Amanda Palmer And OK Go Get Together To Celebrate Being Dropped From Their Record Labels

from the party-time dept

Recently, we've noted some similarities between Amanda Palmer and the band OK Go, in that both had been signed to major record label deals, both had built up an amazing (and amazingly loyal) group of fans through various means (different for each) using methods totally outside of their major label marketing effort (which was somewhat lacking in both cases)... and last month, both were officially dropped from their label deals.

In the past, getting dropped from a major record label deal was seen as a bad thing -- a sign of trouble for the band. But in both of these cases, the process of getting dropped was initiated by the musicians themselves, who realized they could do much more outside of the major label system, than within it. So it seemed like a bit of serendipity, that both acts had aspects of their ongoing tours overlap in San Francisco this week -- leading to an event put together by Creative Allies at the Ex'pression College for the Digital Arts, where both acts performed and did some chatting about music and the music business as part of a webcast. Thanks to Amanda, I was able to attend in person with a small group of folks in the studio, and it was a fun time -- as both acts basically celebrated their freedom from their record label deals.

You can see the webcast in two parts below (not sure why it's two parts, and it was not easy at all to find the second part):

It's yet another reminder of how the role of the major labels is totally changing. Historically, the only way to be successful in the music business was to get a major label deal. They were the gatekeepers, and without a deal, you were out of luck. Being dropped from a major was effectively the end of your career as a performer with a very small number of exceptions. But, these days, artists are realizing that there's so much more that can be done without major label help, and that actually being on a major can hinder or block those opportunities, that it's become a cause for celebration when you get "dropped" -- or, perhaps, more accurately, freed!

While there's plenty of music, there were two key points on the whole business model side of things that came up that are worth repeating (in case you don't feel like watching both videos -- though, you should, since they're pretty cool). The first is that during the interview session between acts, Amanda was asked about "direct to fan" stuff, and she made a point that I've been trying (perhaps unsuccessfully) to highlight for quite some time: and that's that each act needs to do something that fits with what works for them. Her fear is that there's so much talk about "direct-to-fan" offerings, that people are going to start just trying to all do exactly the same thing, rather than charting a course that's unique to them.

We've tried to point this out as well, in noting how different the various success stories are. Inevitably, of course, someone says that we're saying everyone should do what one of these artists are doing (a favorite of critics is the false idea that we've said everyone should go to Disneyland with some fans, like Josh Freese). But that's not the case at all. For Freese, it was a part of his personality (and his life, as he basically grew up at Disneyland, and performed there as a kid). The whole point of learning how to better connect with fans and giving them reasons to buy, is not that everyone has to use Twitter, or that everyone has to offer "tiered" offerings. Or that everyone has to tour, even. It's that there are many different ways that each artist can connect with fans and give them a reason to buy directly, and that each artist has to figure out the way to apply the concept in a way that fits with their own personality and sensibilities. It's great that Amanda was able to really drive home that point during her interview.

The second part is actually an amusing exchange between OK Go and Amanda after OK Go's second song. Lead singer Damian Kulash asks the audience for questions, and if you listen closely on the video, you can hear Amanda ask about how the band was able to not just get dropped by Capitol/EMI, but also to take the last record with them (something she was unable to do with Roadrunner/Warner Music). Kulash tries (not all that successfully) to dance around the legalities by setting up a hypothetical version of EMI -- but basically admits that with EMI more or less fighting every day to avoid defaulting on massive loans -- while at the same time fighting with the Beatles and other top acts, the label apparently found the fact that Kulash might occasionally pen op eds for the NY Times that made the label look totally clueless on digital things, that it was better to just usher the band out the door as quickly as possible. And, as such, the band had a bit of leverage, which was used to not just get out of the contract, but to take the last record with them.

Of course, the business model stuff was a minor part of the overall evening, which really was very much about music, and a rather celebratory mood from both acts about their freedom to stretch out creatively -- as both demonstrate beautifully in their separate performances. Among the many highlights, there's Kulash forgetting lyrics and later getting a case of the giggles in the middle of the band's hit song "Here It Goes Again" -- plus a rendition of "What To Do" performed entirely by the band using a table full of hand bells... And Amanda playing a song from her upcoming EP of Radiohead covers played on the ukulele because, as she noted, she can.
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Filed Under: amanda palmer, business models, major labels, music, ok go, record labels

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  1. icon
    Suzanne Lainson (profile), 25 May 2010 @ 1:20pm

    Why we can't extrapolate

    We've tried to point this out as well, in noting how different the various success stories are. Inevitably, of course, someone says that we're saying everyone should do what one of these artists are doing (a favorite of critics is the false idea that we've said everyone should go to Disneyland with some fans, like Josh Freese).

    I think everyone does agree that Palmer and Freese are successful for their own reasons. But therefore it also means there doesn't seem to be much anyone can really learn from their examples because they are too unique.

    Or we can go the other direction and emphasize that selling anything is about connecting to buyers. All business is based on the concept. So in a nutshell what we learn then is that people who connect to people can sell them stuff and people who don't connect don't sell as much stuff. We don't need to cite Palmer and Freese for this. In fact, we might want to look beyond music and find the world's top sales people for advice.

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