I’ve never had any interest in the Hoosiers (regardless of whether they thought they were in the 60s or the 80s) but this Guardian article, written as they self-release their new album Bumpy Ride after being dropped from their former label RCA, is a fascinating insight into the workings of the music industry. It also highlights some of the most common misunderstandings people have about it.
The first myth the article busts is that being signed to a major label means success is guaranteed. As The Hoosiers say, getting signed is “where the hard work begins”, and out of the 40-50 bands signed each year only a small number will make a big enough breakthrough to still be signed a year or two later. For acts who can be construed as alternative in any way (even someone like Robyn) self-releasing or signing to an indie label is an increasingly wise decision, but these labels can never compete with the financial support a major can provide.
Another good point the article makes is that the common supposition that chart positions don’t matter these days (usually made by people who don’t like the music in the charts anymore, therefore rather illogically assuming that no-one does) is actually far from true. The Hoosiers have learnt, like many other acts, that getting to no.10 rather than 11 makes a world of difference. As they say, labels believe that a no.10 is “easier to promote as a success”, whereas saying how pleased you are to get a no.11 hit isn’t going to wash with even the least cynical music fans, especially when your previous releases made the top 5.
One part of the article I disagree with is the statement that although speaking to fans directly online can massively boost a campaign, it’s not yet possible for a band to achieve success without the additional help of national radio play. Last month we saw new girlband Parade reach the top 10 with only a handful of spot-plays on Radio 1 and none on the Global network (Capital, Heart etc). Anyone who’s paid attention to their launch will know that the girls’ online presence is to thank for the majority of their sales.
I believe it’s only a matter of time until a band gets to no.1 by building up a fanbase online, but it’s not going to be an act like The Hoosiers who’ve already proven that even with the support of a major label they just don’t appeal to a large enough portion of the public to achieve the level of success they’re aiming for. So for them the statement that “radio play is the be-all and end-all” may be true, but not for acts who genuinely chime with the public and for whom the support of radio and TV programmers (and this goes for the ‘tastemakers’ of the press too) is a great help, but not a necessity. I can’t wait to see someone prove this point wrong, and I reckon it could be just around the corner!