Thursday, July 12, 2007

Understanding in a Car Crash

. . . I've too often see(n) people go that route under those auspices and then be pressured for exactly the things they've been told they wouldn't be pressured for.

-- Ted Leo in Punk Planet #78 on major labels courting bands

A recent article on Thursday discusses their split with Island Records. The band's less-than-amicable exit from Victory a few years back was very well documented, as was the band's potential for becoming a massively popular band on Island.

I distinctly remember reading Jim DeRogatis' Guitar World article on screamo and thinking Thursday and fellow Island-mates Thrice were about to become crossover stars. They were supporting intelligent, well-crafted, albeit dark, records and selling out venues left and right. But the buzz didn't seem to last for very long. Both bands got a lot of exposure to new people, but an embrace far beyond the Warped Tour audience just didn't pan out. So it came as no shock when both bands found themselves off the label.

Why I bring all this up is because I find situations like this rather terrifying. You're in a band and want to do it full-time. You have no ambitions to be a rockstar, but you don't want to work crap job after crap job because your band frequently tours and records. Major label reps who really get what your band is about woo you to come to their label. They assure you that you don't have to become Duran Duran in order to break through to a larger audience. Signing a deal that hopefully won't bite you in the ass down the line, things seem to be OK for a while. But, as the Leo quote above says, there are pressures from up above that change the game. (More stories like this can be found in Kyle's extensive article on a number of bands that were signed post-Nirvana and Green Day.)

Frankly, when I hear these turn-the-tables stories in all sorts of life, I'm hesitant to go "the distance." Be it a writer who finds his articles slashed to pieces before it goes to the printer or a filmmaker who finds his labor of love turn into a cheesy star vehicle, I get very nervous thinking something similar will happen to me. I guess hearing all sorts of horror stories out of context reiterates all those Steve Albini and Ian MacKaye interviews I read a few years back. As in, the ones that basically spelled out not bother going into "that world." Yet not everybody makes records that are like what Shellac or The Evens do. The same can be said with books and films. There in lies a really difficult wire to tiptoe around.

It's understandable if you're making something very non-commercial to consider releasing it either yourself or with a small independent label. If Post was a 700-page novella with haikus on every even page, then I shouldn't bother looking beyond the DIY circuit. Since it isn't, there's a lot of "what if?" I want to get this out to people that have heard of these bands and labels but have never understood what was so great about them. So, I'm kicking around a lot of ideas and I am not ruling out working with a known publisher. At the same time, I don't want to get robbed in the process. Nobody ever does, but it seems like so many people fall into this trap all the time.

The idealist in me wants to live a life sans major bumps like heartbreak, massive debt, unbalanced compromise and shattered dreams. Yet there's this feeling that you haven't really lived life until you've been kicked to the ground x-number of times. I understand these are a part of life, but is it too much to ask to not be kicked down so much?


Random Kath said...

You post is really thought provoking, and unfortunately I don't have any answers since I'm very unfamiliar with the distribution world. I only know what I read about it in random articles like the one you linked to, and in other publications that talk about how movements can be co-opted by large corporations looking to extend their reach. (Right now I'm reading "No Logo" by Naomi Klein that talks a lot about that.)

It's such a balance to get your material to the widest number of people who might be interested without losing what makes it interesting and special. You seem to be doing your homework, Eric, so I think that just by having the awareness you do, you should be able to avoid most of the hard knocks. Some lessons do have to be experienced to be learned, but so long as you keep your eyes open and keep a healthy cynicism, you should be OK.

Ryan said...

In the case of people like Steve Albini and Ian Mackaye, understand that their other jobs are producing and running a record label. So they have been able to work in the industry they create in.

You are doing a blog, but not for commercial gain. What if that could be your job, plus a launching pad to sell your books.

Also, there has to be a way for you to sell your book as an e-book or publish a certain amount of copies on your own. Waiting for someone to sell your stuff for you is exactly what Mackaye preaches against.

I think the question you need to ask yourself is:

Do you want to have your future in the hands of someone that is just trying to make a buck off your work, or are you willing to do the work yourself(writing is the hardest part, and you've done that) and take your future into your own hands?

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Hey man, there's going to be a seaweed tribute album. Didn't know if you knew or were into them.