Photo credit: Michael Smith of Manifesto Designs

I think the more you lean into who you are, the easier it is to find the people you’ll resonate with. People are drawn to authenticity. -Ariel Arbisser

Thanks for chatting with me Ariel! In this series we call Indie Insights, we like to chat with artists about the business side of the music industry and how they navigate it, with the goal that indies can help other indies. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me!

You’ve mentioned the importance of your friends and community in Ithaca, NY. How have these connections influenced your musical growth and the themes explored in your songs?

How have they not? I co-write most of my music partly because I’m not especially skilled at any one instrument but also because everything I’ve written has been elevated by the talent in the room. So much magic has been created by inviting people to explore, take risks, and jump in with ideas. Working alongside such talented folks pushes me to bring my best. 

And more than writing, the Ithaca, NY community is a vibrant music scene full of wildly talented musicians. You can’t go out on a weekend (or really any day in the summer) without running into some casual musical performance that’s absolutely mindblowing. It never fails to send me home inspired to write and create.

Community is so important in the music industry especially, and finding your people both for support and for growth. Have you found cultivating your own community and connections easy and what advice would you give musicians who crave that same community, but aren’t sure where to find it around them?

I don’t know if I’d say it’s been easy. Growing an audience online has been a challenge, but the community I’m building feels authentic and I care about that a lot more than numbers. Seriously.

The more I’ve led with a message of love and inclusiveness, and the more space I’ve made for people to experience their emotions, I’ve built a more meaningful connection with my community and with new audiences. This past summer and fall, I hung back after every single show to talk with people. Most often queer teens and young adults wanted to connect, sometimes older folks who expressed they finally felt seen, and most often people who expressed they felt safe to experience something within themselves they hadn’t in a long time.

I think the more you lean into who you are, the easier it is to find the people you’ll resonate with. People are drawn to authenticity. 

Could you elaborate on the importance of networking and building relationships within the music industry, and how these connections have helped advance your career as an indie artist?

I dedicated close to a decade of my life to the a cappella world before I began writing my own music. Some of the connections I made there are still impacting my work and opportunities today. I met hundreds of people from around the world and have a built in network because of that. Invaluable! I met two of my longest-standing collaborators through a cappella as well – Harry Nichols and Bri Holland. Bri and I founded an all-female studio vocal group that rocked the a cappella world. She and I went on to co-write a few tunes on my debut album “Risk of Love,” for which she also did the vocal production. And on “Ingenue Corrupt” we have another co-written tune coming up for y’all to enjoy.

Harry and I sang in an award-winning group called The Funx. In fact, our final album (“After Forever” 2022) was recognized as the Best Pop Album in the 2023 Contemporary A cappella Recording Awards and our co-written song “Why?” won Best Rock Song in the same year. He co-wrote a couple tunes on my debut album (including a version of “Why?”) and played a significant role in “Ingenue Corrupt” co-writing, laying down instrumental and vocal tracks, and co-producing a couple tunes. 

Your journey from Cornell University to pursuing music full-time involved a pivotal moment. Can you describe that moment?

I think you’re referencing when I won the Contemporary A cappella Recording Award for Best Mixed Collegiate Solo in 2010 for a cover of Adele’s “Cold Shoulder.” I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this moment. I suffered over the decision to leave Cornell before graduating in order to pursue music. I wasn’t sure I “had it” but knew I’d be happy if I could create a life built around music. The fact that this validation from the global a cappella community arrived immediately after making such a difficult decision was wildly meaningful. I was visiting my cousin in Boston at the time and I remember bursting into tears thinking “I guess you can cry happy tears – I never thought that was real.” I never looked back.

Could you share your experience in navigating the process of self-releasing music, including the steps involved in distribution, promotion, and building a fan base without major label support?

Or no label support.

It’s a lot of trial and error to be honest. I’d used Distrokid as a distribution platform during my final days of a cappella, so I gravitated toward that right away. Similarly, I had experience with Discmakers and have used their services to print my albums. Everything else is throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’ve made a couple of investments as I’ve stumbled along. When I realized you could have short-term PR contracts, I signed with a company for a few weeks at a time when there was something major to promote. I have someone who helps me with the back end, all the technical stuff on streaming and social platforms, keeps track of numbers, etc. These two investments have felt valuable to get the ball rolling and to keep me out of my head and stay firmly in creative mode.

I have taught myself photo/video editing and put in hours working on that every week in an attempt to grow an online audience. Sometimes it feels like I’m getting somewhere. Sometimes it feels futile. Something inside of me knows that one of these days I’ll wake up and I’ll have passed some magical, invisible threshold and I won’t have to fight for my music and content to be seen in an algorithm.

Oh I will say I feel the tensions with leaning on streaming platforms like Spotify, etc. versus community favs like Bandcamp. We don’t have the time to go into that. But that’s something every artist needs to weigh.

What are some common pitfalls or mistakes you’ve encountered as an indie artist in the music industry, and what advice would you offer to others to avoid or navigate those challenges successfully?

It’s really easy to believe what people say they can do for you. Sadly I learned the hard way (more than once because I need repetition to really get things into my brain) that contracts are a necessity. If you don’t agree to terms ahead of time and plan for contingencies, then when sh*t hits you and the fan, you won’t have much recourse. Sometimes a contract can’t save you, but having something in place gives you a chance to save your sanity, your projects/investment, and often your professional relationships. 

What’s one piece of advice that’s always served you that you’d like to pass on?

Pause, breathe, and bring your hand to heart. It sounds so cheesy, but it is such a good practice. Very few of us know what we want immediately, but most of us feel obligated to respond immediately. It’s healthy, respectful of yourself, and a good way to know and maintain your boundaries to take time. Sometimes that just means a breath or water break, sometimes it means thinking overnight or for a couple days. Sometimes it takes longer. Listen to yourself and not that knee-jerk people pleaser inside of you. And no, you don’t need to physically put your hand over your heart. But you deserve a little tenderness, often from yourself more than anyone else. 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m really pumped to get my album “Ingenue Corrupt” into the world in January! I took a ton of risks and pushed myself outside of my comfort zone and it led to a fun and pretty varied album. I’d bet everyone can find a little something to love on here. And maybe you’ll find me on social media (IG @ArielArbisser) after you listen and let me know what resonated.