Who needs record labels?

Ahead of The Independent Label Lo Down! event tomorrow, Cornerhouse Programme Coordinator, Christina Millare met up with The Independent on Sunday’s Rock and Pop Critic, Simon Price and Manchester based indie label maestros, Jeff Thompson and Aniff Akinola to talk about the ins and outs of the Independent Label…..oh and American Idol!

‘Do bands still need record labels?’ questions Simon Price.

A label-less music industry conjures images of some kind of post-apocalyptic music scene with feral bands fending/ funding themselves. And you know what, is this even such a bad thing? Jeff Thompson from Manchester based indie label Fat Northerner Records says, ‘Bands are very intelligent these days, they’re capable of doing everything a record label can do’.

‘But the labels have the industry contacts,’ Simon interrupts. And so the discussion begins…

What are the degrees of dependency within the structures of the independent label and ultimately who needs who? Renowned producer and writer Aniff Akinola claims that record label backing amplifies the opportunities for bands thus creating an allure but reiterating Jeff’s statement agrees that, ‘ultimately anything a label can do a band can do also’.

Although seemingly the road to success involves a lot of hard graft, it does not however mean the label working harder than the bands themselves. Creating records essentially and rightfully so falls into the creative hands of the musicians and not the label honchos. Independent labels provide the support to facilitate a band’s work but importantly do not mould the essence of the record itself. In short indie label bosses are not extra band mates!

So…‘What is the difference between a major and an indie?’ Simon enquires. Quick off the mark, Aniff states, ‘A hit!’

Perhaps the same question could be rephrased to, ‘What is the major label’s business policy and what is the indie label’s ethos?’ There’s a clear link between the two but very different departure points and as a result contrasting relationships between band and record label are formed. There’s always been this piranha incensed mythology behind the major label and more of a ‘one of us’ camaraderie with regards to the independent (everyone remembers the signing scene between Tony Wilson and Joy Division in 24 Hour People right?). A 50/ 50 split sure does sound much better (and fairer) than the usual 80/20 split for bands at majors.

Aniff  points out that there’s no real sense of ease within the funding umbrella of a major, with an apt example being American Idol’s Lee DeWyze whose debut release upon entering the American Billboard top 200 at 19 was considered a relative failure. It has since been argued that poor record sales set against a major’s high expectations may have lead to DeWyze being dropped from RCA. There’s a real sense of record industry ‘go hard or go home’ morality to this tale, perhaps it’s more about ‘What can you do for us?’ rather than ‘What can we do for you?’ Simon laughs, ‘In the 70’s and 80’s labels used to throw money at artists and a record could still bomb. …I miss that. The music industry has really tightened this up!’

Majors it seems are fuelled by the green stuff and dictated by the social wave – what’s hip today is more often than not, uncool tomorrow. Surely indie’s face this same problem too? Both Aniff and Jeff proclaim in unison that it’s more about going to a gig and hearing a great band and from that moment having an instinctual urge to work with the band because first and foremost you (shock horror) love their music.

The discussion continues tomorrow Thur 13 October at Cornerhouse. Book your tickets here.