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What Does Being Indie Look Like in 2021?

R&B artist Reggie Becton breaks down the highs and lows of taking on the major label machine.
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This article previously appeared on Audiomack World.

Going against the major-label machine is no small task. For Los Angeles-based artist Reggie Becton, staying independent is all about vision and battling discouragement. The PG County native fell in love with music at 17, honed in on a smooth R&B sound soon after, and hit the ground running, all while maintaining creative control and defining his independence on his terms.

“Being an independent artist today, it’s changed a lot since 2014,” Becton tells Audiomack. “It’s not about self-releasing your own music but being able to pull and grab, meet the right people, and bring your vision to life. I look at it like running a business. You have to hire a team, invest money, market, hire employees, and whatnot.”

Becton’s new-age soul sound flourished on 2019’s Phases and My Beanie’s Orange. That year also brought Reggie face-to-face with his favorite failure to date: bombing a residency at the Hotel Cafe in LA. “Literally, I bombed every show,” he says. “Just bad. Maybe the third one was pretty good. I needed that because you have to learn to fail, and it taught me so much about live shows and what I need to do to have live shows. Mentally, it taught me that one bad thing doesn’t break all the work you did. For the most part, everything is a step forward.”

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Reggie’s “everything is a step forward” mentality can be cited as the success point for his indie career. With his debut studio album California coming this October, Becton has spent this year making hard decisions and turning down label and distribution deals to preserve creative control. Being an independent artist in 2021 is, according to Reggie, all about creating opportunities for yourself and knowing when and when not to give up a piece of your pie.

“Me and my team, we always talk about how at some moment, we’re gonna have to give up a part of something, but right now is too soon,” Reggie says. “As artists, we rush into something because of money and access. We need finances and access to playlists, booking agents, and other things you lack as an indie artist. Luckily, I still work a 9-to-5, so I can invest a lot in myself and studio time, videos, and things like that. Not everybody has that benefit, so it’s really hard to make a name for yourself.”

How does an indie artist stand a chance of competing in the music industry against the major label machine’s resources?

You have to hustle, and I hate the grind mentality, but you have to realize comparison is the thief of all joy. I study artists that are signed to the machine, but I don’t compare myself. It’s not a fair comparison, and when you understand that, you can look at those artists as guides and make similar steps at your level.

You see an artist on late night, and think, “Damn, I wish I was on Jimmy Kimmel.” But what is my Jimmy Kimmel right now? When I do these performances, I put my all and stand out. How can we make it feel like a Jimmy Kimmel performance as an independent artist?

How do you keep from getting discouraged?

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Discouragement and doubt are natural feelings. People try to tell you to run from those emotions, and I think it’s good to confront and deal with them. They won’t go away; they’ll be there forever. That’s a natural part of life, so it’s important to learn how to deal with those emotions—it’s an everyday battle.

There’s nothing in the world like the music industry because it’s such a nuanced arena. There’s politics, relationships, certain people getting certain things because of connections. It’s an amazing mind-fuck. Every day you wake up, you have to think, “This could be the day it all changes for me.” Don’t get inside your head too much, because half the battle is staying consistent.

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What’s been the biggest battle you’ve had to take on as an indie artist?

The lack of access. Me and my team, a lot of the opportunities we’ve been afforded have been off of cold emails. That’s been tough, trying to make an opportunity for yourself [in] an industry that’s so focused on relationship-building. It’s hard to cut through without connections. You can become mentally drained and disappointed with yourself. That weighs on you.

One thing that helped me get through that was the pandemic—it stripped a lot of smoke and mirrors away. It pushed me to really fall in love with myself and my talent. It was a tough lesson I didn’t know I needed to learn.

The fan connection is supremely important to the indie operation, too. How do you manage that, while also managing your career?

It’s super tough. You have to make it a priority. Any time I have this list of DMs, even if it’s days later, I go down and say “Thank you,” and sometimes add a voice memo for a personal touch. I make sure fans know I appreciate them and am open to having any conversation they want to have. Respond to comments, too.

It’s important to appreciate the support because engagement is currency for independent artists on social media. Right now, you’re not making money, but when you get a comment, it boosts [your post] so someone else can see and comment.

Engagement is currency.

Oh, it is. We overlook that because as artists, you’re worried about trying to get real money. You see a major-label artist making money, but you gotta figure out where is your money now. You’re getting paid in social media. Treat every follower like a customer who’s coming in and starting a trial with you. After that trial, they may stay along and say, “Hey, I’ll buy the album.”

Lastly, what gets you out of bed in the morning and continues you on this path when it’s difficult?

It’s the music. Creating my album through the pandemic kept me going. Although we’ve been working on California for three years, the pandemic is where we honed in on it. The album was my saving grace through it all because it kept me moving. It’s always the music first. I wanted to create a project that would help other people get out of bed.

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