Our buddy John Strachan — frontman for the Funeral Pyre and Early Graves — returns with some hard, cold truth. He’s here to help you younger bands not get severely raped by the machine, and offers some cautionary advice to live by
This has been a trying two weeks. Finishing up the new Early Graves record, getting ready for tour, and countless other things that go on in my life. But what I’m here to write about today has nothing to do with any of this. This is about the new stage of the music industry — “pre-packaged” bands. That’s right, the pre-packaged band. Never heard of it? Well, let me delve further into this…
The way certain record labels are shifting their the A&R talents is by snatching up whatever band has everything good to go, that takes little marketing, and that will tour blindly into the night before the ink even dries on a contract. The myth with the record labels is that they honestly care about your product, because, and not to be a total dick, they don’t. They want the billing so that they can fill their release schedule with distributors. I understand that, dogs gotta eat, a label needs to have releases. So, rather than working with a band, developing them and creating something that would be a fantastic purchase for a consumer, these labels are finding the bands who have done all the legwork themselves, meaning; the recording and mastering are done, the artwork is finished, and in some cases, even the first pressing has been printed.
Now, what this does is eliminate their costs to produce a record from the ground up. Most of these bands you’ve never, ever, heard of and can’t believe got signed? Guess what, this day and age, most of them had everything ready to go and somebody was willing to take this low-risk chance. Now, this may seem like I’m “hating” on these record labels, which, I will do till the end of time, but more importantly, I’m showing you bands what to look for and how these guys will get the cheapest deal from you.
Let’s say you work on your brand new album, recorded it, mastered it, got the artwork finished, even started setting up a tour. At the end of the process you are at least $5,000 deep into your record. But you just want to get signed! So you start sending out your own copies to labels hoping to catch a break, and you will. Soon you’ll be contacted by a guy who “like’s what he’s hearing” and “see’s a future” for you guys. Sounds great, right? Well guess what, he’s going to offer you $2,000 to $3,000 for your record — FOR THE WHOLE THING — plus an “option” (their’s, of course) for a second or even third album. You’re thinking, well shit, even if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get the next record for sure! Not so fast — you sign the deal, hope that you get your money to recoup your cost on your album and then you’re told you need to start touring in support of this album.
The touring starts taking place and you’re busting your ass. You’ve quit jobs, you’ve broken up with girlfriends, your personal life at home has gone to shit because you’re so incredibly dedicated to your craft. The longer you tour, the more you hear “just keep going and pushing forward, there will be a break eventually.” But there won’t be, the light isn’t at the end of this tunnel. What has happened is a total bait and switch. You gave the label what they needed and they just promised you that “if you pay your dues, you’ll get rewarded. You need to work for it.” Which normally I would fully believe, but not these days.
Unless you have someone with some “juice” behind you, the breaks won’t be there. Not to sound like a bitter asshole, but as someone who has brought bands to a label, I’ve had to buy into this system and I feel dirty for doing so. I don’t want this to happen to good, honest, hard working bands that actually deserve the breaks. Just don’t look for them to happen, no matter how much you hear from the main “A&R” guy that “we’ll get you something, just need to grind this out!”
At the end of the day, with the way music has changed, the only thing I could honestly suggest is that you do it all yourselves in the beginning. There’s nothing more gratifying than putting in hard work and creating something on your own from the ground up. Once you’ve accomplished some tours on your own and have seen how the road works, you’ll have a better understanding of your next step.
I can’t tell you what your next step is, but I will say this — due to recent events with the bands I’m affiliated with, Early Graves and Funeral Pyre, I can say that Early Graves is beyond happy working with an up and coming label like No Sleep. So before you “sign that record deal with the almighty metal label” make sure you know what you’re doing. If the deal doesn’t seem to be all that good, don’t sell yourself short. Your music is worth more than that to you. Well, I’d at least hope it is.
Until next time, come see Early Graves on the road with Skeletonwitch/Havok and Mutilation Rites this fall.