Gilli Moon is an independent artist that has had her hand in every area of the arts. A singer, songwriter, musician, painter, dancer, and now an author of a book titled I Am A Professional Artist (The Key to Survival and Success In The World of Arts).
This weekend, Gilli spoke about songwriting at the RockrGrl Music Conference in Seattle and then performed her own unique music live at Seattle’s famous Conor Byrne Pub. On Sunday she is back in Los Angeles to play a show called The Living Room Sessions at The Mint. Such is the busy life of a consistent independent artist.
In an interview with Leah Bachar for diyreporter.com, Gilli talks about being a polymedia artist, a warrior in the music business, and the passion she has for creating. Along with her new book is her newest contribution to the music world, an album titled extraOrdinary life. Here Gilli tells DIY of the benefits, the realities, and the experiences of being an independent artist.
DIY: Okay, I’ll just go ahead and start with the first question, which is how did you get into singing and songwriting?
GM: How did I get into it? I don’t think anyone gets into singing and songwriting, I just think we start doing it as children. That’s how I did it. I started writing songs and singing, but did you mean the business side of it?
GM: Well the business part of it is…I was in Sydney, Australia and I started playing in bands, writing songs, and recording them. Then I came over to L.A and just started getting my music out there on my own really. I just started putting songs on the Internet and developing my own business, Warrior Girl Music. I am kind of a self-starter in a way.
DIY: How did the idea for Warrior Girl Music come to you?
GM: Well, I found that the music business was kind of like a war, which I didn’t want to partake in. It was kind of the underdog and then the people who are in power type of vibe, and I just wanted to have a peaceful way of getting music out there independently. So I created Warrior Girl music, which is me, because I feel that there is a whole sort of spiritual angle to being in the music business. On my website I have a whole thing about how warriorship is about pursuing excellence and being free in creativity.
DIY: How much work did it take to get it off the ground? Once you had the idea what came afterwards to get it up and running?
GM: I started the company in 2000. It takes time to develop your own business, the record company is like branding, it’s like any other business, and you have to brand the name. You have to create a website and promote it, and it’s an ongoing journey really. It’s hard work, and it’s hard work being an independent artist and an independent business in this new paradigm. It’s exciting too though, because you don’t need like millions of dollars of money to do it independently, you can do it grassroots and still spread the word if you are tenacious.
DIY: What do you think the benefits of having your own label are during this time in the music industry?
GM: The benefits are that you can be in control of your creativity. You can decide what you want to do and you don’t have to be dictated by someone else. You also have more time and you don’t have to feel like you have to do it in a month and make some sort of big splash. That’s impossible because you need to do it with time. The benefits for me are that I like to be in control of what I want to do, and think, and how I want to express myself. I get to do that. It’s also very empowering to feel like you have achieved something, it’s kind of like building a fence, because at the end of the day you can look at it and say “wow I built that fence.” That’s what it’s like running your own business and running your own artistry. You feel the benefits as you go, but there are downsides too.
DIY: Can you maybe share some of the hardships you experienced?
GM: Well, you know, MONEY. Competing with what’s out there. You know that you have a great record, but it’s not about how great it is because it’s about whatever is on radio, or whether it getting the big ads and promotions that have got big money. It’s very hard to compete with that. The other thing is that you can feel like you are spinning the wheels, you keep pushing and pushing, because it takes time, and therefore that can feel like you aren’t getting ahead when you want to. The main thing is that you have to do a lot of the work and you feel like you have to be an octopus with different tentacles. That can be overwhelming for most artists who really don’t want to do the business side of it, but I believe in this day in order to make it you have to be a business person, as well as an artist.
Making it is also very different too, and it’s not just about becoming famous. Fame and fortune is fleeting. Making it and being successful have to be defined on your own terms.
DIY: Can you maybe take me through your day, what it’s like handling your own career, and your business as well?
GM: Sure. First thing I get myself a cup of coffee. I usually spend the morning checking e-mails, corresponding, because it’s not just with my artistry that I might be booking a gig. Like I am going to Seattle this weekend, so I am organizing all the details in Seattle, and making sure they are being set in stone. I am speaking up there at the RockrGirl conference and I am also performing, so I have got two sides of myself that’s partaking in that. I might be doing some updating with promotions, like currently I am organizing the press release to promote the show at the Mint this Sunday, which I am performing at. I am doing press releases, constantly promoting, then organizing releases and PR, updating the website, I have GilliMoon.com, WarriorGirlMusic.com, Songsalive.org, which is a non-profit songwriters organization which I am a part of. Then I have meeting or whatever.
