I was listening to Jawbreaker today. The song Friendly Fire came on. This was really the whole reason I wrote this little thing. The line “you demonize so you don’t look so bad. You wouldn’t take what you couldn’t have” made me think about all this. The punk scene, for better or worse, still seems to get stuck in the debate of major labels vs indie labels. This debate seems to keep resurfacing every time a pretty big band signs to a major. We saw it when Rise Against and Anti-Flag jumped shit from Fat Wreck to Dreamworks and RCA respectively. They both did it under the guise of “spreading their message to a wider audience,” which always feels like a cop out to me. There was an even bigger fuss when Against Me! jumped from Fat Wreck to Sire. Accusations of “selling out” were thrown, and we all got much stupider in the process.
At a time when the entire music industry is losing money hand over fist, this debate seems more ridiculous than ever. Since Napster was founded in 1999, it changed the way most of us got music. Why spend upwards of $16 on a CD, when all you wanted was the single? With the advent of Bittorrent, it has become even easier to illegally download media. If you intend to just rip the shit off anyway, does it matter what label you are stealing from? And, let’s be clear, downloading is stealing. I do not care how you justify it, or how I have justified it. You are taking a product designed for purchase without paying for it. People try to make the argument that, as long as it is major label releases, it is not really stealing. The problem is, people are taking just as much from indie labels. But, this is a whole separate discussion entirely.
Basically, the major vs. indie debate, in my mind, is just another offshoot of the 80’s hardcore movement. More or less, you had a bunch of bands that no major showed interest in, so they built the indie labels/distro themselves. The whole DIY culture. With the exception of Dischord Records, everyone seemed to be reactionary to the majors because they were not accepted vs. having any real underground ethics. Shit, even Black Flag and SST had a distro deal with MCA (via Unicorn) for about 10 minutes. It is easy to refuse something no one offered you anyway. This became evident when Hüsker Dü went major. The Replacements went major. Post-Black Flag Henry Rollins even had a few releases on Dreamworks. Again, uproar and bullshit. Basically, the foundation of “punk rock ethics” was built by the hardcore scene. Then, Maximum Rock N Roll built the dogmatic shit around that. So now, almost 30 years later, that dogmatic bullshit is law.
This is not to say there is not a difference between the two kinds of labels anymore. On a practical level, a major label album (or even an album on a large indie like Epitaph or Fat Wreck [which are distributed via majors]) are going to be more readily available in a commercial sense than an album put out on Too Indie For A Lyric Sheet Records based out of bullshit middle America. On an ethical level, indies are better when it comes to how artists are treated/paid/supported (Lookout! being the notable exception). But, given the advances in technology (most of all, the internet), does the label still matter?
The way I see it, not really. The fact that people are still willing to put out records at all is enough for me. Plus, with the majors losing so much money, they might not be around for much longer anyway. Now, I am not endorsing major labels, as I generally do not like them. But, a band signing over to one is not going to make me stop listening. Similarly, just because a record came out on a major is not going to stop me from buying it. If a band wants to make that jump, let them. Just stop with the bullshit back and forth. No one cares anymore.
Well, the “punx” do. But, fuck them anyway.