Darren Hayes collaborated with Robert Conley for a secret experimental album released under the pseudonym "We Are Smug". This album was created after leaving Columbia Music and being an independent artist, and sits between "The Tension and The Spark" (his last album with Columbia, where he started to play with electronica) and "This Delicate Thing We've Made", his first independent album that is itself an example of Doing It for the Art. The album was originally released online for free for one day - 8 May 2009, his birthday - and is now available on Amazon and iTunes.
Frank Zappa made music for his own amusement, but managed to have a successful career because he was so hardworking and labels supported him. He was neither a rock star or an avant-garde jazz composer, he was just himself.
Within the punk community, Ian MacKaye and his band, Fugazi, became practically legends for this. During the 90s, when Alternative Rock was exploding into the mainstream, they refused many a contract from major labels, preferring to stay on their own indie label, Dischord, and thus retain their creative freedom. Some of the labels even offered to buy Dischord, but that was never an option, either. That's not all: you might expect a band that makes it a point of ethics to only play shows for $5 to go broke quickly, but because their shows sold so well and they toured so rigorously (especially in the early 90s), Fugazi was one of the few indie bands of the era to be consistently profitable, meaning they managed to be both commercially and artistically viable, and they did it all their own way.
Obscure bands, especially in extreme metal circles. A piece by a tech metal band has a groove, riff or time signature change once every 10 seconds or so. They also have songs that last about 8 minutes. And they don't make much money, as they have fans numbering in the thousands. Outside of Cannibal Corpse, The Black Dahlia Murder, Morbid Angel, Nile, Whitechapel, and a select few others, extreme bands don't make anywhere near enough to provide anything resembling a decent living to members who rely on them as their sole source of income, and even those rare few musicians who do make a decent living from them are not loaded by any means.
OK Go is rather well known for this, with their humble YouTube roots and quirky but awesome music videos. In their "This Too Shall Pass" music video, they had what is arguable one of the longest running and most complex Rube Goldberg machineEVER. They also flat out refuse to work with sponsors that attempt to exert creative control, which is why the aforementioned music video is sponsored by State Farm.
This is, arguably, the entire reason Gorillaz was conceived. The creators Jamie and Damon were sick of watching over-sensationalized, shallow performers on MTV, so they invented a fictional band as an experiment to break down the sarcomata.
Jack Conte, working by himself or in Pomplamoose, is clearly devoted to the art of the videosong. While he is recording himself singing or playing, he simultaneously runs a video camera and makes videos entirely made of studio footage.
Mago de Oz' leader Txus Di Fellatio had a contract to play for the Real Madrid but at the last moment he declined and formed the mentioned band, and he's a drumer not because he likes the drums (he hates them) but because he can't play anything else nor sing and his two options where to be a drumer or no not make a band.
Vanessa Carlton. Her music has a lot of classical influences, thanks to her mother's piano lessons and her father's love for 1970s rock. Every song is a labor of love for her.
Back before They Might Be Giants were, indeed, giants of the alternative rock world, they had the Dial-A-Song program, whereby you could just phone John Flansburgh's answering machine and hear a song that they'd recorded for fun.
It lasted well into their popularity and the new millennium, still at their local Brooklyn number. "Always busy, always broken" and "Free when you call from work" were its slogans.
Whilst music videos are generally made for publicity, several music video directors (such as Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry) see it as a medium without the narrative restrictions of film. And sometimes, doing it for the art works in favor of promotion.
Remember The White Stripes' video for "Fell in Love with a Girl"? Michel Gondry actually filmed the band members, then converted the footage to pixels all before using stop-motion LEGO to create the thing.
Rush's third album, Caress of Steel, left their continued existence in doubt with the relatively poor sales of their odd concept album, including a pair of multi-part epics, was pressured by their label into making a commercial, mainstream album that played it safe and ensured that they would stay afloat. Figuring that they may as well go out with style, they released 2112, half of which was dominated by the title 20 minute, 7-part epic song; the polar opposite of what their label demanded. When the prog rock concept album managed to propel Rush to mainstream stardom, they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. More than one huge song followed, with "Camera Eye" on Moving Pictures being their final inordinately long song.
While the results of her efforts are universally regarded as awful, there's no doubt Jan Terri qualifies for this trope. She had no budget (or talent) but goddammit, she made those videos anyway.