Then there is also creativity. I will go into the studio and record. Last month I was mostly in the studio doing a bit of my own songs and music, and also producing another artist that’s on our label. So, that’s very creative and I love doing that.
Sometimes I’ll go and speak somewhere, like I just spoke at UCLA recently, and I took my book. I talked to artists about wanting to get into the music business and what it’s like. I have been doing that a lot lately, because I feel like it’s good to share. You know, then hopefully I get some time to write some songs and be creative.
DIY: With you own label, what do you look for when you want to sign an artist?
GM: Well I am not in the business of signing artists. I think that my label, Warrior Girl Music, is originally to set up, distribute, and promote my own music. Now, I have got a couple of artists that I have signed because I have just been so drawn to them.
I think that longevity in an artist is important, and just to know that they are going to do whatever it takes for the rest of their lives to be creative and to express themselves, if they are great, that they are really unique artists. That they are very business oriented. I believe in an artist driven music business, therefore artists need to have a handle on marketing, promotion, and not just expect someone else to make it happen for them. It never happens like that, especially these days.
I am also doing a compilation called Females on Fire, we just put out a first one and we are doing a second one. It’s thirty female artists, they aren’t specifically signed to Warrior Girl but the compilation is under Warrior Girl. Putting a pool of artists like that together takes time, and I really look for a great hit song. I am constantly looking for hit songs. Also with Songsalive! we do CD samplers three times a year that we promote to film and TV, etc. It’s just about the best songs. It’s all about the song really.
DIY: I know you paint as well. How do you think that helps with your creative process?
GM: It’s everything. I am a Polymedia Artist. I do all different things, like paint, dance, sing, write poetry, and write books. The painting for me is a very personal thing and it helps me zone out and meditate, and it’s all about color. I have used it, my paintings, these days. I have used it for the cover of my book and the IndieBible, next year’s edition, has a painting of mine on the cover of it for next year. It’s more about expression, and sometimes I paint on stage, which is interesting. I call it Sensuart. It’s where the band is playing and then I’ll paint and I’ll sing. I haven’t really seen anyone else do that, but I have seen DJ’s spin and then paint with paint in the background, but I have never seen an artist paint on stage, and I kind of feel like I am a pioneer in crossing into multi-media a little bit. It’s fun for me.
DIY: You have written a book called I Am a Professional Artist (The Key to Survival and Success In The World of Arts). How did this inspiration come about?
GM: I felt the need to express the journey of what I was going through when I was setting up Warrior Girl Music and what I needed to do. I saw what was going to happen and I wrote the book in 1999-2000, and I keep updating every year. It’s about what’s going for the independent musician. The inspiration was that I had come out of being signed to a deal and it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would. Signing a record deal is kind of like having false childhood expectations. I realized that I had to take the bull by my own hands and run with it. The book is an inspirational, motivational guide. I never really professed that I was an author until I wrote the book, and I didn’t want to be an author of books but I felt it needed to be written. Again, there is nothing like it because now you have your creativity and it’s like what are you going to do with it? How do you get into the business and survive it? It’s for whether you are a musician, actor, singer, or whatever. It’s a survival guide, because you have to be a business person as well as an artist, you have got to define success on your own terms, how to build relationships, energy zappers, how to stop the negativity and keep positive, and just principles that are spiritually nourishing but also sort of practical.
Every time someone buys it and they come up to me somewhere and say I have read your book, it’s always positive. They tell me that they have put it on their coffee table or next to their bed, and that to me means everything.
DIY: You speak of a “professional artist” in the book. Can you maybe expand between the difference of a professional?
GM: A professional is someone who has chosen to pursue their art as a life long career choice. I don’t believe that a professional means that you earn a living from it specifically. They used to say that you are an amateur if you don’t make money from your art, but you are a professional if you do. These days there is a fine line between that, so a professional to me is someone who has chosen to do it. We are all creative, innately, but it is a choice if we decide to be professional at it and to go into the profession of the creative arts. With that comes a conundrum: “If I am not earning money from it yet then am I am professional”? The answer to that is that it depends... if you are dedicated to that cause. Our talents have to be diversified these days in order to make a living. Professional artistry comes in many forms, and I think it’s a belief system whether you are a professional or not. You need to be really dedicated and passionate about what you do in order to survive that.
