The Indie/Corporate Complex

January 30, 2007

One thing indie intellectuals love to espouse is their views on "the corporate take-over of music." The general complaint has to do with media conglomeration, the majority of so-called "indies" being owned by major labels, and the general poor quality of radio these days. You’ll hear these hipsters complaining about Clear Channel but you most likely won’t hear them making music or making a difference. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! are making that difference and its BECAUSE of media conglomeration that they exist.

Frankly, I don’t like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!’s music, but the way they have succeeded should inspire anyone. CYHSY are completely "indie." They fund, sell and profit from their music, without the help of major label support (besides distro.)

"The reason that we decided to continue to do it ourselves is really economic as much as anything else," Sean Greenhalgh, the band’s drummer, told The Post last week, ahead of the Jan. 30 drop of the band’s second CD, "Some Loud Thunder."

"We make more money doing it ourselves than we would with a label," he said. (lhb)

So let me get this straight. A huge corporation doesn’t have that much to offer musicians if their music is strong, they have an entrepreneurial mind, and can afford an inexpensive recording program? Musicians can make MORE money on their own based only on their talent?

We really need to curb this HUGE problem…

People who say that music is dead aren’t listening, and people who say corporations are killing it don’t realize that they are only killing themselves. With all the opportunity to fund, record, market, and sell your music in a multitude of ways, corporate take over of music may have been just what we needed.

The Market Works!

JK

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5 Responses to “The Indie/Corporate Complex”


  1. While I agree that music isn’t dead, I think you are kind of glossing over some of the problems with the modern music industry. Not all of it is due to the major labels, the radio stations do bare some of the blame, but if you think the music industry is better today than it was thirty years ago then you must be living under a rock.

    I’ll start with the modern music industry, who do not seem willing to cultivate smaller acts. That is to say, if a band that they sign does not have immediate success then they are dropped. I can name you literally thousands of bands that have had this problem, simply because their first or second album didn’t do as well as was to be expected.

    This was not the case 30 – 40 years ago. The major labels were much more willing to stand by a smaller band. To quote Blender, “Bruce Springsteen and U2 would have have lost their deals after one album had they been signed today.” I suspect that this is not far from the truth.

    Because there is this fear that the CD sales are on the decline and that the music industry is all doom and gloom, many record companies aren’t willing to take as many chances. Yet it’s this “taking it safe” approach that is one of the reasons that fewer CDs are being sold. There was a study conducted not too long ago (sorry, I don’t have the link) that clearly showed that while the major labels were losing sales the indie labels were doing much better. Part of this is because the internet has given these struggling artists the chance to be heard …

    Which brings me to the radio stations. These days the major record labels have no problem paying for artist airtime. This wasn’t that big of a deal ten or twenty years ago when the radio market was owned by a lot of different companies, but these days there are fewer owners and a lot less variety. Instead of having places for indie bands, radio stations are opting for the safer Top 40 acts. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that these bands are popular, since they are the bands that the major labels put their money towards. You don’t see more adventurous acts getting the notoriety because there aren’t as many stations to play them.

    Obviously there is still great music out there, but a lot of it is coming from the REAL indie labels. I would point to my hometown lables like Kill Rock Stars and K Records, two labels that are still supporting amazing bands. It would be nice to see the majors support more adventurous bands, but given the current paradigm I don’t see how they can. They are more interested in the latest American Idol flavor than The Decemberists. And to me that’s depressing.

    I mean no offense, but as somebody who has worked at a local indie label, in local indie radio and have a lot of friends who are in the local music scene, comments like “corporate take over of music may have been just what we needed” simply strike me as being ignorant. If you like the state of music today then that’s great, but I fear the future of the music industry. I simply cannot believe that you think a corporate take over is what we needed. This editorial actually makes me sad inside. Very sad indeed!

  2. JK Says:

    Your affectation of indie cred (” [I] have a lot of friends who are in the local music scene”) sounds sort of like the latent racist that claims he has “a lot of black friends.” I also mean no offense, but you must not understand my point because your comment reaffirmed my argument.

    1.”I’ll start with the modern music industry, who do not seem willing to cultivate smaller acts.”

    Only if you don’t include all the indies as part of the “industry.” I never said major labels are cultivating great music, I merely supposed that their blindness to said music created indies like Kill Rock Stars, and K Records.

    2.”Bruce Springsteen and U2 would have have lost their deals after one album had they been signed today.”

    Yes, things have changed, and though I hardly think U2 would be dropped after “Boy” considering the success of the singles, I agree that today’s major record labels might pass on the young band. But the indies wouldn’t. Wilco WAS dropped from Reprise (subsidiary of Warner Bros), streamed the album on their website, and was picked up by Nonesuch (another subsidiary of Warner Bros) who released “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” which eventually went Gold.

