The music industry is in tatters. Every week there are ever more depressing reasons to give up hope on the music world altogether. CD sales are falling faster than Icelandic bank stocks, big wigs with stupid names are sitting at the boardrooms of the most powerful labels in the world, and Saturday night talent contests exploit the young and the beautiful, only to leave them on the side of the road with nothing after a year. That’s before we even consider the knock on effect of that ghastly label ‘the credit crunch’, causing music labels to fold and young artists to disappear in a sea of debt. Is it any surprise that Slipknot, those purveyors of doom and gloom for unloved teenagers across the globe, named their last album ‘All Hope Is Gone‘?
But perhaps there’s some light at the end of the tunnel for the crippled music industry. Just like the raw, DIY punk era of the 70’s, we are seeing the incredible re-emergence of the fully independent label that balks at mainstream channels and throws forward a new plethora of exciting young talent into the bullpen. It’s a kind of label that is forged out of a fan’s dedicated passion to not only find exciting music, but to get it out in the open and offer it unto likeminded individuals who crave for something different, something eye-opening and something with a soul.
Just think about it – it was London label Domino that discovered the wry humour of Arctic Monkeys before they got a video with women’s breasts jiggling all over the place. It was In At the Deep End Records who first put out Gallows‘ blisteringly popular debut ‘Orchestra of Wolves’, which only later found a home with the major leagues. And if you’re a parent of a teenage daughter then I’m sure the name Lostprophets will ring a bell. It was UK independent label Visible Noise that first brought them to thousands of screaming young girls’ attention, so you can blame them for that racket. These are just some of the bigger examples, but bubbling away beneath the UK music scene there is an exciting development of passionate music lovers releasing brilliant music.
As an avid music lover, I’ve used services such as last.fm and Pandora to discover new music, and a lot of these attention-grabbing sounds are being put out by people like John Rostron, from My Kung Fu Records. The label only have a few artists on their cards, but one of them is Truckers of Husk, a sort of Don Cabellero that stuck a finger up to all the complex rules of music and just set out to have a good time. John is more than aware of the newfound power that these Web 2.0 services can offer. “Through that kind of network it’s so much easier to stumble upon new music that you’re going to want to buy, and find labels such as mine who are passionate and consistent about that they do,” he enthuses. And his passion seemingly knows no bounds, considering the label is practically a hobby. “I run the label in my spare time, in between my paid jobs. I could always do more on My Kung Fu, but I enjoy keeping the label at a bit of distance, so I don’t lose the hunger for it.”
Eyesofsound is another example of standard bearer for strong labels that put out consistently good music. Although a humble team, with only Ryan Berry, his girlfriend and Tom Begley (previously of Bossk, who were signed to the label) working the magic, the label already boasts a first class roster of artists, including Devil Sold His Soul, Rinoa and reformed legends Palehorse. It’s a promising outlook for the label, despite its humble crew. “For a label this size it really comes down to how committed a person is,” says Tom. “Any label can pay to get an album into stores, but the difference between a good label and bad label is what they do after that – the enthusiasm, the general motivation to do it, and do it well.”
Tom however understands why the major labels play the game they play. “The bigger record companies are, at the end of the day, always concerned about sales. They’re a business, you’re a product and your song’s a product. I’ve still experienced labels that are considered a big deal that do show a big interest in their bands and the music, but I think on the whole it’s something that’s expressed better through smaller UK labels.”
There have been some recent success stories however that champion the cause of doing it yourself. In 2007 Enter Shikari broke the UK top five with their debut album Take to the Skies, and it was all done off their own back, with the record put out on their own label Ambush Reality. The combination of relentless touring across the nation and an accumulated fanbase on MySpace of around 100,000 members saw the album reach no.4 despite very little promotion, and a reported turning down of six figure sums from giant labels.
For the artists on Eyesofsound, such sales figures are unlikely. But there is no doubt that something special is going on under that name. “It’s a real sort of community,” emphasizes Tom. “All the bands on the label know eachother, they all speak to eachother at shows and play together quite a lot.” He adds: “We’re always looking to push the bands. It’s just a matter of making people aware of them. We treat the label like a band, and have that same sort of attitude – we don’t want to screw over any bands!”
John from My Kung Fu supports this selfless mentality that these labels seem to have. “I enjoy it,” he says about fitting the label into his full time schedule. “I’m making records for myself and for the band and the band’s fans. When someone new discovers the music that makes it even more worthwhile. I imagine that that person is me, and I smile a little smile of contentment. I love it when someone introduces me to a new band or a new song, and I enjoy doing the same for other people.”
The incredible dedication and passion these people have for music might not overcome the insurmountable issues of promotion, and the X-Factor’s next big selling hit, but their hard work is giving talented artists the opportunity to get their music heard by more and more people each day. Their usually stringent quality control offers a whole pool of eclectic tastes to dip into, and is a treat of astonishing proportions for music fans across the world. Next time you get fed up with what’s on the radio, consider branching out into lesser known territories. The fun is in what you find!