Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is this the way all bands will go?

More and more bands seem to be ditching traditional record company deals to go their own way.

Bands such as Fairport Convention and The Levellers run their own annual festival and even smaller events such as our local Truck Festival (also run by a local band) have developed strong reputations.

And bands are increasingly using the internet to provide a platform for their music and selling directly to their fans, cutting out the various middle men along the way.

Radiohead hit the headlines recently for giving away their new album as a download, asking fans to pay what they wanted. They apparantly averraged 'only' £2 per album in return, although as has been pointed out this is actually MORE than most bands will get for selling an album through a recording contract.

One band that has consistently blazed a trail of innovation is one of my favorites - Marillion.

Having ended their relationship with EMI after their 80s glory days the band went through a succession of contracts with smaller labels before deciding to go it alone.

They steadily built up an email list and website, set up their own studio and record company (initially releasing 'official bootlegs' and the like) and employed their own manager (the indefatigable Lucy Jordache).

They established their own 'Marillion weekends' - the first of which was at Brean Sands Holiday Park in Somerset. They are holding two next year - one in Holland and one in Canada.

For 2001's Anoraknophobia they asked fans to pay upfront for a special edition of the album. 12,000 of us did so and in the process provided the band with an 'advance' that allowed them the artistic freedom to do what they wanted with the album without any record company execs breating down their throat.

They repeated the excercise with 2004's Marbles and this time 18,000 of us paid up front for what turned out to be a classic.

As the Beeb have reported they are trying even more new ideas for the new album.

They are distributing their own advance bootleg of the new album in an attempt to beat the file sharers. It's free, but not as good quality, and encourages you to buy the real thing.

They've once again asked fans to buy in advance, and we've done so in our thousands.

And they've set up a competition to ask fans to produce their own videos for the track 'Whatever Is Wrong With You' with two £5,000 prizes for the most viewed and the band's own favorite.

This is my favorite so far:

There's a short video about all this here.


Hywel said...

But all those bands have a well established fan base and getting media profile isn't difficult.

Where the labels do come in is in promotion of bands at an early stage. Setting up a myspace etc page is easy - getting people to go to it is the hard bit. Must be possible though - I caught a bit on R5 with (I think) one of the Mercury nominees who were saying how they made quite a bit of money early on busking, but most of the money came from on-street CD sales.

It's possible that the ease of producing records that way may be as significant as Myspace etc

Iain Roberts said...

I didn't realise Marillion were so innovative (I was a huge fan of all the Fishy albums; Season's End and Holidays in Eden were OK but I thought Brave was dire and haven't followed them since).

Hywel has a good point, though: for all the talk in some quarters of bands making it on their own without the big labels, very few do. For every success there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of bands going absolutely nowhere with a MySpace page.

The problems of getting heard amongst the morass are still there and expensive marketing is still a far more reliable route to success than anything else.

Liberal Neil said...

Those are all fair points.

Iain - They also dropped off my radar around the time of Brave, it was several years later I got back into them.

A lot of the Fish era fans particulalry rate the Marbles album - you might like it. But they are at their best live.

Anonymous said...

Hi there

I saw that you have Anoraknophobia Special Edition
Do you want to sell it or do you have a spare?
Anoraknophobia is a favorite of my wife and we have the retail edition but we can't buy the special edition when it was released

Maybe you know someone who can help me...
Can i give you my mail address?