Excellent article from the Guardian: Adam Webb’s Making a song and dance.
Past the hype of MySpace (which DIDN’T launch the Arctic Monkeys) and the lovely stories of online success stories, it’s really business as usual in the music industry: build up a rep and get some attention and then get signed. The only difference: cutting out the original middlemen in the indie label world which once helped break some of the bands to begin with. Since there’s been a recording industry, indies have served as farm leagues for the majors, unwittingly (but not always) serving up the most promising prospects to the big guys.
At best, some indies can retain their best-selling artists because of loyalty and the TLC they can offer but if many artists see that they don’t even have to go to indies to start with and can just build a buzz with an online presence, what will that mean for the future of indies? They’ll always be around, granted but this may cut into their bottom line ultimately unless some young hopefuls don’t see their career solely as a ticket to a major label contract. As many major acts have found out the hard way, that’s not always desirable. But unless these young, hungry acts are somewhat versed in the ways of the industry (usually not), they probably won’t realize that many of them can do as well if not better on an indie, which is more attuned to their market. Instead, many of these bands will have to learn the hard way, just as always.
As the Guardian article notes, the end game for these online buzz bands is a major contract, as if that’s the gold-paved road. For a tiny handful, it might be but for the rest, they might want to take the example of say Aimee Mann and keep their own work though they she did already have name recognition before she set up her own label. Most bands don’t want to take the time to build up and maintain a fan base, book tours, book studio time, etc.. so the DIY option isn’t obviously for everyone. And that’s not to say that every indie is totally altruistic or that they don’t sometimes think or operate like majors. That is to say that once a band gets attention through their online self-marketing efforts, they should carefully weigh their options rather than just jumping the horse for a brass ring that might not sustain them for long. Ah, the folly of youth…