We were gonna do it anyway.

“The labels have been snookered by Steve Jobs, who could sense their ignorance and preyed upon them.” Bob Lefsetz.

Last week Apple launched the iCloud. In the same week Bjork announced the upcoming release of her new album Biophilia as ten separate iPad apps, all housed within one ‘mother’ app which allows fans to interact with the songs or even create new versions. The apps will encompass live music performances as well as clips directed by Michel Gondry.

The first trailer for the album is lo-fi footage of Bjork listening to the first track on the car stereo as she passes snow capped mountains somewhere in Iceland I’m guessing? Cool!

One of the most iconic songwriters in the world just aligned herself with the most powerful ‘legal’ music provider on the planet.

For $150 million, approximately 40 million to the bottom line of each recording company, Steve Jobs just bought out the labels. $150 million is loose change to Apple.

“The labels just sold out their future.”Bob Lefsetz.

We knew the labels were dinosaurs, somewhere around 1999 when Lars Ulrich the emotional drummer from Metallica got his knickers in a knot over Sean Parker’s Napster. Ulrich later ate his words by the way…

Or perhaps it was in 1979 when Tom Petty, unhappy with the terms, declared bankruptcy to free himself of his contract with Shelter Records.

Or 1972 when Stevie Wonder won a higher royalty rate, full artistic freedom and publishing rights over Motown’s Berry Gordy.

Major labels for independent artists are soooooooo last century. And I’m talking about truly independent here. Not boutique labels with major label distribution.

Independent = no affiliation with the majors.

We’re cottage industries that could see the major label deal was never going to work in our favour.

We tour. We play to living breathing audiences whose loyalty and trust we have built over many, many years. Album sales? That’s live performance income for us. You want a limited edition vinyl of my first album? Sure thing, how about I sign it for you while we talk about the best place to get a good cup of joe in this town?

We worked out that those people who come to our shows, who’ve come along for the ride because we’re singing about something we actually care about, well they bring people along to our shows and those people bring people along to our shows… And so it goes.

We don’t have to sell anything.

As attendance at live shows and festivals soar; as musicians collaborate in communities and tour together, as I film a new song in the rehearsal studio on my iPhone and upload it straight to my webpage for the people (who have nearly sold out our show) to watch, as our friends spread the word via their twitter feed during the show, as I go to bed later tonight knowing who’s listening to my music because they just introduced me to their mother, husband, girlfriend, brother – I see that we’ve been living ‘the future’ of music right from the start.

To paraphrase Gillian Welch who started her own label Acony Records as a reaction to Universal when they bought out the label she’d released her first two albums on:

[We] “were gonna do it anyway, even if it didn’t pay.”


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12 responses to “We were gonna do it anyway.”

  1. avatar Jeremy Way says:

    Hi Jen

    Well you pretty much summed up how I’ve been thinking about the ol’ music industry of late. Sean Parker makes a great point about Apple having the market cornered with iPhones and Lefsetz echoes those sentiments when talking about the value of software. It will be interesting to see how the next year changes up, here’s hoping all the providers can handle the bandwith demands when the iCloud descends!


  2. avatar Rosie says:

    It feels like such an exciting time to be an emerging artist in this industry. I have no idea what’s around the corner (and still don’t fully understand icloud or how it will effect me personally) but I think that anything that can get music we create independently to new ears is a great thing, and I’m glad I don’t need to give 90% of my royalties to a label in order to do it.

  3. avatar Jed Rowe says:

    Thanks for posting Jen! Everything Is Free is such a statement of surrender and power, loved that song the first time I heard it and it does sum up your argument nicely. See you at Storm In A Teacup.

  4. avatar DC Cardwell says:

    Nice post about the rapidly changing state of the music industry!

    It’s pretty clear that in the heyday of the major labels most artists (even big selling ones) either made very little money or (more likely) never actually recouped their advances at all, while being tied to the label for years and often not getting the promotion they deserved. As someone once said, if even The Beatles couldn’t keep their label honest, what hope have we?

    They had to make their money from touring, merchandise and other means. But who would have foreseen that we would today be able to effectively handle our own distribution through Tunecore/CDBaby/Bandcamp etc. and keep almost all the money ourselves.

    It’s also interesting to realise that even the biggest selling records of all time were only bought by a very small percentage of the population. For everyone who bought Thriller there were ten who didn’t give a toss.

    With all that in mind, I’ve decided to use Noisetrade to give away my music in exchange for an email address (http://www.noisetrade.com/dccardwell), and I’ve been rather pleased that in the space of a few days over 200 people have downloaded it and I’ve made more in “tips” than I would have made in two months of actual album sales! And most people who download it also share it on Facebook/Twitter etc. I can look through the people who downloaded it and about half of them were not people I had any connection with previously.

