I don’t know why I haven’t taken the idea seriously before.
I feel like Left Hand Red have always had the semi-silent aim of getting signed by a conventional record label, and this was our lowest measure of “success”. Anything before that is just preparation.
However, recently, Dan decided that we needed a long-term aim (i.e. the next year or so), and that aim should be to release our own album.
The final straw
The stimulus that led to this decision was a competition that we took part in recently. It was a relatively high-profile competition (at least, in the Brighton area) for unsigned local bands. The competition promised some good prizes for the eventual winner, so we decided to enter. The initial stage involved voting on a website, during which we placed in the top ten and earned a place in the final, which took part at Brighton’s well-known Concorde 2 venue.
The final had a slightly clunky format — each of twelve, stylistically very diverse bands performed just one song, which was then appraised by a trio of judges who had varying degrees of involvement with music. Six bands were chosen to take part in a second stage where they would perform two further songs each, and then three of those bands would make a final stage where they played three songs each.
The logistics of such a format meant that it took seven hours for us to play one song. Following the lead of TV talent shows, we were given feedback on our performance. We provided an energetic, interesting, convincing performance, which they ackowledged, but they then turned to criticize the arrangement of the song we performed, as they had also done for most of the bands that had played.
Never mind that the judges contradicted each other when giving feedback. Never mind the fact that the song follows a tried and tested rock song structure. Never mind that some of the feedback didn’t even seem to be about our song!
What frustrated us was that we didn’t need or want any external validation of what we were doing. This was our song. It is our expression. It is not about trying to write a “perfect”, radio-friendly pop song for the short of attention-span. It is our art and it is what we want it to be. Just as the other bands all had different styles to us, they are making the music that they want to be making and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We were not willing to have our songwriting skills criticised by some random strangers, one of whom had probably never written a song in their life. Even if they had been an experienced songwriter, we would still probably not change how we do things, because we are making music that we enjoy. The fact that many other people get enjoyment from it is a big bonus, but a bonus all the same.
We did not make it past the first round, which was disappointing as of the six bands that did make it through, most had seemed to have received worse feedback than we had. They were generally very derivative or pleased the judges through some sort of gimmick or novelty.
I worry that this might sound a bit like sour grapes because we didn’t win the competition, but the point is that it really summed up for us the state of the British music industry. It is exactly that — an industry focussed on what will ultimately shift units above all else.
When Dan brought up his idea, I admit I was sceptical. I thought that releasing an album on our own might not be the ideal way to attract record label attention, suggesting that shorter, more frequent releases was the more traditional way to go.
Then Dan sent a link to an article on Wired by former-Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne, written at the end of 2007: David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists — and Megastars.
I read the article, and everything clicked. I had taken Dan’s point the wrong way. I assumed that we were still looking to attract labels — that the album was a means to an end. Instead, the album was to be just that, not a glorified, quadruple-length demo.
We are no longer waiting for “the right time” for our music and are certainly not going to change what we do for the sake of fitting in with labels’ expectations of what people want. We are going to go it alone.
In short, our plan is to record a full-length album, which we will release for download. Currently, other than that, there is no plan. We will have complete control over what we do with the recordings, as there are no third-parties invested in it, and that is the most exciting bit. The whole thing should cost us no more than a few hundred pounds.
In the Old World, before cheap computers and the Web changed everyone’s lives, musicians needed record companies as they could not afford to make or distribute recordings themselves. Now, anyone with a computer can record, distribute and publicise their music around the World.
There is no pressure to make millions, or to get your CD in the shops, or even to put your music on CD in the first place. What you do with it is up to the musician. You decide what is “successful”. Music goes back from being a product, to being art.