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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Big Name Artists Can’t Change The Game
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and now Blink 182 have either made claims, or had the claim made about them by critics, that they have ideas for themselves regarding music distribution that will forever change the way music is sold. I have bad news for them - they’re full of crap.

The fact of the matter is once you’ve been a part of the machine (i.e. the music industry) for enough years you can’t run away from the effects it’s had on your career. NiN had 18 years in the industry, Radiohead completed a six album deal that lasted a decade, and Blink 182 was signed for a decade, as well. Just because when their contracts were completed they choose to go the independent route doesn’t mean they aren’t still a part of the industry. Where do they think their huge fan bases came from? It wasn’t from their years of toiling in obscurity. It was from the big budgets that promoted the heck out of them, got their music on the radio, got their videos on MTV, and made them household names so they could sell out huge concert spaces. Those super-sized fan bases they’re utilizing now with their “revolutionary” tactics are only there to sell to because of the time the bands spent on major labels.

Maybe these artists are too blind to realize it, but they’re industry made icons. Not in terms of talent, but in terms of audience. Sure they may have some hardcore fans who loved them beforehand, but the vast majority of the people who follow them didn’t know who they were until they had an album in stores.

I’m not trying to big up the music industry, because Lord knows it’s in terrible shape and has some incredibly misguided people making big decisions, but for a band to make a claim that they’re going to do things without the help of the industry after using the industry to develop a huge fan base over the course of ten, fifteen, twenty years is laughable.

Do these acts have interesting ideas when it comes to how to sell their music? Yes. Would these ideas work for a struggling artist? Absolutely not. You need a vast history and a gigantic fan base to make their ideas work and the only reason these acts have those fan bases is because of all their major label releases.

It’s very difficult to be groundbreaking from the top, but it’s absolutely impossible without admitting to who, or what, helped put you there. A major band choosing to ignore a large aspect of its career, and omitting it from the equation, only works to give REAL independent artists a plan for success that resembles Underpants Gnome logic.

If we’re ever going to see a radical change in the way music is sold it will come from an artist who has never signed a label deal, an artist who finds a way to become famous without any sort of association with the machine. That would be revolutionary. That would be groundbreaking. That would be a new path people could follow.

There’s nothing revolutionary about going indie after going triple platinum.

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posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:37 AM  
8 Comments:
  • At 9:25 AM, Blogger Chilly S said…

    Amen!

     
  • At 9:33 AM, Blogger Lee said…

    Co-sign. I thought it was laughable that this was such "big news" with Radiohead. Considering also that the story only ran because they were who they were.

     
  • At 2:07 PM, Blogger Clyde said…

    I like this but:

    If you're involved with music and money, you're still part of the music industry. It's a big mistake to use "music industry" as code for "major labels".

    So you're kind of extending the confusion there.

    In their case, their brands are big because of all the work they and their associated major label and other organizations put in, including the music media that profited off publicizing and helping enable their rise.

    But they're building on their massive brands and there are other ways to create massive brands in the music industry without the help of major labels or in order to get on a major label, for example, smart use of mixtapes and social media. However, that's very difficult to take past a certain level, even with corporate support from outside of the traditional music industry.

    So, no, it's not revolutionary and, yes, a lot of ridiculous revolutionary rhetoric from these artists, certain music bloggers, indie service providers and the like are muddying the waters.

    But they are changing the game for big artists who have not typically taken control of their own brand so thoroughly until they were in the declining years of their career and had no other options.

    And they are legitimizing the idea of success without a label, even if a lot of the rhetoric is incorrect.

    Hmmm, didn't mean to come on here and challenge you but I've been thinking about this a lot for the last few years and there's a lot worth sorting out!

    Clyde Smith from ProHipHop & Hip Hop Press.

     
  • At 2:17 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Chilly, Lee, Clyde, thanks for the comments!

    And Clyde, no worries, I don't consider your comment a challenge, just good conversation and that's my goal every time I write something like this, to get ideas flowing.

     
  • At 4:07 PM, Blogger Kevin L. said…

    Yo, Adam --

    Pretty good assessment on Radiohead and Blink 182, but what about the notion of Drake within the industry and how he could've "changed the game". This piece is similar in topic. Check it out if you haven't read it (not written by me/not spam):

    http://www.xxlmag.com/online/?p=70087

     
  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Kevin,

    Interesting read (and thank you for letting me know you weren't comment spamming me, lol!). While the article brings up some points, I don't think after all those years starring on the biggest teen show on television it's really fair to call Drake a true indie artist. Add in having financial backing from Cash Money/Young Money, and being on Lil' Wayne's tour, and he had FAR more advantages than your traditional independent artist.

    Drake, much like NiN, Radiohead, and Blink 182, was already famous.

    The article is right on a few things, though, Drake really dropped the ball by letting everyone get into a bidding war. By the time he'd signed and had the album ready his buzz was gone. He shoulda taken advantage of the market when he had it by the throat.

     
  • At 5:37 PM, Blogger iLLspoKinn said…

    "It’s very difficult to be groundbreaking from the top" says it all

     
  • At 11:39 AM, Blogger Seeker said…

    *applause* clap for'em. The question now is, what is the new model for independent artists? It seems that the independent labels have made the mistake of copying big brother and are slowly falling away or restructuring themselves (see Def Jux)

     
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