“Did you know in ten years labels won’t exist?
Goodbye DVD’s, and compact discs!”
MC Lars, ‘Download This Song,’ 2006
Once the internet had sufficiently developed to facilitate the speedy streaming and downloading of music, it perhaps didn’t take a genius to predict that alternative release models would be the way forward for music artists. Nonetheless it is very interesting to observe exactly how different artists approach this brave new world of doing it on your own. Record labels may not be King as they once were, unable to stop songs such as ‘Friday’ by Rebecca Black from being inflicted on an oblivious public, and it is possible for artists to make a good enough living from doing what they love and doing it well. However, have things really changed all that much? Have they changed as much as Lars was predicting?
The biggest selling albums are still always major label releases that appeal to the ‘buying your CDs whilst doing the weekly shop in Tesco’ brigade. The Susan Boyles, Sam Baileys and the George Michaels. Traditional pop acts such as Britney, Kylie and Madonna may have crossed over into the ‘heritage’ category, selling increasingly less records to an increasingly niche audience, but they have all stuck to the conventional record label model. For Kylie, in a replica of the release strategy of her last lead single ‘All The Lovers’, there has yet again been an incredibly long time between the leak and the release of new single ‘Into The Blue.’ On air/on sale may not have worked wonders in the UK, but having a 6 week + gap between leak and release is completely unacceptable in this day and age.
All three artists have the kind of dedicated fan base other artists would kill for, making it extremely viable for them to go it alone and pocket the profits from doing so. In their cases ‘going it alone’ wouldn’t mean doing all the marketing, fan communication, and postage work themselves. They would be able to employ their own team and still make bundles of money, with much better execution than labels. The labels seem apathetic to quality, as was demonstrated by the production glitch on opening track ‘Alien’ from Britney’s latest album. Lily Allen has complained of having no choice when it comes to the singles being chosen for release; in fact she’s even called her own songs ‘rubbish.’ Kylie’s inept label are infamous for completely botching her single releases, the latest example being only last week (March 2014) when the single version of ‘Into The Blue’ was inexplicably deleted from iTunes during the single’s first week of release. Subsequently, it became her first lead single since 1997 (!) not to chart inside the UK top 10. What we’re saying is labels don’t care.
Two of our favourite artists, Frankmusik and MC Lars are prime examples of acts who are now ‘going it alone,’ both with different back stories and approaches on how to DIY.
Vincent Turner came to prominence as Frankmusik during the Sam Sparro, Mika and Alphabeat phase of pop music, and was properly given the ‘major label treatment.’ It started with a perceived watering down of his original electronic glitchy beepy fantastic sounds, found on EP ‘Frankisum.’ Even the presence of legendary knob twiddler Stuart Price as executive producer couldn’t bring in the results the label wanted. Undeterred, Frankmusik was sent over to America by his label to join CherryTree, an imprint of Interscope, which once counted the unknown Lady Gaga amongst its artists. Frank’s American Dream went slightly awry with further watering down of the Frankmusik sound and disappointing Americanised output. Down and out, Frankmusik floundered out of the industry. Never one to be beaten, he made a sensational comeback on his own label with our favourite album of 2013, ‘Between.’ He also managed to nestle 3 songs in our top 20 of 2013. In other words, the output was very very good. Pop music was saved, and we were glad beyond belief that Frankmusik was in existence as a popstar. Indeed, 2014 sees him set to release fourth full-length album ‘By Nicole.’ We feel he’s really got the independent artist thing down to a tee. On the social networking sites fans have recently seen Frank become packager, postman, (self)promoter, artist, propmaker and much more in between. Levels of fan engagement are high with one lucky Dutch fan, ironically himself called Frank, winning a delicious looking limited edition photobook in a raffle. Vincent seems to be relishing the challenges of doing it all himself, and doubtless he is enjoying the rewards too. His releases have thus far been handled very well, with lovely artwork, lovely packaging and good quality throughout. A precious and special addition to our CD collection, then.
MC Lars on the other hand has never enjoyed the major label treatment, although his friends over at Wheatus doubtless have experienced the downsides of the industry. Best described as an awesome entrepreneur, Lars basically does everything ever. From drawing awesome comics to TedX talks, and that’s not to mention the music. We can’t speak highly enough of his brand of Nerdcore/Laptop punk rock/Lit hip hop. It’s no surprise then that Lars puts out all his records himself, and having previously turned to crowd-funding website Kickstarter as a means to deliver physical releases, he again has taken to Kickstarter in order to realise his ambitions of releasing a new album in 2014. There are many special ‘rewards’ to be gotten on Kickstarter, including a cassette version of the upcoming album, and Zelda necklaces. Lars is absolutely brilliant at fan engagement, as well as being a total gent when you meet him. Look at all these MC Lars tattoos people have!!
Both artists seem in their element in doing what they love and doing it on their own terms. Sure, neither of them are likely to top the charts anytime soon, but it doesn’t matter. Be it a custom drawing from Lars, or knowing that Frank himself has popped your CD in the post, it all makes the experience of being a fan of these artists so much more exhilarating. Well, that and the quality control, artistic control and creative control of the output. If this is what being a pop artist in 2014 means, then we think we like it. They’re certainly proving that it’s possible to be successful without the brawn of a major label behind you. Lars was wrong on one thing though. The compact disc is very much here to stay. Or so we hope!