Oh dear. Just when you thought it was safe to venture back into indie-land, the idyllic utopian kingdom where labels such as Merge still offer 50-50 split profit arrangements with bands, 360 deals are an anathema, and folk like the Arcade Fire make a claim for the moral high ground, opting for ‘no film & tv licensing’ (except for charity), and playing benefits concerts and small club shows for fans. Then comes the recent news that the Montreal outfit are set to release a ‘deluxe’ version of their chart topping album, The Suburbs. The new edition is set to include 2 unreleased tracks, the Spike Jonze directed short film, and more. Which, if you look at it, penalizes those dedicated fans who rushed out to buy the album from the get go (and helped it hit that #1 spot!). They’re suddenly stuck with a version of the album that is inferior. At least, yes, in the digital world of 2011, fans can nab those new tracks from the iTunes store for minimal cost, instead of having to buy the whole album over a second time. But are those some dark clouds appearing on the horizon?
Regular readers here may have noticed a subtle ribbing of Sub Pop and the rapidly expanding size of their waistline (we mean their roster), as they seemingly announce a new signing every other day. But prompted by a slew of press releases in the past week about further additions to the label – Shearwater and Beach Fossils being the latest – it seems as though we’re not alone in making that assessment. And a general rumbling of “they signed more bands, how is that possible?” has been spreading around the music community. Of course the issue is not so much who and when they sign an act, but if the Seattle imprint has the resources to effectively manage and market a roster that is now rather gargantuan. Traditionally the appeal of the independent label is that they have the time to market the each band and every release – the old school concept of artist development – instead of operating as a conveyor belt. Rather than having 300 other projects vying for time and resources, such as at a major label, the indie can give each release the attention it deserves. But if the release schedule is suddenly overflowing, and a label such as Sub Pop is issuing 3 to 4 albums per month (or more!), do they have time to do the job properly? Of course, pity other artists on the label this month, as they released the much anticipated new album from hometown heroes Fleet Foxes, which looks to swamp everything else in its path. And while it is not going to follow the Arcade Fire to the top of the charts, the record, Helplessness Blues, is looking at a bumper debut week. Whether it is worthy of the the hype and acclaim, for a band that treads the Crosby Stills & Nash path a little too closely, remains to be seen, and there is no doubt that a claim by one of their hometown papers that the Seattle act “makes some of the most CRITICALLY IMPORTANT MUSIC (sorry for yelling) of this generation” (sic) seems just a tad excessive. And only time can tell whether Fleet Foxes will, like their peers in Band of Horses, The Shins and Iron & Wine, depart for the magical Majorlabel Kingdom, since their contractual commitment to Sub Pop has now (with the album released) reportedly been fulfilled.
- Cool Hand Luke