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Doin' it for themselves: Queer musicians join authors and filmmakers in subverting corporate distribution channels with the DIY movement.

She was not original (too Bonnie Raitt), she was in her mid 30s (too old), and her music was bar-band material (too unrefined). These were the reasons singer-songwriter Holly Light was given by a major-label music exec in the mid 1990s as to why she wasn't "signable."

"And then he showed me a new act he liked," recalls Light, now 43, "and they were exactly like Hootie and the Blowfish." It was then, Light says, that she realized that if she was going to make a living as a music artist, she would have to do it on her own.

From MP3.com to Sundance to McSweeney's, doing it yourself--or DIY--is a decision more and more artists are making when they can't, or don't want to, achieve mainstream success through traditional means. And many artists, including openly gay ones like Light, are discovering it is not a sentence to total obscurity. To wit: Light's self-published first album, 2001's Beautiful World, won the 2002 Songwriter of the Year award at the DIY Music Festival in Los Angeles.

"It's a classic album, as good as anything you'll hear anywhere," says festival director Bruce Haring. "Bonnie Raitt would kill for those songs." Over the past four years, Haring and his wife Debbie have helped independent musicians, writers, and filmmakers learn how to make and market their own material through DIY conventions, festivals, and live events in Los Angeles, New York City, and Nashville. While Haring, 47, credits much of the DIY boom to the growing number of inexpensive creative and publishing tools, he points out that "gay and lesbian artists have really been at the forefront of the whole DIY movement," citing Allen Ginsberg's self-published 1955 epic poem Howl as a classic example.

"The reason the indie thing works so well is that you don't necessarily have to have a label [or genre] attached to you," argues Randi Driscoll, 32, an indie singer-songwriter whose benefit single, "What Matters," has raised in excess of $30,000 for the Matthew Shepard Foundation over the past three years. Driscoll contends that audiences--she estimates hers to be "70% GLBT or omnisexual"--are looking for alternatives to homogenized corporate entertainment and are finding it in the independent world. "Audiences are ready to say, 'We have a mind of our own. We're willing to embrace whatever speaks to us.'"

So what can budding DIY artists do to successfully speak to their audiences? Haring stresses pragmatism. "It's not about making millions. It's about making a comfortable living working in the field of your choice." Light is more blunt: "Don't quit your day job. You need to fund [your] art somehow, so don't be a starving artist. Don't try to cross the whole ocean; just look at the little wave that's coming in."

Indie spins

Six lesbian and gay DIY VIPs you should give a listen to ASAP

BITCH AND ANIMAL

Sour Juice and RhymeThis rock-meets-funk chick duo is sometimes very funny, sometimes very, very angry.

IAMLOVED

Never Forget Playful, partying debut rock release from the playful all-gay party rock band. Sample song: "Breaking Up (Is Easy to Do)."

DEIAN MCBRYDE

One Day in Melbourne Cabaret regular McBryde packs his newest with pitch-perfect blues and jazz standards and originals.

ALIX OLSON

Independence Meal Spoken-word circuit fixture Olson's second album is filled with fire and amazing grace.

EMBER SWIFT

Stiltwalking Jazz, reggae, folk, prink--it's impossible to pigeonhole Swift's seventh album, so don't even try.

JIM VERRAROS

Unsaid and Understood The original American Idol top 10 Finalist sings with true passion and bracing maturity--his "So Deep" is so dirty even Xtina would blush.

--A.B.V.

Vary also writes for Entertainment Weekly.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:music
Author:Vary, Adam B.
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Nov 11, 2003
Words:609
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