You might have heard of 17-year-old phenom musician and performer Lorde. In fact, you definitely have. And your beloved writer can certainly say that if you haven’t yet, you definitely will from the release of new Hunger Games film: Catching Fire. She’ll be covering Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World‘ as a key component of the soundtrack, opposite musical giants like Coldplay and Imagine Dragons. So…she must be on a major label right? With multi-million dollar licensing contracts from that film and others, writer’s credits on New Zealand’s biggest pop groups, and 9 weeks at number 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, she has to be signed to Interscope or EMI right? No.
After a multi-million dollar bidding war between the world’s largest recording labels, Lorde signed with a boutique label in New Zealand called Songs Music Publishing. It’s owned by a handful of people that know Lorde (also known as Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor) personally. It seems that once again, we’re reminded that deep pockets don’t necessarily make good music. With Adele, Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis, Jack white, Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace, Mumford And Sons, Vampire Weekend and other heavyweights opting for smaller-to-tiny labels over their giant multinational counterparts, it seems that a trend is in place. The want for trust over loot seems to be returning to the business.
This type of movement harkens back to a time where musicians were lauded for their efforts by the people in their town, or wherever they toured. Nobody controlled or even had the power to control them, save for the occasional song suggestion from an audience member. Rather, it was the artist’s place in society to entertain, to bring together, to inspire, and to say what others couldn’t. But that was all before Radio, ASCAP and BMI began to police and monetize the world of music and its affiliated properties in the early 1900’s.
I can only guess that this adept new breed of composers, performers and aspiring moguls are arising from the ashes of major labels’ public crashing and burning in the early 2000’s due to Napster, and later services like YouTube, Grooveshark and Mediafire. Those services ostensibly leveled the playing field for anyone (anyone who was actually good) to make a dent in the business without the backing of a major company (think Deadmau5).
I must assume that they’re coming from that place where the artists’ income is no longer controlled by the gatekeepers at the label or publishing imprint. It’s a new, more authentic era that presents a moving target; what the people truly want. It’s given the power back to the people, and once again the artist has options. The new move toward authenticity and away from advertising is completely due to the people’s voice through the Internet, and seems most prevalent in the art business. Fortunately for die hard fans like us, o faithful reader, that’s something they can’t teach you at Yale or Stanford where they churn out businessmen who know business but don’t even love music, let alone care about an artist’s integrity.
In an amazing Ted Talk, Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls speaks out on crowdsourcing and unconventional connection in todays world. It’s been the greatest boon to her success to reach out and make a real connection with her fans through social media and in-person engagements. She purports in her moving speech that it is the art of connecting that makes an artist indelible, and it’s the opposite that makes an artist disappear with time (think Britney Spears’ business failure and mental collapse a few years back). Again, perhaps this is the perfect harbinger for the new breed of artists’ tendencies in business.
At EMI or Atlantic, you may have deep pockets to work with for marketing and image enhancement but as an artist, your message may be completely lost in the A&R department simply because you need to be “hotter” or “more current”. A small label is not only passionate about their artists, but often offer complete creative control as a feature of their signing package. It seems like the more attractive option for any artists that have something to offer beyond rhythm and a pretty face.
Whether your beloved writer’s theory on a trend in the music business is fact or fiction, it’s undeniable that many of our favorite artists are choosing creative control over big money. And for a die hard fan, there are few things more gratifying than really connecting with your favorite artist, without the filter of big business and greed fogging things up.