There has been a lot of talk lately about the “death of the record label”. When we started SquidHat Records in early 2012 all we heard was criticism. “A little late to the party, aren’t you?” or “What is this, the early 90’s?” even “Why would a band even need you?”
Yeah, we get it. To the outside world we are a bunch of nostalgic idealists looking to squeeze the last bit of life out of an antiquated system so that we can play “record executive” in our early forties and maybe, just maybe get a free beer .
Here, inside of the modest SquidHat empire (a spare room in my very small house), our managers and artists see a very different side of things. We’re a family of people united by a common love; great music. Whether it’s making it, recording it, promoting or selling it, the unifying bond stands. We believe in what we do and want to help each other realize our goals.
Yes, I understand the opposing argument. New software and technology make recording a breeze. The internet has made the world smaller, millions of people accessible and extended the reach of anyone willing to upload a song to the masses. There’s crowd funding, Facebook, Reverb Nation, Internet Radio and a host of other DIY solutions aimed at (and profiting from) bands and musicians. It would seem that anyone with the time, motivation and a few good songs could realize their dream of stardom with a MacBook and a good supply of Red Bull. So, with precious few exceptions, why isn’t it happening?
The answer is simple; bands need now what they have always needed, and that is people – not actually in the band – who believe in them enough to invest time and energy into what they do. That is where the Indie label is not only valuable, but alive and well.
But you have to have your heart in the right place. No one starts an Indie Label to get rich. I came from the fabulously bloated dot.com software world of the early nineties and I can tell you that the way to get rich is to tell a bunch of wealthy old guys that you can turn a dollar into two dollars. Back then they’d heap cash on you if you had a half-baked idea and a business plan scratched onto a cocktail napkin. Pets.com anyone? No, you start a label because you love music and want to share that love with as many people as you can. It really is that simple.
Now, I could write an eBook on this subject because I believe so passionately in what we do but I’ll boil it down to a few reasons why I think that an Indie Label is still the best way for bands and artists to advance their careers.
First, no software will ever replace a good set of ears.
From great producers helping a band find “their sound” to tireless, talented mastering engineers who understand how to make your recording sound good on everything from a pair of CAT MBX speakers to that 2nd gen iPod that you may or may not have spilled grape soda on. Good Indie labels help connect these professionals to great musicians and then make them accessible with financial support. As we expand and grow we develop a larger and more valuable network of like-minded people who can help us help you.
Secondly, the internet is crowded.
You can write “The Greatest Song In The World” (or just a tribute), upload it to a number of online music sites and then sit back and wait for the cash and accolades to start rolling in. Now, take that idea, put it into 4 billion heads and you get a gigantic maelstrom of “greatest songs” that meld together into a cacophony so loud and so massive that no one will dare try to sort it out. Turn away for one second and BAM! It shits out an auto-tuned, over-produced turd into the zeitgeist. Put another way, you might really like turtles, but if I take one of every species of animal on this planet and heap them in a pile at your feet your chances of finding the turtle are slim.
A good indie label can help carve a path, even a small, deliberate one, through some of that chaos by advertising, making great contacts with like-minded labels and professionals, marketing, promoting, forging distribution deals and essentially doing all the non-musical stuff that would keep you from actually making music. Yes, you can do these things yourself, and should, but having a team of people dedicated to just that? Priceless.
Thirdly, credibility still opens doors.
A good label, run by good people who do what they say they are going to do, pay their invoices and seem way too happy to talk about their bands 24/7 will inevitably develop a good reputation. This reputation translates to credibility, and, if you are sticking to your core ideals, people will start to trust you and actually want to hear about your new project. If I’m in a band and I tell you that my band is great, well, yeah. What am I going to say? Ah! But if I am a guy who seems reasonably intelligent and well-adjusted and I tell you about a band I love that I am not in and that my cousin is not in, well maybe, just maybe there’s something to it. That’s a simplification of what a label does but you get the point. If I, a sane third party, am putting my time, effort and cash into something then perhaps it’s at least worth a listen.
In closing, yes labels do get some of your money but, I will tell you this, reputable, artist-friendly labels earn it and they sure as hell don’t make money until you do. The old rule still stands; if someone “believes” in your music but needs some “money up front” run away. They are the lie that gives us all a bad reputation. Someone who truly believes will put up or shut up and then work their asses off to get you and themselves into the black. They have to in order to keep doing what they love.
So I stand by my and all good Indie Labels as the last real connection between true music and true music fans. Maybe the naysayers will never understand why we do what we do, and maybe they don’t have to. I just know that when I was doing my thing and trying to make it as a musician I wish I would have had someone like us to listen, support and simply give a damn about my music.
Oh, and I am still waiting on that free beer. – Allan Carter