Trent Reznor, a musician who has been known for his opposition to the major label model, has returned to Columbia Records for his upcoming album, “Hesitation Marks.” His other project, How to Destroy Angels, is also through Columbia. So why would Reznor go back to the major label model he was so against only a few years ago? The truth is that there is no right or wrong path in the music industry. There is only the path that works best for you at the time. What was right for Reznor’s last album may not be right for this album.
Reznor split with Interscope back in 2007 and founded his own record label to self-release his music through his website and social media channels in 2008. With this model, Reznor was able to have a more direct connection with his fans and keep 100% of the profits from record sales. Here’s what Reznor said regarding major labels back in 2007:
“I have been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.”
In 2012, How to Destroy Angels signed with Columbia Records. This new project, with Reznor’s wife, Mariqueen Maandig, and long-time collaborator, Atticus Ross, would certainly benefit from major label promotion and marketing as well as the radio play. Apparently Reznor had a positive experience with Columbia, as he’s decided to work with them for the NIN album set to release September 3.
“It really comes down to us experimenting and trying new things to see what best serves our needs. Complete independent releasing has its great points but also comes with shortcomings.”
So what are some of the benefits and shortcomings of the independent and major label model? The independent model give the artist complete control over their career. They will keep 100% of the profit from recordings and be able to sell directly to their fans. Any marketing efforts will seem more genuine because fans will know it is coming directly from the artist. However, the independent artist is also limited by the freedom they strive for. The artist is only one person and can only get so much done in a day. They are limited by their connections and their knowledge of the industry.
The major label model provides the artist with a knowledgeable and well-connected team. The artist will be able to effectively reach international markets through the marketing efforts of the major label. In return, the artist must give up some control and a percentage of revenue. For some artists, however, getting a smaller piece of a larger pie ends up being more fitting to their situation.
“To have a team of people that are better at that [marketing and distribution] than I am worldwide…that felt like it was worth slicing the pie up monetarily. Our main agenda at the moment was to make people aware of it in the right context versus a little bit more money we might or might not make.”
“And so far it’s been pleasantly pleasant. Having people that actually kind of know what they’re talking about. Having a team, it’s been nice.”
The music industry is striving for a “new model;” a one-size-fits-all solution that would bring success to all artists. Some say that direct to fan is the way of the future, others highlight the indie label or the label alternatives provided by lifestyle companies like Red Bull and Converse, and many disregard the major labels as backwards. However, especially today with so many genres and markets for music, there is no one right path to success. What works for one artist may not work for others. Many previously outspoken musicians like Trent Reznor have realized this and have set an example for other musicians.
Musicians need to look at their career objectively and find out what they personally need to be successful. There is no right or wrong path in the music industry, there is only what works best for you.