Monday, April 19, 2010

New trend of bands licensing their records to labels.

Question: Here's an interesting one- do you think when it comes to larger bands labels are actually losing power? by this i mean tom g warrior famously set up his own label and licesned the last celtic frost and the new trypticon records to century media, and from what ive read and seen with interviews with the owner of seasons of mist the only item they have the right to sell is MA's albums. Do you think that thease privaliges are only really open to the bigger band as im sure if a newer band came to a label saying "we dont want to sign to you but we will lisense the record to you" the label would tell them where to go. I'm curious about your thoughts on this? From:

Answer: Well, I take your point, and its definately happening more and more these days. The tables are slowly turning as labels perform a service for the artist, rather than the artist work for the label.To be able to license, the artist takes all the upfront risk in recording the album, and might turn in a stinker maybe. Bands can still come unstuck this way- imagine if Celtic Frost had self-recorded and then sought a licence back in the day for their 1988 Glam-Rock album 'Cold Lake', do you think there would have been any takers? What about Apollyon Sun? I highly doubt there would have been any takers for that either. Financial ruination of the artist would be the inevitable outcome. Bands only take extreme musical risks when it's someone else- a label, usually- picking up the tab. Allowing bands the financial freedom -so they can be as creative as they like on the recording- is an often overlooked function that a label provides.

Also- have you noticed that some of the biggest bands in the world, the ones who own their own copyrights, are also some of the most restrictive regarding online usage of their catalogue? Ever tried to buy The Beatles, Metallica, AC/DC or Led Zeppelin on iTunes or Spotify? They aren't there. Huge bands can play by their own rules and if they don't want their music for sale online, then that's their choice.

Its all about risk versus reward. Underground Punk bands know all about this, many have been recording, manufacturing and selling their own records on a DIY basis for decades. Achieving any level of lasting global 'success' using the DIY method requires hard work and sweat on a continuing basis, so the most successful true punk bands- Fugazi, NoFX - fully deserve their rewards, having spent decades building up rock solid relationships with their fanbases.

The internet and social networking sites are changing the whole dynamic of the relationship between bands and their fans, and the common consensus of the blog-terati is that record labels are dinosaurs who serve no purpose 'cept to be a useless middleman coming between the fan and band -usually fleecing the artist along the way for good measure.

The impression that popular blogs like Mashable and Techdirt give about labels is so one-sided, its unreal.They urge bands to stay away from the music industry, and to use 'FREE' as their promotional tool, and 'TH' INTERNETZ' as their distributor, then, they advise, fame and fortune shall surely be theirs. Wow, if only it was that easy! I speak from experience because I tried it myself last year with our Irish thrash band Gama Bomb.

Speaking as an Indie record label owner myself - I maintain we do have a unique role to play in the signing and development of new bands. There are some bloggers who understand the time, money and energy that labels, and Indie labels in particular, expend to break artists out of obscurity into a career. It has always been a pet peeve of mine that artist-owned labels - even ones set up by iconic, multi-platinum names- have rarely unearthed and cultivated any long-term artists or bands. Seems smart artists set up clothing lines nowadays, not invest in new acts. The reason record labels can do a better job than artists on their own, is primarily because we spread the risk.

The Indie band OK GO had a hit viral video,sparking 50 Million views, and so became 'internet famous', but were dropped soon after, and now record for their own label.Somewhat unusually, the band were gracious enough to admit that the investment and financial backing they received from prior label EMI is what got the band off the launch pad in the first place.

Even legendary bands can come unstuck trying to do it DIY. Public Enemy are one of the greatest Hip Hop artists of all time, trailblazing the scene in the 80's and 90's. You'd think they could find a license taker for their forthcoming album, especially as this year is the 20 year anniversary of the game-changing 'Fear Of A Black Planet'.

To raise the capital to fund the album, Public Enemy turned to, which enables thousands of fans to join up together to fund -in $25 chunks- new albums or projects by bands. It seemed the ultimate way for bands to connect with fans, and be funded by them, finally removing the need for traditional record company involvement. Last months closure of the site meant that thousands of fans lost interest, and even after a last minute takeover of the site, Public Enemy seem no nearer having an album coming out. The downfall of the much-lauded received fewer column inches than its formation, but hey, why let the truth get in the way of a great story eh?

