The United States and the United Kingdom are two radically different markets as it relates to the development of musicians' careers.
Both have hungry consumers, yearning for new music. But the US market is weighted down with all sorts of obstacles that prevent new artists from rapid success. Regardless of the marketing issues, there's a very powerful movement afloat in both markets that will force the record business to rethink its strategy. Two bands, very different sounds, marketing themselves better than any record label could. It's enough to make an executive stand up and cheer.
UK band Arctic Monkeys have just knocked their first single out of the ballpark, straight in at #1 on the UK charts. It's a remarkable achievement for a band that only got guitars for Christmas presents three years ago.
Their first show was in a small club called The Grapes in Sheffield.
A few gigs later, they found themselves playing the Sheffield Forum for a much larger group of fans. Arctic Monkeys seems to breed fans exponentially. Rather than try to sell their home made CDs in the back of clubs like most baby bands do, they decided to try another approach. They decided to giveaway their demos at shows, and let the fans trade them online. In virtually no time at all, the band has built an enormously dedicated following throughout the UK.
Just this June, as the momentum was building, the band decided to sign with the independent label Domino Records. The real marketing hasn't even yet begun, as the full length album won't be released until next year, but even so, the visibility is paying off handsomely. Arctic Monkeys have sold out in advance all their shows this month in the UK. The buzz on them is incredible and most music critics agree that they are poised to be the next big thing, following in the footsteps of Oasis, Coldplay and The Clash.
Breaking an indy band in the United States requires a completely different skill set. Very few bands have the fortitude and vision to stay the course. But when they do, the results can be very satisfying.
Take for example, the indy band Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. Raised in Brooklyn, this band has taken a decidedly indy road, turning down dozens of label offers, and choosing instead to release their own music independently in the US. Normally, this kind of move guarantees a modest career, with spotty interest from the critics, but not for Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah. They've commanded national attention from media like the New York Times, Blender, Pitchfork and others, with their latest release selling over 30,000 copies to date. Those kind of sales sold independently can earn a band a tidy sum. They've decided to remain indy for this record, creating a joint venture for retail with one of the major distribution companies. Any good music executive would say this band has a very bright future ahead of them.
Perhaps the most interesting part is that both bands, Arctic Monkeys and Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, are building nice bridges across the Atlantic as well. Each have sold out their concerts in advance this month, in their visiting territories, showing the music industry that the record business is really alive and well and living in a bedroom near you.
This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.