DIY: You spoke about Songsalive!, of which you are the co-founder and the president, and exactly what is it and what does it do?
GM: Songsalive! is a non-profit organization supporting and promoting songwriters and composers worldwide. www.songsalive.org. It is the largest songwriters organization that is international. We have chapters all around the world. We started in Sydney, Australia with a couple of chapters, and then to Los Angeles, and then it goes all the way across to New York. We have chapters in San Francisco, Sacramento, Phoenix, Texas, Austin, Nashville, Chicago, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and we have Calgary, Canada now, and we are about to start in London, plus Seattle, San Diego, Alabama and more coming. It’s basically a membership driven organization, altruistic and philanthropic in nature, but very much about education, support, and promotion for songwriters.
We offer a lot of programs like critique workshops in songwriting, showcases, different events that we help promote, songwriter CD samplers that we pitch to different people in the business who are looking for songs, networking systems for songwriters. We help songwriters in the studio, and we do a lot of different things to help them.
DIY: You also have something called MPWR sessions?
GM: Yeah. It’s all about the artist self-empowerment. MPWR is an anagram for EMPOWER. It’s a workshop I run with tips and tools on how to drive your own career, based on the principles in my book, and then practical steps like marketing, promotion, touring, and how to really do it independently. I conduct them a lot whether at select music conferences or workshop spaces I set up myself in L.A, or wherever I go touring, for artists to come along and get some motivation.
DIY: I know that now with the Internet, it has created a lot of ways to get in touch with your music. How do you feel that the Internet has played a part in getting you out there?
GM: It has been tremendous. I was in Newsweek a couple of weeks ago, it’s on my website GilliMoon.com, and if you click on >interview - you will see a transcript of it. They interviewed me about that exact point and on how the Internet sort of drove my career. I was one of the first artists to blog, even though it wasn’t called blog back then, and it was more of an online diary. I was one of the first to get an e-mail account, a website, and it was hokey-pokey back then. That was 1996 or 1997. It has changed so much, but with the Internet I have been able to reach fans worldwide, get my music out there, and I am really proactive about going to websites and making sure I am up there, and also offer other opportunities to other artists. The key is to help offer other opportunities for artists as well, because if you offer it to them they will offer it to you.
The Internet has been great. Back in the days of MP3.com I was up there, obviously it was a great thing in the beginning, it was so unique, and now you listen to an MP3 online and it’s everything. As we move towards the future with podcasting, ringtones and downloads, it is becoming big and hard to navigate because there is so much going on, but if your home website as an artist is exciting then people will come to you. I think it’s everything about making your website be really unique and interesting, and easy for people to navigate and enjoy as a community in and of itself.
DIY: What does every new album bring into your life?
GM: A whole new way of life really. A new thought process. Every album I do is conceptual, and I love making concept albums. I believe that the listener needs to be taken on a journey because that is what they are looking for. Some kind of journey that they may not have in their own lives, or maybe they do have it and they want to assimilate with it. So, each time I do an album I am at a new stage in my life as I get older and I understand more. I want to deliver a story, an adventure to my listeners. This new one is called “extraOrdinary life” or extra Ordinary life, however you want to see life. The whole point of this album is that the ordinary part of our life is also extraordinary. It’s the little things, the little moments, that are going to give us the most satisfaction. Whether it’s in our relationships, or in the way we see the world, or in what we do everyday, and it gives me a purpose to keep going. If I didn’t create projects like I do, specifically music, then I wouldn’t feel like I was expressing myself. I learn so much in the studio and it’s exciting to be able to package it and put it out there with the hopes that people love it, assimilate, or a get a reaction of some kind from it.
DIY: Have you taken the book on tour at all?
GM: Yes. Every time I go traveling, like for example I am going to Seattle this weekend, I’ll take the book with me. I get some book signings, or I’ll talk at conferences, or I’ll have the book with me at the Songsalive! booth, and it’s funny because sometimes I’ll do a gig in the middle of nowhere, people will come up to me, and I am always telling them to buy the CD and now I am telling them to buy the book.
People want to feel like they can get something out of it. The music is great, and I love music it’s my first passion, but a book is different because it’s something physical and they know they are going to learn something from it. It’s different than just enjoying a music CD. I like that opportunity and that offer than I am able to give, and it’s not just music ….it’s also words. It’s cool to have that part of me.
