For five years, I’ve been playing bass in a four-piece band called Left Hand Red. For most of those five years, we’ve been going through a cycle of gigging, recording demos, and sending those off to labels and DJs with barely a single reply. This is how bands have always gone about being a band. Everything is with the hope of ‘getting a break’ (because, of course, label A&R people always go to gigs in toilet pubs in the suburbs of small cities, right?). The major downside of having this attitude is that everything that doesn’t lead to a ‘break’ feels like a failure.
Then, about a year or so ago, something changed. Dan, our singer, declared that we should make an album.
At first, the reaction of the rest of the band was dismissive. “We should keep doing demos. That’s what unsigned bands do.” was the general attitude. Dan came back with a link to a Wired article by David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads: David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists (I really recommend you read it straight after this!).
The article describes six different, completely real approaches to distributing music, ranging from complete label control to complete artist control. As I was reading it, something very significant clicked (or exploded) in my mind. I suddenly realised that getting signed wasn’t the be-all and end-all. In fact, it didn’t matter at all. We would do whatever we wanted to.
If all you want is for people to hear your music, you can do that without getting involved with a label. Thanks to the Web and Internet, you don’t even need a label to make money. I (and I think, the rest of the band) had been so blinkered in our attitude to what being an unsigned band was about: it was just the stage where you do everything you can to get signed. It seems so obvious now, but focussing on getting signed takes a bit of the fun (and creativity) out of everything.
Suddenly, gigging, writing and recording was much more fun and exciting. It was no longer a means to an end. It was all purely for the enjoyment.
So, the reason for choosing to stay independent, or to put it another way, not put all of our time and energy in to trying to attract labels, is a simple but very important one: it’s much more enjoyable to do what you want.
No, we still haven’t made that album yet. In fact, Left Hand Red’s drummer, Russell, has decided to leave the band and the remaining three members are embarking on a new project together, but with the absolute intention to do what we want from the offset, with regards to everything from writing, gigging, recording, publishing. It will all be for us.
When we do produce an album (assuming we don’t decide to do something even better than an album instead, whatever that might be), it will be for us and our fans, not as an extended ‘demo’ that will be a failure if it’s not picked up by a label.
This is what I would encourage you to do. Make music purely for the enjoyment. Do whatever you want to do.