Feeder and the self-release culture

Thursday 22 April 2010, 11:14

James McLaren James McLaren

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Let's just add Feeder to the list of bands self-releasing, which now includes Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, McFly, Marillion, Funeral For A Friend, Clutch, The Automatic and Simply Red.

In Feeder's case, you might expect that a band who have sold over four and a half million records all over the world, gone double platinum with their Singles collection and recorded six full-length studio albums to stick with the established system of record labels.

But no, they're going their own way. So what's in it for them?

In the 'olden days' when we used to go down to our local record shop and buy a CD, the record label would have sorted out the record's distribution, press and marketing, shop displays, radio and TV plays and so on. All to ensure that the release they were working on got the best chance of rocketing to the top of the charts.

The relationship between the artist and the label was pretty simple: the artist gave the songs to the label and the label did everything else. If it worked, the band did well and stayed with the label. If not, they were dropped. Like it or lump it.

Now that dynamic has changed dramatically. The lure of being on a big, established record label has been reduced, simply because they are no longer as powerful a force in getting music out to customers.

The fragmentation of the whole industry has meant that people are finding and listening to music in a myriad of ways. Social media, streaming sites, file-sharing and so on enable music fans to engage with music through routes separate from the big labels' traditional marketing methods.

Now, of course, labels are changing - albeit slowly - to take account of the changing realities of their world, but they're all concentrating more heavily on a smaller number of priority acts. Hence, for those acts who might once have expected at least some support from their labels' A&R and marketing departments, their positions are ever-more tenuous.

If an act believes that they and their management team can do as good a job without the label, why not go it alone? Bands as big as Feeder have a ready-made fanbase and media interest so self-releasing becomes an ever-more attractive proposition.

And there's one very important extra factor: if you record and release your own material, then not only do you get money for your song being played on the radio, TV or in clubs, but you also get money for your recording being played.

In these days of reducing revenue streams (or at least more random revenue streams) the more an act can reduce their own costs as well as open more ways of making more money, the better.

I expect to see many more acts leave record labels at the end of their deals as time goes on. Leaving a label is no longer a case of "our appeal is becoming more selective", it's becoming a bona fide option. Sure, acts will still be competing in the bearpit of the modern music industry, but everything is on their own terms.

It's to be seen whether Feeder and their like can crack the upper echelons of the charts once more, but whatever happens it'll be because of their own actions and not the whims of the labels.

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