Mary Gauthier’s career has run the gamut during her two decades in the music industry – evolving from risk-taking aspiring artist, to critically acclaimed major label star to CEO of her own music business.
Gauthier owns her publishing, the masters to her recordings and maintains total creative control over her music. She hires the publicity and promotional teams to market her music. And she partners with CD Baby to distribute her albums and administer her publishing catalog.
In short, Gauthier has emerged as Nashville’s exhibit A for the increasing popular DIY (do it yourself) model that has grown in popularity with mainstream artists in recent years. Chance the Rapper, Macklemore and Jason Isbell have each employed elements of DIY into the business side of their career, making the case that there’s no often times need for artists to cede ownership rights to their music to record labels and publishing companies.
Gauthier will deliver the keynote address for this weekend’s DIY Conference to be held at Nashville’s Omni Hotel. More than 1,600 attendees, mostly artists, will attend the soldout conference, which features performances, workshops, expert panels and other information to empower artists to handle their own music careers.
"I do really well by being my own label," Gauthier said. "It's a successful small business. I run the label, CD Baby runs the distribution of the record. I hire the publicist, i hire the radio promoter, I hire the team. They get the record out into the world and that's worked real well for me."
Gauthier is an evangelist for the DIY model, but she admits major label record deals can be useful. She urges artists to build careers until they've created music worthy of reaching the largest possible audience.
After building her own career, Gauthier signed with a division of Universal, one of the three major record companies, to release two albums, including the breakthrough "Mercy Now."
"I don't know if these have to be exclusive, binary things," Gauthier said. "It's not either this, or that. I'd say 99.9 percent of the people with a major label deal don't die that way. You get it, they do the best for you, but probably George Strait is going to be on an indie someday. There's a life cycle to it.
"Ideally in a perfect world, which we don't live in, my hope would be that you could get a major label deal for your very best record, when you're ready for the world to hear you."
The goal of the DIY Conference, which is put on by CD Baby, is to give artists the tools to run their own careers the way Gauthier does, according to Kevin Breuner, vice president for marketing at CD Baby.
The company is a beacon for DIY artists, because it handles digital distribution, physical album distribution and increasingly more administrative services for artists. Gauthier said the company helps her collect royalties from her songs played on YouTube.
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"We wanted to make sure the content was actually good and delivered on the promise of educating artists and helping them move their careers forward," Breuner said. "We've worked with Mary for a long time. I think a lot of how she speaks about the music is about being authentic to yourself as an artist. It is very much an artist-first perspective."
After two years in Chicago, the conference was moved to Nashville and will return here in 2018.
Although tickets, just $69 for the three-day conference, soldout, Breuner said a limited number will be released for sale on Friday at the Omni.