The KLF didn't want anyone to think that their commercial success was a compromise of their ideals, so after The White Room album was released they announced their retirement from music (by terrorising the Brit Awards with a machinegun full of blanks) and then went on to erase all the material for their unreleased Black Room and remove their entire back catalogue from sale. Then, just to make sure their message was crystal clear, they burned a million pounds.
Charles Ives was a successful insurance executive, so in his musical pursuits in his spare time, he composed to please only himself, not patrons or critics. As a result, his music was wildly original. "Iconoclastic" is the standard adjective used to describe Ives. Many of his most famous works were not performed until decades after they were composed.
Robert Fripp has dissolved King Crimson on multiple occasions just as they were about to make it big, only to bring it back with an entirely new sound. Fripp has frequently stated that aiming for success would be bad for the music.
Art-pop duo Pepe Deluxé delayed the completion of their album Queen of the Wave, because one song, "In the Cave", was composed specifically to be performed on the Great Stalacpipe Organ, which was undergoing extensive repairs at the time. They waited six years for the organ to become playable again; the song they played on it was two minutes long.
Doors singer Jim Morrison was said to be this. When he found out the rest of the band allowed car company Buick to use "Light My Fire" from The Doors in a commercial, Morrison was furious and threatened to trash one of Buick's cars on television in protest if the commercial aired nationwide.
Buckethead seems to be doing this. His music has never been mainstream, although he did once get more fame being temporarily in Guns N' Roses. None of his albums are widely popular, however, and he's more well known as an underground musician. He also seems to compose whatever he likes, without regard to fan demand or getting more sales and a wider audience.
Emileigh Rohn, the woman behind Chiasm. Despite being busy as a molecular biologist, she still tries to find time to compose and release an album, even if it takes her years.
Any Brony music counts as this. Many artists like So Great And Powerful, The Living Tombstone, Grottomatic, Sherclop Ponies, and Wooden Toaster let people download their songs for free.
British drummer Bill Bruford has been known to leave or dismantle often very successful projects, including those connected with his solo career, if he feels the music has become creatively stagnant or uninspiring, unhealthy or from the get-go, felt a different career path would challenge him or inspire him, or the project has reached a peak and could only repeat its formula with diminishing returns. He caused a lot of controversy in 1972 by leaving Yes (after a huge buyout of his contract) at the height of their artistic and commercial success, just after recording Close to the Edge, to join King Crimson in time to record and tour behind Larks' Tongue in Aspic, and his interests in jazz-influenced improvisation led him and Allan Holdsworth to leave the SupergroupU.K. to form jazz-fusion group Bruford, reputedly because the other members insisted Holdsworth and Bruford play their parts just like they did on the record.
In the mid-1940s, when the cast album of Oklahoma! became a hit, every major record company in America started to bid for the rights to record original cast albums of Broadway musicals. Under producer Goddard Lieberson, CBS not only recorded the musicals that were big hits or near-hits, but also recreated on LP many musicals dating as far back as the 1920s. Ethan Mordden called Street Scene "the first Absolutely Guaranteed Flop to get an album"; though its operatic score had to be heavily abridged to fit on twelve-inch 78's, such technological limitations no longer applied to The Most Happy Fella, whose expansive score was recorded with nearly all the dialogue on 3 LPs. Anyone Can Whistle had already ended its one-week Broadway run, but Lieberson nevertheless chose to record the original cast album, which helped give Angela Lansbury the opportunity to play her Star-Making Role in Mame.
Popular IDM techno duo Autechre pride themselves on this trope. They're talented enough to create successful mainstream sounding albums, and at first, that's what they were doing. However, the group has always been about studying and experimenting with the art of sound and noise, resulting in some pretty noise heavy albums that sound like garble to anyone not familiar with their way of creating tracks. For example: Listen to their earlier tracks like Montreal. And then compare that to their later tracks like Gartz Garf In fact, the groups is on record saying that they prefer their later albums instead of their earlier mainstream sounding ones.
Trance musicians pride themselves on this, knowing well how dedicated their fans are to their material. In fact, many of the scene's biggest names have had very long, illustrious and very busy careers and they've all stated their biggest drive is their passion for the genre. Armin Van Buuren is noted for having won the title of "Number 1 DJ in the World" for a record number of five times and has admitted he could retire early after a career that's gone on since the nineties but has stated he feels like he's only just begun to scratch the surface.
Billy Joel described his 1983 covers album of the artists he grew up listening to, An Innocent Man, as a "singer's album".