“No one is going to pick you,” wrote Seth Godin in 2011, “pick yourself.”
Yes, it’d be nice if a hip label person saw how great you were playing at 3am to five people and offered to sign you afterwards (that’s how it worked for Unsane after playing with Sonic Youth) but that doesn’t always happen. You still need to push through and make a bit of your own luck.
I spoke recently to bassist Andy Price from the UK band Conjurer. They were gigging plenty, and creating some buzz. They knocked on some label doors, but nothing hapened. Undeterred, they went into the studio to record an EP with no label behind them. They figured that’d show some labels they were serious, right? Selling some units themselves’ always looks good, after all. Then producer Lewis Johns offers to master their EP. He’s done a bit of work for Holy Roar, and has worked with bands like Funeral For a Friend, and Rolo Tomassi. Well, he passes Conurer’s EP along to Holy Roar, and they just put out ‘I’ in July.
Belgium’s Oathbreaker is another example. After releasing a 7” through a small label, they went into the studio to record a full length – except they didn’t have any label backing the effort. According to vocalist Caro Tanghe they, “weren’t signed yet, so we basically recorded it ourselves, paid for everything ourselves.” They had no guarantee that what they were working on would pay off, or that it would garner any sort of attention at all. It worked out, though, as they’re putting out their third LP in October on Deathwish.
Keep in mind – working with a label doesn’t mean mansions and exotic sports cars these days. "I still rent a room in a house and I live very frugally,” said Tommy Victor of Prong in an interview with From Hero to Zero, "and that’s the only way I could survive (while) keeping the band going. I’ve had to make those sacrifices.” Tommy’s played with Ministry and Glenn Danzig, and even he’s had to make sacrifices. He’s done it on his terms, and doesn’t need to be “picked” by a big label to keep making it, since "making it” for him means making enough to cover rent for the month.
Picking yourself means doing it on your way, without waiting for any outside acceptence or approval. Whether recording an album, making your own music video, or even starting your own label, your number one supporter should be yourself. And with that internal support, being your own #1 fan, who knows best on how to bring your artistic vision to life?
Seth Werkheiser is the quiz master of metal trivia at Skulltoaster. He’s also the founder of some music sites you may have heard of, including Noise Creep (2009) + Buzzgrinder (2001). He’s anti-Facebook, anti-clickbait, and anti-growth hacking. You should most definitely follow him on Twitter. Yes, right now.