A misconception in the world of music is that the the only way to be successful is to get signed by a major record label. It certainly helps, but many independent musicians will argue that the catch-22 involved in a major signing is the loss of creative freedom. This is all part of the age-old “selling out” debate between musicians, often punks, but it comes down to what the artist is looking to accomplish.
Many bands seeking the backing of a label, while still maintaining the ability to create without restriction, will choose independent labels. The difference between major and independent record labels is that indies are looking to nurture the genuine nature of artists and their music, rather than trying to remold them into what is most profitable, based on margins and statistics. The indie-label relationship allows a band to fully explore their artistic potential with sometimes meagre but always helpful financial backing to put towards either recording, distribution, or the funding of a tour.
Having never been a part of any label, I've always been curious how one would go about developing a relationship with one, and eventually get signed. I decided to ask punk singer and guitarist Eric Neurotic of the band Feral Trash what his experience has been like over his many years, playing in bands on several different labels. Though he now resides in Ottawa, Eric has been a staple in the New Brunswick punk scene, playing in bands like Fear of Lipstick, The Varsity Weirdos, and now resides on Dirtcult Records with Feral Trash.
“There's not much to tell, honestly. I've worked with about a half dozen different labels and they've all just kinda contacted me at some point and asked to work together. Making friends in other bands can sometimes help. I've never 'signed' anything either.” he said, laughing. When I brought up the concept of a band sending tapes and records to hundreds of labels, hoping to eventually find one that would stick, he responded “I've never done that. Ever. I don't think that actually works.”
“There's no skill to it. Play enough shows, make enough friends, record a record and someone might want to put some dollars into it. At least, that's how a bond starts. Like this label out of Portland (Dirtcult) once asked if I wanted to do a Fear of Lipstick record with them. I already had someone releasing it, but when Feral Trash first recorded, I sent them the tracks and asked if they were interested. They were.”
The casual nature of Eric's approach towards finding labels speaks to the superiority of indie labels for artists. You go out and play as much as you can, hone your sound and style, and eventually that might be recognized by someone who genuinely enjoys and respects what you've worked to create. The looming shadow of “the industry” looking over your shoulder to make sure you're “generating,” and other such buzz words, is not a necessity for the independent musician.
“If there's a heading or big bolded quote like in interviews, make it 'I've never "signed" anything'”
David Haddad is an aspiring writer and musician who has been playing in bands since the age of fifteen. As a second year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, David attempts to balance school while maintaining his band, The Human Comedy, in Moncton, NB.