Let’s address the “leveling up” of the music world: The jump from small label to slightly bigger label. In the past couple months, three bands I’m friends with have told me they’ve gotten sniffed by indie rock labels. Large indie rock labels. Like, “oh, is that still an indie label even or are they now a wing of a major?” sort of shit. Nothing wrong with that, and I advised at least one of them to pursue it. But, if you’ve got options, bigger isn’t always better.
In my last contribution to the Run For Cover blog, I talked about record labels as banks. It was aimed (mostly) at music fans who base their listening habits on the logo on the back of the record instead of themusic on it.
Today, I’m going to look at the topic of labels from a different perspective. I’ll be speaking directly to bands. Specifically, bands that are already on labels. (Oh, and I use the word “hardcore” a lot but most of the arguments presented work just as well with any form of aggressive niche music.)
Let’s address the “leveling up” of the music world: The jump from small label to slightly bigger label.
In the past couple months, three bands I’m friends with have told me they’ve gotten sniffed by indie rock labels. Large indie rock labels. Like, “oh, is that still an indie label even or are they now a wing of a major?” sort of shit. Nothing wrong with that, and I advised at least one of them to pursue it. But, if you’ve got options, bigger isn’t always better.
In the wake of Fucked Up getting some good press (sales???) for its decidedly indie rock label, Matador, there’s been a lot of interest in hardcore music. [Note: Fucked Up was a hardcore band. When you incorrectly use the word “punk” in place of “hardcore” you sound like the sort of clueless tryhard targeted by blog-press.] Every indie label is poking around for its pet hardcore act.
It makes sense for a label. Spend very little on recording, spend very little on promotion, and let the band do what hardcore bands think they’re supposed to: Tour. The return is small, but the investment was microscopic, so… score. You didn’t even have to lose real man-hours to it. It helps the label look cool (oddly, still a relevant commodity to indie rock labels) and if you sell over what was expected, or get licensing opportunities off it, it’s a success.
But does it make sense for a band?
As with all things, it depends on your goals.
If you want press, a large indie rock label is the way to go. They’ll treat you like a circus freak, but at least you can bring magazines home to your mom so she thinks you’re successful.
If you want to play large fests, a large indie rock label is the move. Sure, you’ll never play later than 4pm, but the catering is waaaay better than on a hardcore fest. Plus, Nick Cave may ask you to get the fuck out of the way in the backstage area. That’s pretty major.
AND WHAT ABOUT HEAD? Can you get nice dome as a musician on a hardcore label? It’s possible… but not likely. At least if you’re on an indie rock label, there’s the off chance that a confused Tumblr-addict will blow you based on the fact he/she saw your band name on a blog’s “best of” list.
So it’s pretty much all upsides, isn’t it? No reason why not to bounce from your hardcore label to an indie rock one, right?
Slow down, bro.
Fans are bullshit. We all know this. The line, “we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you” is for dudes with swoop hair who never had a father in their lives. We also recognize that it’s the band that makes the music and, ultimately, the band that is responsible for how they’re perceived.
BUT if you’re making music you like, you want fans that will appreciate it for the same reasons you do. That’s what you miss out on by jumping “up.” You trade easy access to a fan who knows what he/she likes for possible access to a fan that “likes” you in the same way he/she “likes” everything that certain outlets tell them to. That’s not a good thing because as soon as they’re on to the next thing you’re left in the wind.
Have you ever had to talk to a moron about why they love your music? No? Well, it makes you feel like a moron. Have you ever been told by someone who likes the worst music on Earth that they also like what you do? I assure you, it’s not a compliment. And have you ever been reasonably confident that someone is saying they love your band, but really just loves the fact that they can drop its name in conversations to seem cool? Not cool. That’s the price of bigger labels. They expose you to more people. But in this case, more people means more idiots.
If you’re playing niche music, you’ll never get rich. So who the fuck cares about playing for more idiots? Better to play to people who don’t make you question your self-worth.
Also, you know that line of credit your old label used to give you on records and merch? Shit might not be so friendly at big indie. That warm-hearted “those are my dudes” feel you got from small label could very well be an all-business “you are my vassals” vibe from your new label.
Often this is a “be careful what you wish for” situation. Bands who believe they want to be treated like a business often find that business is for assholes. Businesspeople see each other as hurdles rather than human beings. No brohugs for you.
Bands are fucking dumb, yo. They always see any opportunity as the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. “A trip to the moon? That’s awesome!” they’ll say, totally ignoring that they haven’t been provided a spacesuit and the shuttle is held together with boogers.
Bottom line before I hit 1000 words: A label is just a bank in so many respects. And you may get better terms with a smaller bank than you will with a large one.