What are record labels good for, anyway?
What exactly is the band’s role? How much of their own promotion are they expected to do? Their own mastering?
Giles: “The band’s primary role is to create kick-ass tunes, though the emergence of all things social media-orientated means that it’s obviously beneficial to work with folk that are both tech-savvy and keen to promote their own agenda. There’s a glut of bands that seem to think the mountain will come to them, but equally there are some bands out there that that would spam their dead grandmother’s Facebook page in the vain hope of an extra “fan”, and appear far too needy and desperate for attention in the process. Striking the right balance can be difficult but some folk could do with applying a modicum of self-respect before acting. Ultimately it’s irrelevant how many fans you have on Facebook; if you’re not out there gigging, flyering and just generally hustling then you’ll be unlikely to sell out any venue greater than your bathroom. I personally see Armalyte as a collaborative venture between the label and the artists, and to see it any other way would be somewhat skewed. Ideally, bands are encouraged to create and supply as much of the finished product as possible so that the end product best reflects their artistic vision, but in the event that they need any support as far as artwork, production or mastering goes then we generally know a man who can.”
Shaun: “As above, it really depends from release to release. My main issue is having limited time to be able to do everything efficiently. I encourage bands I work with to do as much as possible for themselves – they should take active control of as much of their work as possible or at least be actively involved. Of course this doesn’t always suit some musicians whose talents may purely be artistic.”
Alec: “I’ll answer the first question. We don’t work exclusively with bands, so I’ll refer instead to the role artists have when working with Brassland: the artist’s role is to make music and other creative statements that are inspiring to a community of people – in our case most of those people tend to be avid music listeners, though ideally it’s best if the band aspires to communicate with a wider public. If they do this effectively, the purchase of music-related items will follow. In my opinion, those other two questions are kind of boring and besides the point. But if I were to answer it in as straightforward fashion as possible I’d have to say ‘it depends’.”
What place do you think traditional record labels have these days?
Shaun: “I think traditional record labels are changing with the times too. They often work in a similar way to DIY labels but just on a bigger scale where financials play a bigger role. I’m prepared to lose money on a release because I love the music and enjoy the process but that is not always an option with traditional labels unless they can make up the losses with big hits – but big hits are not on the scale they were 20-30 years ago. I understand my limitations as a label and I put that forward to the bands I work with and encourage them to seek better opportunities wherever they can.”
Alec: “This question is hard to answer since I can’t think of any tradition that would describe most record labels. It strikes me that record labels are extremely idiosyncratic beasts. What do Def Jam and Dischord and Decca and Domino and DFA and Drag City and Downtown have in common, really? I’d say they have more differences than commonalities. And that’s just the Ds!
“In the case of Brassland, I honestly don’t even think of it as a record label, really! As discs go the way of the eight-track tape, I believe that companies doing what we do will, increasingly, be referred to as labels or music companies, not record labels. The concept I laid out earlier about record labels being in the business of creating “context and connections” will become increasingly important, while the business of selling records will become increasingly old-fashioned and outdated. That said, artists will always make records of their work – but I use that term as a synonym for “documents” not as a synonym for ‘disc-shaped plastic, aluminum or vinyl’.”
Giles: “Traditional record labels are effectively dinosaurs whose prime motivation appears to be to maintain the status quo and to keep wasting money like it’s going out of fashion. Their greed and excess has finally caught up with them and the fact that independent artists can earn a living without them has been somewhat of a wake up call to them. The needs and wants of artists have always been fairly low on their list of priorities, and the shift in how “the industry” now works is one for which they were unprepared and were slow to react to. Ultimately the artist is king at Armalyte and the fact that we genuinely do this for the love as opposed to any financial motivation is what drives us. Our business model is effectively that of WaxTrax crossed with Factory Records, so with that in mind you can see where we’re headed and, inevitably, it will not end well. But as long as we have fun along the way then I really have no complaints.”