    So without much effort I’ve *got* my music to all those people who would otherwise never have heard it, acquired their email address for my mailing list, and made a reasonable amount of money in the process from those who were kind enough to leave a few dollars.

    Pretty cool, eh?

    ~ DC

  5. avatar Bill Jackson says:

    Hi Jen
    Thanks for writing this – it put everything into context re what you were talking about at our meeting last week. Its all really confusing but also makes erfect sense…I guess we have been living the future without the tools that are available as of now. So what do I do with the new album I have in the can? Do I need a barcode? Do I need a label logo? – seems pointless. If I had an App – how could I market it? How can we ‘combine’ independently to create income streams? What I am really interested in is the next song Im gonna write but thats never enough…

  6. avatar Tom says:

    Very valid. The climate is very much turning towards a wider playing field. Lots of people listening and exposed to more music. It still seems like a cat fight out there but it is odd how technology has completely changed the ball game. Time to go and write the next Night Fever

  7. I think it’s common feeling out there that it is now time for the independent artists to emerge and use the tools and climate to our advantage. No longer are we reliant on ‘The Companies’ to get our music heard, but if you are motivated enough and with a little helping hand from some seasoned muso’s who are willing to share their knowledge, we can flourish in an area that had previously been reserved for those that had been signed to record lables.

  8. avatar Ash says:

    Wowzers! Looking forward to downloading / and following Bjork’s new album.

    Major recording companies are becoming nothing more than banks.

    “Money is how people with no talent keep score”

  9. I guess it’s pretty complicated and everyone is assuming a lot about iCloud. If we looked at Apples history we can see that most products and services launched have been very successful. We look at Apples latest move in the music biz as ‘snookering’ the major labels which is true but I reckon the main reason they have been able to do this is consumer trust. Labels have a long history of fucking people over, Apple has a history making cool shit (but fucking over the environment) that makes access to information easier and improves (subjective) lifestyle. Everything works with everything… But at the other end is the consumer making demands. iCloud was conceived cause that is what the consumer wanted. I guess a lot of people presume certain things about iCloud and I reckon it’s too early to make statements regarding the effect it will have on the industry. But one thing I definitely agree with is that the majors started fucking up a long ago when the song mattered less then the cash it made. Let’s hope Mr. Jobs keeps it nice…

  10. avatar Jen says:

    Thanks for all your feedback people! Keep it rolling in, let’s roast this chicken.

    A lot of you have picked up on iCloud and your confusion/concerns about what it actually means. I guess none of us will know until it happens.

    I think it’s pretty scary, the thought that iCloud might become the only ‘legal’ digital music provider. It’s a little like genetically modified mono crops. No bio-diversity and you get a sick musical food chain. Or a dictatorship.

    As Nick O’Byrne from AIR commented to me today, “Let’s hope Bjork get’s her music out creatively in other ways”.

    I’m certainly not against labels that distribute through majors either. I just know that a lot of those artists (often) get a bigger re-coupable budget for clips, in-house promo, tour support e.t.c – which they should. Artists SHOULD get all the support in the world.

    I just think we need to acknowledge that the truly independent artist is in a totally different world when it comes to funding. Particularly at the marketing, promotional and touring part of the album release cycle.

  11. avatar Emmy says:

    Great read. This has inspired me to not get so overwhelmed but just do what I love doing. Playing live, meeting new people, and connecting with people through my music.

    It’s true, I was going to do it anyway!

  12. avatar Angie Hart says:

    Thanks for the great blog!

    Just returned home after buying some actual CDs from Polyester, a non-virtual music store. One of those albums was the new Gillian Welch. I bought a couple of Aussie albums and some internationals. Got a loyalty discount from a real, fair dinkum person, standing behind the counter. Went away smiling.

    When I read about what is happening to our ‘industry’ and feel the effects for myself, as I struggle to make my music count, both in the monetary and the meaningful sense, I could get very depressed.

    I could choose to not make music, when all around me there is proof that I won’t be able to survive from my craft and that, apparently, there’s no way to change this.

    Instead, I choose to use this information to free me creatively and carry on regardless of the climate. I am no longer a part of an ‘industry’, a machine that doesn’t have a heart. I probably won’t get played on mainstream radio, make any royalties from CD sales, I may not even make a profit from my live shows.

    I’m a member of a community, a personal, living, breathing organism, made up of other musicians, artists of other crafts, writers, painters, dancers, a real ‘one with the lot’!

    I continue to do what I can and add my voice to the growing population who prefer to shop Indie, to pay money for the music they download, when all they are asked for is to pass it on to friends in trade for it’s excellence.

    I will write the music I need to write and continue to share it, because I can’t imagine not doing that.

    Angie Hart