It’s no secret that the music industry has taken a drastic turn within the past fifteen years. These changes have inevitably left bands feeling victimized and misunderstood. With news spreading about bands leaving their major label and going the indie route for total creative control and freedom, it’s no wonder there’s chaos on the corporate front. It does sound like a great plan, especially when you’ve already gathered a loyal fan base from being on a major label. Plus, you’ve learned and experienced enough to know the skills you need to market yourself the way you want to be portrayed. So is that like being sneaky and taking from what someone else has already given you? Not exactly; it’s just a way of being smart and recognizing what you truly want and deserve. Plus it takes discipline and perseverance, which most established musicians seem to have mastered.
Most bands, when they’re starting out, aren’t “burned” by major labels. They’re trying so hard to get signed and they think it’ll be everything they’ve ever dreamed of, but once they feel the wrath of being pulled in every direction but what they want, they start to rethink everything they ever anticipated for themselves. It seems that major labels aren’t looking out for the best interests of their artists. They’re only looking out for themselves and that sort of puts a damper on things.
So many renowned artists have left major labels over the past decade for the pursuit of creative freedom and to regain their independence. 90’s alt-rockers Garbage started their own indie label, Stunvolume, on which they released their fifth studio album, Not Your Kind Of People, and also was named the #1 Independent Record in the US in its first week of release. Front woman Shirley Manson has said [to avclub.com]: “They [major label] wanted things from us that we didn’t even value. We didn’t care if we were No.1. We just constantly felt we were disappointing them. After a while, that really robs you of your joy. It is great to have a successful record, let me make that perfectly clear, but it’s not the be-all end-all of your life as a musician. After a while, we really got beaten down by corporate expectations.”
Other bands that have gone the do-it-yourself route include Disney pop band Allstar Weekend, Cake, The White Stripes, and alt-punk band All Time Low who recently split with their major label, Interscope Records. The band stated that the team at Interscope who was working on their record got fired which resulted in the record getting delayed; with that came the ugly truth that the album had lost its steam.
Restructuring at major labels have been the cause of many departures and shelving of records. Singer-songwriter Alexz Johnson of teen show Instant Star fame has plenty of experience with getting her music shelved. Alexz signed a deal with Capitol-EMI Records in 2006 but just before going into the studio to record, the label executives who had signed her were released from their contracts. Epic Records had their eye on Alexz and in 2008 they signed her to a multi-album deal. Unfortunately Epic underwent major internal changes and the album was shelved. Determined to share her music with the world, Alexz released her album independently and the response has been quite remarkable.
With the help of exposure from previous endeavors, along with the rise of social media, artists now have a platform they never had fifteen years ago. Already having a fan base along with sold out shows used to be a strange commodity in the indie world. Pop/rock band Honor Society, who were previously signed to Hollywood Records but decided to part ways in 2011 released their second album, A Tale of Risky Business Part 2 this past fall with an overwhelming response and sold out tour dates. Their fans even help the band out promotion-wise with a website called Fancorps where fans take “orders” such as spreading the word about free song downloads, tour dates, YouTube videos, etc. After you rank up so many points, you get rewards such as concert tickets, gift cards and band merchandise. Fans aren’t just fans anymore; they’re sort of like the sole proprietor of the band.
Many diehard music fans are sympathizing with their beloved bands and are accepting of the transition from major to indie. Some say they’d rather wait a few years for new music than to have their favorites break up or stop pursuing music altogether because of the stress of being suffocated by a major label’s constraints. Music enthusiast Nicole Wolcott, 24, of New Jersey says: “With all of these horror stories about major labels, it really starts to make you wonder about who they’re hiring; obviously the wrong people. Music is universal; it’s supposed to make you feel something and it could possibly change the world. Are executives behind these desks immune to that notion? Why should making a buck come before making a difference? I understand a profit needs to be made but do it modestly. Give artists time to build a platform. Maybe being a robot might work well in some financial firm but not in the music industry, where people pour their heart and soul into making music only to be cast out because they don’t sound or look a certain way.”
With determination comes benefits and in this new age of music, bands are showing just how tough they are and what they can withstand. Some even find out that the do-it-yourself method is exactly what they should have done in the first place and might be a bit more valuable. Shirley Manson states [to CNN] “We are signing the checks on absolutely everything, which is terrifying, but I think nothing ventured in life that doesn’t require a little risk is not worth taking. I think this time around, we’re not tied to making ridiculous amounts of profit. That’s just not what we’re interested in, and it’s not why we joined a band in the first place.”
Oh how the times have changed.