“The major record labels are completely clueless,” says Arcade Fire’s Win Butler

Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com
Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com

Indie artists, do you still want to get signed to a major label?

In a recent interview, Win Butler, chief singer and songwriter for the Grammy-winning band Arcade Fire, said:

“The major label music industry has completely ruined every aspect of their business. At every step of the way they’ve had the tools offered to them to create an industry that works, and they’ve completely blown it. That’s why we never had any interest in signing a contract with one of these companies because they’re clearly completely clueless.”

It’s a matter of interpretation just how independent Arcade Fire’s career has been. Their albums are released by the small (but legendary) label Merge, and their newest album is distributed by a major. That being said, it’s pretty clear the band has held firm to the reins when it comes to their music, marketing, videos, visual branding, and touring — and that’s a level of control they probably would’ve lost had they signed early on with a big label.

I’m sharing Butler’s quote not because it’s a revelation about the modern music biz, but because I still hear from musicians all the time whose sights are set almost exclusively on getting signed to a major label. I find that surprising in 2015.

For more than a decade, artists have been aware of the economics: with rare exceptions labels don’t want to sign you until you’ve proven you can make them a lot of cash; but once you’ve proven that (by developing a loyal following and building a team of promoters, publicists, and managers around you) why would you need a label?

I’m curious: if you’re one of those artists that really wants to get signed to a major, what’s the main appeal? The chance for your music to have a wider reach? Validation? Bigger recording budgets? The advance? Being able to give up some control over the business aspects of your career? What can a big label provide that you can’t achieve independently with the help of a professional team behind you?

Let me know in the comments below.

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