DIY: You are a successful independent artist. How does that make you view the music business as a whole and the future of it? Also, maybe being a woman in it?
GM: Well for me it’s not about being a woman or a man, but it’s just about being an artist. I have used my femininity as an asset, I have used my sensuality, my romanticism within the context of my music, whether it’s on a CD or I am performing it live. It is tough being a woman. I have a friend of mine that works for Clear Channel radio, she is a DJ, a morning radio girl, and she is feeling it tough even on that end. As a woman in the music business getting a fair pay rate, being able to play the music she wants to play, because it is a male dominated industry.
I have to admit that I feel a little bit despondent about the future of the music business, and I am unsure. On one hand I am really excited because artists can drive their own career, but on the other hand there is still this control and it’s an almost minimal way of being able to express ourselves. It’s like if we don’t get on MTV, or on the Top Ten of Clear Channel radio, then we are not going to be known.
I love that the Internet gives us the opportunity to get out there, but really it’s still about needing a lot of money. You still need the pull of the three or four majors that are still dominating. I have never been against signing a major deal, I mean you are going to have to play with the big guns if you are really going to go big. It’s sad because you have to still play their game. But there are other games to play!
I am actually upset about the audience and the listeners, because they are all getting so used to squashed MP3’s and Itunes, downloading singles into their little Ipod nanos, and it’s like, what happened to buying the concept, the adventure, the album, looking at the artwork, enjoying the artist experiences, and listening to the CD in it’s totality? I hope there will be a place for that still, because I am not into the downloading, squashing, mixing up, and then spewing it out kind of listening. Downloading from Itunes, no one wants to buy an album anymore, they just want to but the song, and it’s only the song they have heard on the radio station, and so radio still plays a major part.
DIY: Do you think that touring has also waned because of that? Since now that you can download, maybe bands don’t have to tour as much to promote themselves and people aren’t going out and listening to as much live music?
GM: Yes. I think that’s true for the big artists, like you don’t see Jennifer Lopez going to L.A or anywhere to do a show, but there are artists who will. Seal is an example, but I am talking about the Top 40 kind of artists. Seal has just finished a tour. I just bought Paul McCartney’s album today and I really like it. , For Paul McCartney, to be honest, it’s nothing really extraordinarily new, nothing groundbreaking in production. It’s just him singing his songs, and it’s kind of refreshing to see that even Paul McCartney isn’t doing an album that is just hit after hits, and they aren’t all hit songs, because they aren’t produced in a way that is supposed to be in the Top Ten. They are kind of quirky songwriter songs and I like that. If Paul McCartney can do that then we can do that. He’ll tour, and I think touring is essential for any artist. I also wish that music videos would come back to MTV. Isn’t that why they built the music station? To play videos? You don’t have to tour but you still have to be seen, and I love the concept of all different kinds of mediums to come out of, but when they start turning MTV and VH1 into reality shows then it gets boring. Give us music.
DIY: So, now that you have covered every area of the arts, what words of advice can you give to artists whether it be writers, musicians, singers, actors? What piece of advice that you might want to leave them with?
GM: The advice is this. Be passionate about what you do or otherwise don’t be in it. It’s a lifelong journey, so take your time, and don’t feel like your time is going to run out. It doesn’t matter how old you are, because in this day and age you can find a market for what you are going to do. Three, is be creative and find your competitive advantage, which means be unique and don’t just try and conform with what is out there. Be an artist, which means to do YOUR ART. Break boundaries, explore, and experiment. That is what we need,… we need something new, not just the same tired old norm.
No matter what it takes, whether it gives you a million dollars or ten dollars, it’s not about the money. We didn’t go into this business, sorry we didn’t even go into business, and we didn’t go into artistry because we want to make money. If you did then you are lying. Like when you said to me how did you get into singing/songwriting, your first question, I was like I didn’t get into it or anything I just started writing songs and got this inspiration, but it was a good question to answer because then one can say - it’s just about being expressive, we want to get out there and we want other people to listen to it. Period. Then you start these steps of what is now called the music business, which is not about music but it’s about business. You have got lots of people that want to hear and then of course the money comes, that is the by-product of it all, but it should not be the goal.
DIY: It should be more of a life long work. Well just speaking with you was inspirational, so thank you so much for doing this interview.
GM: Thank you too…