I'm all for trying new things,but ultimately I reckon it comes down to whether artists trust music-type people, or trust the tech-type folks more. We are two very different cultures.Also in a sea of mediocre bands, who do fans trust to present and promote the best new music, some faceless tech guys who developed a snappy algorithm, or a label which knows about career development?

Here's the Celtic Frost interview which sparked the question- I should point out that my label Earache has never had any dealings with Tom, in the 80's he was signed to German label Noise, then in later years Sanctuary- both now folded. Since the comeback, Tom has paid for and owned his own recordings, and licensed them to Century Media.


Unknown said...

Bands, from what I can tell, are a hobby for rich kids. No money, don't fucking bother. There were times I didn't even have money for postage to send promotional material out, even if I knew where to send it. I've been struggling in obscurity for nearly 20 years. You say the labels are good for artists, ok great, then where the fuck are they? From my own research, few labels are even interested in opening an envelope from an unknown artist. Unless you're in a big city or Hollywood, labels don't want to hear about you. All I've heard about labels, even the small "artist friendly" ones, are nothing but horror stories. People wouldn't be seeing the tech guys as an option if you small labels were doing anything good for artists.

Unknown said...

i play in SSS, an earache band. for us, it IS a hobby, as we're all 30+ and have jobs, kids, mortgages etc.we're certainly not rich though,and never will be playing's done for fun.if you're looking for financial reward,go and get a job that pays music because you love it.forget about records and labels and the music industry.just play music.that should be enough.if it's not, then maybe it's not for you.

Unknown said...

I don't have a label and I've been making music for around 20 years. If it wasn't enough, I probably would have given up by now. But I have to ask you: if you're not making any money with the label, then why are you signed with them at all? What essential service are they providing exactly? As you said, make music for yourself. Why contractually bind yourself to a label at all? Touring? Why do you need to tour? You could play music in your garage or a spare room. Recording? You can do that on cheap PC or Mac with a copy of Sonar Home Studio or GarageBand. Hell, you don't even need all that, you can just imagine it all in your head. You're doing it for yourself, right?

Anonymous said...

This is the interview that inspired the question this man speaks the truth, ghostwheel take notes about where he talks about the few benifits of labels

Unknown said...

we signed with earache for multiple reasons, but the main one being that they could distribute our stuff much better that we could. we co-released our first album and single, but couldn't get the PR/distribution that an established record label could.
we actually have made a (very) little amount of money from having records on earache, and are usually in the black, which is unusual for most bands.any money we make is quickly offset by stuff like paying for rehersal space, strings, sticks, petrol, instruments etc etc, all the costs of being in a band. after playing in bands for 14+ years, i've spent well over £10k on music gear, like many other music obsessives in the same position.

we could make more money by touring more and getting more deffo get a higher profile and therefore more money by being on an established label.

record labels aren't the be all and end all, and if we weren't on earache we'd probably still be doing it for ourselves, but they certainly still have a place in the ever evolving world of the music biz.

Unknown said...

"...they're motherfuckers." Btw, I hold Thomas Gabriel Fischer in the highest regard. In any case, you can see how angry he is talking about this.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. I get that labels are needed for touring (though I've heard that many labels don't even help fund touring). Okay, great. But if after the tour you've been ripped off and you're broke, what is the point? Again I put it to you: What good are you labels if this is the result? How do you sleep at night?

The music industry seems set up to make the barriers to entry impossibly high. And the business practices of the industry should have been investigated by the D.O.J. decades ago. The music industry is sleazy.

And I say again; if you labels were doing things correctly, musicians wouldn't be looking for an alternative.

Unknown said...

well, put out your own records/downloads and don't worry about it,lad. it's not a big deal. spend more time making music and less moaning about it.

Joaquim said...

Ghostwheel it seems you are personally hurt for not being taken by a label, what I get more from your writing is frustration and anger than a more grounded analysis. I'm not saying your art was not unjustified but you have to understand that this is what is coming out, overall, of what you are saying. I'm also not saying labels are saints, but there probably are a few decent ones out there? Apparently Discord and Alternative Tentacles treat their acts good...

Joaquim said...

Argh, DISCHORD, I mean...