Tim Cushing TechDirt.com 08/10/12
Brandon Boyd has seen both ends of the music industry. With his band Incubus, Boyd rode possibly the last big wave (nu-metal) crafted by the labels. Now, faced with heading out label-less for the first time, Boyd has a refreshingly realistic outlook on the challenges he and his band face in the future.
We are, for the first time since 1996, we are free agents again. We’re without a record label. So what we’re kind of doing is trying to get our bearings as to what we should do next, just as a band but also as a band that is kind of off in new territory again.
Fortunately for Boyd, he’s not completely unprepared for life without a label. During the shakeup at Epic Records and Sony’s restructuring, Incubus sort of fell between the cracks and dealt with “a real lack of direction and leadership just when we needed it most.” Surprisingly, Boyd isn’t bitter about the experience and notes that it left the band free to start exploring other options, including put more effort towards connecting directly with their fans:
So it was hard and it was frustrating but it was also very telling for us and perhaps educational. Because what we were forced to do was we were forced into ingenuity. And so we came up with this idea to set up shop in this art gallery in Los Angeles and do the Incubus HQ and fly listeners in from different corners of the world and do these live broadcasts on the Internet. And so we started getting these ideas about subscription-based live concerts online and it ended up being a really scary and stressful project, but the fruits of it are still kind of revealing themselves.
We have this HQ box set that we’re putting out and the DVD set comes out I think August 14 is the release date. There’s like the superfan all six nights on DVD mixed in 5.1 with the CDs and pieces of canvases that people were drawing on in the room while we were playing music. Like I said, it’s forced us to think outside of that normal music industry paradigm that we had gotten so accustomed to. And so in that sense the lack of attention from our record label and the end days of our record label relationship were really good and very beneficial for us as a band because it gave us a sense of what we might be doing in the coming years.
Living through massive disruption turns some artists into doomsayers who demand the world repent of its “sins” and return to the “Old Way.” Boyd lived through the so-called Napster years and came up with a completely different conclusion: adapt or be left behind. The upside of the old way was nice:
Linkin Park and Incubus were two of the very few bands who kind of like got a gust of wind out of the old paradigm of the music industry. But like survived out of it. There are so many bands that, bands in a traditional sense, bands who write their own music, and perform their music, that didn’t survive that transition. That fell by the wayside with the industry. So it’s been frightening to watch something that you for a very brief moment almost learned to rely on, because we learned the ins and outs of how the industry worked, you know you poured your heart out into making an album and then the label puts the record out and you go out on tour in support of the album, and we even started doing it in the van and trailer. We’d make a record and get in the van with our gear and the trailer and we’d drive ourselves around the country and sell albums and T-shirts out of the back of the trailer. That was sort of our education and then once things started going really well, thankfully, we got a sense of what it looks like when all of the, when the engine is nicely greased and things are working the way they’re supposed to.
But when that way was no longer viable, Incubus moved on, rather than hold on to the way it used to be:
And then it’s like the millennium turns and the technology changed. And all of that became old. It became an antiquated model. And it was frightening at first but I actually have come to appreciate it. I’m going to actually use the pun, a living thing. It’s a living system. Our technologies are a living system just like we are and our communities as human beings, and for us to expect them to remain constant is really just quite foolish. I mean anybody that’s going to come to rely on the way that our music consumption is looking now is going to have the same hard lesson in less time than you think. I think that the technology is going to shift probably sooner than any of us really realize. And that’s a really cool thing, because it keeps everyone on their toes. It levels the playing field, too. It’s allowing for a really wonderful democratization of the music writing process and the music presenting and performing process. So what it’s doing is it’s making us try harder and it’s making us expect the best of ourselves and the people that we work with. You know, do more with less.
That’s the way it works now if you’re going to succeed. It’s artists vs. limited attention and limited entertainment budgets. A connection is vital and a willingness to explore every option is nearly mandatory if you’re going to get anywhere.
What’s more amazing about these statements is there is no mention of the music industry’s favorite villain, piracy. Boyd sees what the real issue is: disruption. And rather than wait for someone to “fix” the “problem,” he’s moving as fast as he can to stay ahead of the curve. He’s not letting his situation be dictated by others and because of that, he’s got a good chance to keep his creative career going.
I personally, when all is said and done, I really welcome these changes. And they excite me. And they scare me at the same time, but I’m choosing to focus on the excitement.
It is a scary time to be an artist. Nothing’is guaranteed. But it’s also a time when the field is wide open and the possibilities nearly unlimited. Focusing on the wrong aspect gets you nowhere, but being willing to look past everything that seems to be going wrong and make the most of what’s going right.