How much is that network worth?
How much is a network worth? For independent bands presented with a record label contract, that should be the operative question.Prior to the rise of MP3s, major labels retained vertical control of all musical outputs. From bands, labels, distributors, printers, radio stations, all the way down the line, major labels served as the gatekeepers between local obscurity and international fame. Success meant a record label contract.
As Harvey notes, the industry is changing. Major labels no longer control with an iron fist the production and flow of music (even if they still think they do), as power slowly distributes to fans, bloggers, independent labels, bands, managers, promoters, etc. As such, bands can record at home using cheap Digital technologies, distribute their music through digital distribution platforms like CDBaby, and promote themselves via social networking options, no label needed. Harvey is clear however, that this democratization of music has created a glut of bands vying for attention. Therefore, while the process if open to all, power structures are still in place which reward bands with the right network.
The giant tower on the left is the album art for the new Cormorant album, “Dwellings.” In the metal community, Cormorant are the poster boys for the maverick DIY ethic which allows independent bands to succeed on their own. Trailblazers in their own right, Cormorant have eschewed record labels in favor of going it alone. In a recent interview with NPR, Arthur Von Nagel, the band’s frontman, justifies his decision. “We did get offered some deals, actually. Some are still outstanding, so I probably shouldn’t drop names. We didn’t sign for a variety of reasons: loss of independence, the potential for crippling debt, and because we’ve done really well otherwise. I think unless you’re dealing with a tastemaker boutique label like Profound Lore or the like, the label system is dead. For me, I think all you need is a good publicist and a tour manager if you want to hit the road. And lots of work. Also, I’m a control freak.”
Cormorant isn’t succeeding because their music is that much better than everything else on the market (not saying their music is bad, it is actually quite good). Rather, they successfully built through years of work, that which allures bands to record labels in the first place, a network which provides access to to biggest promotional platforms, the best studios, and the most popular tours. As a result, they retain all revenues and complete creative control to try whatever they want (like the giant tower album art idea), while enjoying the same perks they would enjoy if signed to a label (interviews with NPR for example).
In the modern era of music, record labels offer bands access to a network. Therefore, bands must decide how much access to that network is worth, and then decide if it is better to build it independently.
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