As many new, independent acts appear from the shadows of the Internet, Liam Austen investigates whether the days of demo tapes and corporate labels are long gone
If you listen to any radio station today, it’s likely they’ll spin a “hot new track” from an artist you’ve never heard of before. Long gone are the days when chart music overtook every FM channel, as a new type of musician is taking over – the independent.
Of course, ‘indie’ artists have been around for as long as music itself – but it’s never been so easy to get your material heard without the help of a giant label distributing it to the masses. Some of the biggest artists of today, such as Macklemore, Lana Del Rey and Tori Kelly were discovered after posting their material on YouTube, and producers such as Boots (who went on to produce several tracks on Beyoncé’s eponymous 2013 album) have found their fame through SoundCloud.
Project U has been witnessing the shift and embracing it, being an Australian site itself. Nic Kelly, founder of U, claims that the site aims to “put the emotion back into music” and, with nearly 50 independent writers and photographers posting several articles regarding music worldwide daily, it’s off to a great start. “Project U is taking its unique musical approach to the worldwide stage, beginning with a slow bleed into the UK and Europe, before advancing to America”, says Nic, his ambition shining through the way he describes his promising venture. “The goal is to create a more musically connected world and showcase good music that’s accessible to people regardless of their location.
With a rise of independent musicians has come a rise of independent labels, especially in the UK. Founded in 2012, National Anthem has risen to become one of the most important labels, with acts such as CHVRCHES and Californian pop-rock band HAIM releasing their material in the UK through the platform. James Passmore, founder of National Anthem, first established the label when looking for a way to distribute HAIM’s Forever EP.
Independent labels are favoured by some smaller acts due to the ability to keep a greater amount of their creative control. Passmore highlights this aspect of National Anthem – understandably, as some of the label’s biggest acts are favoured for their individuality. “I guess the main benefit would be the freedom to do and release what you like, without having to go through various levels of approvals that you can find in bigger record companies and groups”. However, it’s not all plain sailing, as Passmore states with a tone of frustration. “A negative would be that you have to fund everything yourself, and that can be expensive and risky. It’s a bit like gambling – you should never spend more than you can afford to lose.”
Now, though, there are tons of new musicians working by themselves and themselves only. SoundCloud is brimming with budding producers and it has become easier than ever for independent artists to create simple videos for their music and upload them to YouTube – the changing digital landscape has truly revolutionised the way artists can distribute and the general public can receive music. Return To The Sun are a Scottish band who describe their style as “rambunctious indie rock” on their Facebook page; even this unconventional labelling is a sign that these guys are under their own control only. Unsurprisingly it’s paying off; NME labelled them “a must-see” earlier this year.
“As long as we stay confident in what we’re producing I think we’ll be fine,” says Steve McCafferty, the lead vocalist and guitarist of the band. They’re currently on tour, getting ready to play a show on the other side of the country from their familiar settings – Brighton. However, they seem as comfortable and as confident as ever. “Our Twitter page was a little bit neglected until recently as we didn’t… get it, I guess? But in the space of about two weeks, I’ve increased our following by 500 by just connecting with people who are into the same music as us; in the chance they’ll like what we do too. That couldn’t have been done 10 or 15 years ago.”
Although these strategies are allowing for simpler, more effective and targeted marketing for upcoming acts, McCafferty feels that one thing it does impact negatively is the local music scene for these smaller bands. “The convenience of discovering new music online is reducing the chances of people physically going out to discover it. It’s a great thing being able to connect virtually with all of these people, but it might be damaging local music scenes, too. And that’s kinda worrying.”