Writing | Lily Rae

Why I'm Signed To Corporate Records

Posted on 13 Aug 2011 by Lily Rae

When I was fourteen years old, I was in a punk band called Bottle Rocket. Angsty, spotty, and with a rudimentary grasp of the electric guitar, we got as far as entertaining small crowds of pre-teens in public libraries, school assembly halls, and somewhere in Penge. My bandmates – a bunch of baby-faced boys all at least a year younger than me – had huge dreams of being noticed by Parlophone talent scouts who just happened to be using the Norwood library facilities. And yes, when you’re young (and often when you’re old enough to know better), being bought a weak alcopop by A Man From Rough Trade and offered a six album deal sounds like the best thing in the world. You fantasize about ripping open the first crate of CDs, smelling your first gatefold vinyl, having Meetings with the Producer and announcing, with all the arrogance of the kid on the cover of the NME, “I WORK IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.”
Of course, if you’re in the mid-90s, that’ll work fine for you. I, however, was born in 1990, so by the time I was old enough to accumulate enough pocket-money to buy a CD (which, today, ranges from £3 in Tesco to £16.99 in HMV), I could download it for free off Pandora. I don’t wish to defend pirated music, because obviously if someone has put effort into a piece of art which you enjoy, it is worth your money. However, the business model used for music is knackered and outdated; it props itself up on established artists, reissues, back-catalogues, special editions or Crap That Will Sell. It has no room for weird stuff, punky stuff, beautiful stuff, young stuff; stuff that experiments, stuff that is different and real. It won’t sign you. You hear that, young bands? IT WILL NOT SIGN YOU. You can be the most beautiful and unique snowflake in the world and it still won’t sign you because it’s an awfully big investment in something that isn’t guaranteed to sell, given the amount of pirated music on the internet. It has blown its load. Look at it this way – were people still buying VHS when DVDs came around?
But why this desperation to Get Signed? I know of bands even now who will only consider themselves ‘artists’ if they’re picked up by a label and validated by money that isn’t theirs. I wrote, and still write, my lyrics using pens and notebooks. I recorded and produced my first album for next to nothing, using cheap software and equipment belonging to friends and relatives. I released my album, Oh No..., on Corporate Records without A Man From Rough Trade buying me a Peach Schnapps and offering me a ride in his car. I uploaded it myself, I advertised it through gigs and on the internet; one or two people wrote about it on blogs, which meant other people heard it and downloaded it. I made it available to download on a pay-what-you-like basis, and yet people are willing to pay for something they think is valuable; which is why, considering how much it cost me to make my album, I made an extremely decent profit off it. Enough to record something else, in fact. I have been completely in control of my own product from its conception to its release. I am not tied into anything I don’t want, I don’t owe anybody any money, and I haven’t been shafted by a bastard label desperate to turn me into Jessie J.
The music industry is certainly not dead; it’s just moved on to a better place (in this extended metaphor, the internet). You can hang around for years waiting for that weak alcopop if you want someone else to do the work and assume control of your art. Or you can just do it yourself, publish your own work in your own right, and reap the benefits.