Saturday, December 5, 2009

OLD POST - Signed VS. Unsigned Bands

This post is from 8/16/09 and was written as a reaction to my inability to play signed bands' songs on my radio show lest I be sued.

Continuing to run the music industry the way it’s been done for the past 50 years makes as much sense as putting a dinosaur on the endangered species list; and I’m amazed that there are folks out there still trying. The days of depending on album sales to foot the bill for your gold plated airplane toilet are long gone – even if you’re Lady Gaga. And most people can see that what is left of the corporate music industry has devolved into the beast that cannibalized itself.

We can all debate on why this happened; but does it really matter? Technology was the tool that the industry counted on to get its products to the masses, but then couldn’t protect itself from its inherent accessibility. Of course, technology has become the great equalizer for indie bands. They can make their own albums and videos. They can be their own marketers and publicists. And they sell their own merch at shows they’ve booked themselves.

But let’s just admit that the white elephant in the closet with the 400 lb gorilla is that the big signed bands we all love necessarily become inaccessible and insulated. Once “signed,” they are often transported into a bourgeois class of servitude dependant on the lawyers who ru(i)n their lives. Being a bigger rock star does not mean you are a better rock star. It just means you carry a larger debt.

I’m not saying all rock stars “sell out.” Selling out is only really selling out if you become a traitor to what you were before. It’s not selling out if you just become a bigger version of your original self. But bigger always means slower. In the post corporate music world, slower is never better. Overpricing your product is not better. And suing your fans is not better either.

What I am saying is that if what you do makes record companies and lawyers money, then they will use you to do it. And if your mindset is compatible with that of the lawyers, then all the better for the record company. Thanks to Lars Ulrich, each new Metallica release keeps lawyers in their Mercedes Benzes and foie gras lunches for another year. (I wonder if I will get a “Cease and Desist” letter for that.)

That’s why I really enjoy having underground, unsigned bands on the show. They can talk about whatever they please and even play a couple of songs without waiting on lawyers and publicists to meet and sign contracts. And since very little metal gets played on the radio, these bands depend on their fans more than most other genres. In a way, I see the show as a new way of tape trading - a way to get the word out without lawyer interference.

I also like these bands because they know more than anyone that if you want your music to make you a millionaire, then you have to get out there and make it yourself. They know that the “Some Day My Prince Will Come” mindset is over; it’s defeatist and useless. And they know that self promotion and approachability are the future of the music industry.

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