How the Pursuit of a Label is no Longer Relevant to Longevity and Success
For many artists, “making it” is the validation of their life’s work. Finally moving up from smokey bars to big stadiums, having their music promoted on the radio, and above all, having that record label tied to their name gives them the sense that they’ve finally gotten to the peak of their career, or at least achieved a milestone in their pursuit of success.
But is a record label really necessary for success anymore? In 2013, “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, making it the first single to do so since 1994 without the support of a major record label. Astonishingly, they did it again with “Can’t Hold Us,” making them the first duo in the chart’s history to have their first two singles both reach number 1 without a label.
On top of that, the pair was nominated for seven Grammys, and took home four for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (The Heist), Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance (“Thrift Shop”) — all without the representation.
So is going for the gold to impress labels still “worth it?” Probably not. The most recent shows I’ve been to featured three bands back-to-back that all sounded like Hot Chelle Rae. And why? Because a lot of groups think their sounds need to be saleable in order to get noticed. Instinctively, they listen to the bands that have made a name for themselves doing largely the same thing, and follow suit with it.
Not only does this stagnate the music industry, but it kills creativity, and drowns out what should be a diverse and passionate underground music scene. This year, Macklemore alone has proven that you don’t need that level of representation to “make it,” and more importantly, that you should follow your dreams because your personal goals are to reach out to an audience, not to win awards and become a followed celebrity on TMZ.
In another related success story, you can examine the career (or lack thereof) of Bomb The Music Industry. While BTMI never took any offers to get signed, or even took themselves seriously for that matter, they represented independent musicians by inviting anyone in the audience who could play to join them on stage, generally showing indifference in naming their tracks, and above all, making music that got the crowds roaring and getting out there whenever they could just for the hell of it.
There are countless artists out there that are completely underrated and likely to remain unsigned for a long time, but that’s okay! Underground expansion is a higher-minded goal than fighting for corporate attention. Moving your name across state lines and overseas has never been easier with the tools on social media sites, and developing an ever-growing community out of a handful of fans who “liked,” “shared,” and supported your art, is a far greater thing to have than to be part of an image. Being able to reach your fans and connect with them one-on-one as regular people, far overshadows the prospect of “rockstar fandom.”
In short, the underground music scene, especially in the NJ/NY area, is alive and well. While major and independent labels can help shape a stable career, independent studios and standalone producers not tied to a business contract are plentiful, and the online community has only bolstered that fact.
Here’s to another decade of great and underrated artists. The world may never know your name, but at least in your fan’s eyes, you’ve “made it” pretty far.