Musicians discover independence

Disillusioned by pressures and expectations from big corporations, many bands and artists are now attempting to leave record labels behind and adopt a do-it-yourself spirit.

And this trend is sparking creativity and spontaneity — the elements needed to make music so much fun in the first place. Without major labels, bands have no deadlines, no quotas and no false imaging. Bands get to be themselves and get their work done on their own time.

Of course, branching off and starting a record label is no easy feat, and leaving behind a major label introduces a whole new set of challenges.

The biggest loss is distribution. Record labels often handle the physical production of CDs and ship them to online vendors and retail stores.

Without a record label, bands have to deal with getting their digital files pressed onto an album, creating the artwork for the record and distributing it internationally. But doing so makes the process much more rewarding.

Look at ska-punk band Less Than Jake, which formed its own record label, Sleep It Off Records, in 2008. Immediately after doing so, the band re-released its past albums from Warner Bros. Records and a brand-new CD, GNV FLA — named after the band members’ hometown and label’s headquarters in Gainesville, Fla.

They began really enjoying the freedom their independent venture afforded them. The liberty inspired them to release a playful EP of covers, TV/EP, all based on the theme songs from popular television shows.

Normally a staple of the band’s live shows, this EP would likely have never been given the green light from a major label. It lacks any singles and clocks in under 12 minutes with a 16-song tracklisting.

Not only did the band release its own EPs, but it began to do so with no talk about release dates or prior promotions. Essentially, fans could wake up one day and unexpectedly find a new EP from Less Than Jake.

The second of these surprise releases came out Feb. 16. Titled Seasons Greetings from Less Than Jake, this companion piece to the Greetings from Less Than Jake EP released in summer 2011 surprised fans and featured some of the band’s best material yet.

The songs sound energetic and naturally inspired, which are factors that major record labels tend to neglect in favor of creating the most surefire revenue-generating radio hit for their artists.

Even industry veterans have been inspired to join the DIY cause. Mötley Crüe has its own record label, Mötley Records, which handles the releases of its material in conjunction with Eleven Seven Music.

Mötley Crüe’s bassist Nikki Sixx is even the president of Eleven Seven Music and many of the band’s closest musical friends have switched to the label. Among the converts are rock groups Buckcherry and Papa Roach.

For Papa Roach, the label allowed the band the freedom to release a hybrid album in 2010 titled Time for Annihilation of new studio material and live recordings. And now, the band has been working on recording its first full-length release for Eleven Seven Music.

And, as can be expected, the creative juices appear to be flowing even more smoothly. Vocalist Jacoby Shaddix has stated that this upcoming release, which should come out later this year, will be the album of the band’s career, and further elaboration in an interview with NME yielded this insight: “The new album will be ‘aggressive and uplifting’ as well as ‘out of the norm’ and different to their previous, nu-metal skewed work.”

What these examples showcase is that bands are often better off on their own. Sure, it is scary and daunting at first, but the challenge tends to inspire the greatest creativity and the most loyal support.

Fans can rejoice in knowing that there was no outside influence from label executives or forced collaborations; everything on self-released records is 100 percent accomplished by the band.

When bands can leave behind deadlines and corporate meetings, they can truly be themselves, unmanaged by an outside entity. And when that happens, they can only be at their peak, as long as they push themselves there with their innate passions for their craft.

The takeaway message here is that bands will no doubt have difficulty releasing material on their own, but the risks and challenges of doing so will pay off as long as they can persevere.


Nick Mindicino is a sophomore majoring in print and digital journalism. His column “Industry Ballads” runs Fridays.