    3.”Because there is this fear that the CD sales are on the decline and that the music industry is all doom and gloom, many record companies aren’t willing to take as many chances”

    Even though CD sales may be on the decline, MUSIC sales are on the rise on account of itunes, emusic etc…And while those major record labels may search for the “commercially viable” artist that block out the most creative artists, indie record labels have the mobility to sign them and make money with the right about of marketing and buzz. Besides, artists make money on touring, merchandise and pubishing rights, not selling CDs. Most of the time the major record labels are the ONLY ones who are hurt by poor record sales.

    4. “There was a study conducted not too long ago (sorry, I don’t have the link) that clearly showed that while the major labels were losing sales the indie labels were doing much better. Part of this is because the internet has given these struggling artists the chance to be heard …”

    EXACTLY! And the only reason the indie labels exist is because of fed up musicians and business owners that wanted to use the market to take on these media conglomerates to support GREAT MUSIC. The way the music industry has evolved has bred these indies, not suppressed them.

    5.”Instead of having places for indie bands, radio stations are opting for the safer Top 40 acts. It shouldn’t surprise anybody that these bands are popular, since they are the bands that the major labels put their money towards. You don’t see more adventurous acts getting the notoriety because there aren’t as many stations to play them.”

    Who Cares? If the mainstream radio was the only place to find music, I might agree with your opinion, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I frankly don’t care what frat boys and cheerleaders listen to, I care what is available to me. Artists have never had such a good atmosphere to make music.

    6.”It would be nice to see the majors support more adventurous bands, but given the current paradigm I don’t see how they can. They are more interested in the latest American Idol flavor than The Decemberists. And to me that’s depressing.”

    Why is that depressing? Why do you care what the major labels are doing when the artists you love are supported by a formidable indie? Why does it hurt music or creativity to have larger labels focussing on trash? It doesn’t, and I would argue that it was the propelling force for the indie revolution you see today. Besides, The Decemberists just released an album on CAPITOL RECORDS!!! This is the general formula you now see. The indies sign a promissing new artist, help develop their fan base, give them a forum to tour, write, make music, maybe get featured on “The OC,” major labels smell a success, sign them to a larger deal, artist makes money, more people know about the arist, etc…Before, ONLY those that already had a developed sound and a commerically viable image could make a living making music. So yes, the music industry TODAY is MUCH better than it was then. An artist today doesn’t have to be on a major to have success. How is this bad?

    6.”I simply cannot believe that you think a corporate take over is what we needed. This editorial actually makes me sad inside. Very sad indeed!”

    What’s sad is that your arguments don’t make sense and don’t refer to my point, yet you still chose to imply I was “ignorant” to the music industry today. The record industry today doesn’t compare with the record industry from 30-40 years ago. It’s bigger, it’s better, it’s more inclusive, allows for more creativity, more experimentation, and more talented artists to make the music that you and I both love.

    But then again, you have friends in the indie music scene, so you are probably right…

    JK


  3. “Your affectation of indie cred (” [I] have a lot of friends who are in the local music scene”) sounds sort of like the latent racist that claims he has “a lot of black friends.”

    “But then again, you have friends in the indie music scene, so you are probably right…”

    Thanks for the civilized discussion.

  4. Lucas Says:

    I think it’s rather harsh to say that poster Cyril “sounds sort of like the latent racist that claims he has “a lot of black friends.”” I mean, if the guy has a lot of friends in the indie scene, he has a lot of friends in the indie scene. It seems like you’re just discrediting him for that fact alone, not because he might actually KNOW more than you on this, JK. Just my opinion.

  5. JK Says:

    Actually Lucas, I think I went through his argument point by point and gave my rebuttals. I also have friends in the indie scene, have worked at an indie label, and went to school for music business, but I don’t use it as the basis for my argument. When you throw around phrases like “you must be living under a rock” or refer to the writer as “ignorant” I think you better be ready to take some criticism.

    In what way did Cyril’s argument indicate that he “knew more” than me on this issue? He used an artist that WAS SIGNED to a major label as an example of an artist IGNORED by major labels! Besides, this argument isn’t about who “knows more” it’s about opinion. He gave his (albeit not exactly about my point), I gave mine. What’s wrong with that?

    If I said it just to be mean, that would be one thing, but it struck me that he is the kind of person that I was referring to in the original article, and yes, it drives me nuts when people have this sort of anti-corporate mantra that means absolutely nothing.

    Cyril, if the original comment was civil to begin with, I would respond in form. I was responding to your argument that since you have friends in the scene, you are qualified to speak on the industry as a whole. I found that to be similar to a latent racist that uses the fact that he has a lot of black friends as a qualification for his opinions about race. I’m not saying I have any more qualifications than you but it truly bothers me when people use indie cred as a way to discredit their rivals.

    Frankly, I find it extremely telling that neither of you chose to argue against the substantive points of the article or the rebuttal, rather you solely attacked my civility.

    JK

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