The Everything Independent mascot "Georgiah" was spotted again this year in the 2011 CMJ Marketing info PDF with a lovely photo of her eating last years badge she so appropriately held. This doc has been sitting on our computer for sometime so you can imagine our surprise when we popped it open this afternoon! Good job repping the Company G!
*for those of you who do not know G is owners Kirby and Marks baby girl
We're excited to welcome the band Gangstagrass to our roster this month. When Rench the mastermind behind the group was asked what advice he would give people who want to form their own band he said:
"Don’t drink Yoo-Hoo, and for gods sake take off the hammer pants."
Check the great Bluegrass/Rap band at www.gangstagrass.com
I was recently invited to take part in NXNE's newest event, the Transmedia Summit. I love how NXNE continually tries to stay ahead of the curve. Unlike the beast of SXSW that seems to be more driven by money, this staff has a passion for brainstorming and creativity among an often closed and private industry. There were 20 people in 3 groups: Music, TV/Film, and Technology. We were given a few questions which, in our group on the first session, boiled down to illegal downloading. I'm not going to touch on that topic today - that's for another winded post.
After a lot of heated argument back and forth, I decided to speak. I first explained that I was coming from a different mindset than most at the table. I speak for smaller startup artists, not the bands already fueling a large profit who are on massive percentage deals. I pointed out I was coming from an independent perspective, and as soon as the word 'independent' left my mouth, the whole table jumped in, dumbfounded that I would perceive them as 'not independent.' That really stuck with me - not the arguments between industries, or the clear hatred for the general downloading public, but the actual identity of the word "Independent".
Let's take a look at how this popular keyword is used in the music industry today. We have a genre and sound labelled as Independent, or "Indie". There's an entire Indie culture pursued by a generational subcategory called hipsters. Indie music originated from labels considered outside of the major model, who at the time, called themselves "Independent". Eventually, organizations formed in support of these labels - firstly, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and then the National Association of Independent Record Distributors which, in turn, became A2IM, which you can't turn a corner these days without running into. While it's true that these companies are outside the major model that existed in the 80's and 90's, does that really make them "independent"? If so, are we, as an industry, moving any closer to a fair deal for musicians?
Independent labels run on the same business model as the majors, PERCENTAGE DEALS. They still take percentages and still claim some ownership on various levels of an artist's career. The details vary from label to label, but the natural order of any competitive business market makes most companies turn out pretty similar. Any label worth their weight has nowhere to go except up, which usually means as profitable, exclusive, and big-business friendly (as opposed to artist friendly) as possible.
What frustrates me most about these "independent" organizations is the illusion that their cause is just and fair to the little guy. Perhaps in the 90's this was partially true, but in the grand scheme of things, I don't see much of a difference between major and indie labels. A2IM tells us, “The value of music in the marketplace shall not be predicated by the size of the gatekeeper.” (pulled from the A2IM website) Yet in my experience, independent record labels are just as inaccessible to most artists as the majors used to be on how to create that value. How many indie labels can you call up and get a consultation from? How many responses to emails do you think artists actually receive when mailing management firms or labels? How do we expect to level the playing field for all artists if the "Indie" industry keeps pushing the little guy (the largest group in the music industry) out, and continues to turn independent into the same old industry model?
Today's industry is headed full force into direct-to-consumer control, and that requires new strategy. As the consumer gains more opinion and control on what they want and how they want it, The desire for transparency and accessibility will only increase. My companies mission is to put an artist's career back into their own hands. Artists have the potential power of knowledge on their side with the internet, and the more they learn, the less they need help from people who claim to have the "only" knowledge and power to make it in the industry.
The resources that majors and indies alike thrive off is their contacts. The facts are clear- all types of labels these days are usually outsourcing for everything from PR to Marketing. They're pursuing the same group of industry professionals that are generally open to being hired directly by artists. Now, I'm not saying every publicist or marketing company will work with every act that comes to them. Still, with enough determination, any quality artist can build a stock of industry contacts between hiring professionals and putting their act intensely out into the world. Of course, it may not happen as quickly as it might if a label were to take them on, but at least that artist's industry support would be there for their talent, rather then being the next "buzz band" within the industry to be quickly forgotten about. The truth is, if you're putting quality work out there direct to consumer, eventually, someone is bound to listen. This story hasn't changed, and never will. Some talent switches into high gear right away, some talent takes 10 years to break, but in today's world, I don't believe labels will always be that vessel of transportation.
I might be alone on this, but I really don't pity artists having to spend money in the beginning. Any other career takes a major investment of time and money up front, which turns into long term payoff. When you sign with a label, they offer you a deal, but they're not giving away free money. They're offering you a loan. Unlike a college loan, I don't believe it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to jumpstart your career. Several thousand? Yes. However we all feel about college fees, you're paying to be educated enough to have a career. Labels rarely want to share their secrets-that's bad business. The learning curve is not high. College loans may be hefty, but at least they don't own your career, and tell you where to go. Why sign away rights to something you created on your own?
Back to the Transmedia Summit - I was shut down in a matter of seconds by a renowned manager who works with a handful of major acts, who benefit from major and indie labels. His company was formed in the 80's, and my understanding is that he takes a percentage from his clients. Many record contracts have been directly negotiated by his firm. With all due respect to him and his truly prolific and honorable career, we were talking about two different forms of independent. There's independent which is the mask the major industry puts on to be more "likable" and the real independent true to the definition; "free from outside control; not depending on another's authority" aka percentages.
My goal on writing this blog is to shine a light on the inner workings of today's music business. We can't call something independent without really understanding both the definition of the word itself, and the industry that inaccurately uses it to represent themselves. Big enterprise deluding themselves as the underdog is nothing new, but it's certainly a problem we're currently facing.
Everything Independent takes no percentages, our contracts are non-exclusive, and we never take any rights. We offer up artists the guidance and tools to create their own success with their own work. I believe my company runs one of the only truly independent labels.
Written by Kirby Desmarais