together a guide for other grassroots queer musicians. These aren’t rules, they’re suggestions, and they’ve worked for me. I have a lot to learn, so anyone who has advice or tips to contribue, please do! OK. Let’s get you heard.
1. BE YOURSELF.
Don’t imitate lil wayne, or beyonce, or tegan and sarah. they already exist and have way more money to do what they do better. Don’t talk about all the girls you got if you’ve been single for months. If you’re broke, talk about being broke. Don’t talk about all your cars, and all your brand name clothes. It’s boring. And it’s bullshit. So many queer femcees out here spitting the same, tired objectifying lyrics that we hear on the radio every day. Some folks try to revamp the ragged rap formula by replacing "dick" with strap, yet keeping all the "B" and "N" words. Honies. You don’t make misogyny radical because you have a volva. Plus. You KNOW that in real life, if you talked to your girlfriend like that-she would slap you. So. Speak from your own experiences, be yourself, be real.
2. BECOME SELF-RELIANT
Unless you’re a five-plus piece band, record your own shit. Mics, mixers and computers are cheaper every day. By the time you’ve paid for an album’s worth of studio time, you could have constructed your own tiny studio. If you can lay down tracks one at a time, you can save up to record and mix your own songs as you get started. Again, for larger bands-this process is more complicated and expensive than for singer-songwriters, but if you can, record on your own.
Also, self-reliance is especially relevant for vocalists. Don’t wait for instrumentalists to commit to working with you. Don’t wait for a record deal. Learn an instrument, or learn to produce beats and work for yourself. You shouldn’t have to wait for anyone to write, play a show or create music. Find a way.
*This is how I ended up on a loop pedal. I wanted to play shows and create on my own, I wasn't making the money to hire brilliant instrumentalists, and my guitar skills are still under construction for the moment. This was my weird, risky, and terrifying way to be self reliant.
3. GO TO COLLEGE
As you’re getting started, Universities and Colleges may be the only venues that can afford to pay you well. LGBTQA-xyz centers and orgs on campus are always looking for the new, radical, exciting performers. This could offer you a nice paycheck, the chance to travel, and some great exposure. Plus, I've found that college kids make for really great audiences.
*Gay Prides are great too, but unless you’re a feature performer-they won’t pay you much. Just try to avoid coming out of pocket. Look for prides in your area.
4. YOUTUBE YOURSELF
NO. People shouldn't listen to your music because you wear cool clothes. NO. A song shouldn't be about how epic the music video was. BUT. These days, it is. Send someone an mp3 file in their email. They might listen to it. Send someone a music video with queer people at the center of the narrative, and they might listen to the song 15 times and share it with ten friends.
Music should be about music, but visual culture also offers a space for queer resistance. Because we are so silenced in pop music and pop culture, we have to create our own radio, our own shows, our own music videos. I remember when I graduated undergrad and found myself glued to the computer screen. Searching “queer”, “queer women of color”, “stud”, “dom”. I found SO many gems. I stumbled across DeepdickCollective, Juice Box (the incredible entertainer), QWOCMAP, I found out about The Revival (Queer Woman of Color salon tour), I found a whole world that I could relate to. I was Hungry. So sing your songs live on video. Make fun, no-budget music videos. Your first youtube video will feel extremely narcissistic, it is. But, people care.
*When I started playing with film and music videos, I was in THE LOST BOIS, a queer hip-pop group. We made our own music videos, featuring our own strange, awkward, silly selves and people really dug it. Our silly videos got us gigs in canada, nc, sc, mass, philly, new york. The lost bois' Reading rainbow was probably the most popular of our videos.
Work with other queer artists. Meet them, perform with them, write with them. Build strength together. It’s much more fun when you have a team. I know for sure that without people like Hart (queer Youtube celebrity), 330, Javier Starks, Naima Infinity and Toshi Reagon, I would not have gained the audience and support I have now. Share audiences, stages, and tracks, your audience will grow exponentially.