Monday, 8 February 2010

Independent.

BARELY EDITED POST

Here's some ramble about independent records labels and the shittiness of the music industry.

Earache Records were one of the first labels to release grindcore. They were also one of the first independent labels I was aware that bands had criticised, having heard first band from couple of bands who used to be signed to them about the owners reluctance to pay royalties or bother to promote more than one record. I remember speaking to the singer from a grindcore band (probably best off not naming him or them for legal reasons!) of the late 80s who said that they're still owed over £3000.

I used to be a bit of a fan of Roadrunner Records as a teenager. In the mid 90s their roster was a 'who's who' of great metal bands (excluding the 'big four' of thrash and Pantera), with a few hardcore bands thrown in for good measure. Anyone who was into rock music at the time will fondly remember great albums by Fear Factory, Machine Head, Sepultura, Type O Negative, Shelter and various others whom I could list, or you could go on Wikipedia and see their more comprehensive list. I assume there is one.

The late 90s were the era of Ross Robinson, then the most prized producer in rock, recommending Amen and Glassjaw amongst others, and involved a bit of diversification in the shape of Junkie XL (who later found fame and a No. 1 single remixing Elvis as JXL) and signing up some random indie bands, including Mansfield's Delirium, who had to change their name to something like D-Elz for legal reasons and then got dropped before releasing an album (I had to check this as was doing it purely from memory - the bass player is now in an Abba tribute band...). More significantly for their bank balances they signed Slipknot, who became huge at the turn of the century, partly due to their first album being great, partly due to them being very easy to market. When the sales slowed, Slipknot got dropped, despite what appears to be a continued large fanbase.

People assume independent labels will somehow be more ethical than the majors, that they don't plan to screw bands over in exactly the same way. Many an interview with bands tells us that the opposite is true. Glassjaw have gone as far as to state that people shouldn't buy their first album, to download it, to avoid giving Roadrunner and further money. Apparently contractual issues mean that they still can't release songs recorded whilst on the label in any other format, and to date they claim their career has been hampered by 'decisions we made when we were 21'. more about Glassjaw in another post.

I've not even got onto promoters who are only interested in promoting themselves rather than the bands they claim to represent, or the London band manager who screwed a band out of a shedload of cash by getting them a fixed rate for session work on an album that went on to sell 3 million copies, before largely ignoring them to focus of a high pitched and very irritating singer.

These are all symptoms of why the music industry deserves to die. Records labels want your money, 'professional' gig promoters wants your money and for them to be the main attraction, managers want at least 10% of a bands money and a lot more besides. All of these things are becoming redundant, and that can only be a good thing. Bands and solo artists are waking up to the fact that they don't need record labels, they don't need managers and they can organise and promote their own gigs. DIY is the way forward for everyone. Free downloads are becoming the norm. People expect that their record won't necessarily sell many copies, if they try to sell it at all.

The criticisms of this approach are generally the same: I've heard people complain that it might mean the end of the 'professional' band, but in reality only the really big bands dont' have to get jobs once they've finished on tour - that's not a situation that's going to change. Then there's the lower production values inherent in DIY, but then a £3 million recording (yes, it does happen) is still going to be played through the same speakers as an album recorded for nothing on a laptop, and the average listener probably wouldn't know the difference these days as home studio set ups are getting quite sophisticated. Innovation almost always comes from someone fiddling around with limited resources, rather than a rich rock star recording in a plush studio in Barbados snorting coke from a hooker's anus.

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