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Are major labels making a comeback?

In the new-fangled internet age we live in, there’s never been more of a chance for young, up-and-coming acts to undertake a real DIY operation to get themselves heard. The heady, hedonistic days of record companies forking out massive advances to unheard bands to record an LP seems almost unimaginable in the modern scene, but it did happen.

Arguably, the first band to break the mould were Sheffield’s own Arctic Monkeys. The floppy haired four piece from High Green recorded a mish-mash of demos, burnt them onto CDs and handed the copies out to young fans at gigs. These early tracks were in-turn shared online via the band’s massively popular MySpace page (d’ya remember MySpace? Lord god…). Alex Turner and his merry band of men released their first single in 2005, which received a very limited physical release coupled with an online downloadable version. Eventually, A.M. signed to Domino Records, a label ran by a bloke out of his flat who only signed acts he liked personally. ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ went straight to Number 1 in October of 2005, followed by ‘When The Sun Goes Down’ in January of ’06. This, arguably, signalled a marked change in the way new bands would go onto achieve recognition. There was no major label involved in the Arctic Monkey’s organic progression, or no major publicity campaign, but rather a very cleverly constructed grassroots movement.

The mainstream popularity of guitar based music has waned greatly in the past two decades, leading to major labels being extremely cautious when signing new acts. The ‘Arctic Monkeys Model’ was the path followed by the majority of bands in recent years: get together, pool your money, record a shitty EP, promote the absolute arse out of your social media pages and hope for the best. However, there’s been a noted turn in the past 2-3 years: major players in the industry have stopped haemorrhaging money on record sales, got their houses in order and thankfully have whipped out the chequebook once again, especially in Ireland.

Many have referred to this change in status as the Hozier effect. The ‘Take Me To Church’ crooner sparked a frenzied bidding war between label executives following his stratospheric rise to the top. A number of great Irish acts benefitted from the attention drawn to the scene in Ireland by Hozier, and a prime example of this is Walking on Cars. The Dingle-based group played my local summer festival in Kerry one year to a grand total of about 100 people. “Why the f**k aren’t they playing Mr Brightside boi” asked Johnno, aged 22, who’d paid a fiver to get into the festival marquee the band was playing in, “they’re f**king shite”. Despite Johnno’s expert opinion, Walking on Cars were signed to ‘Virgin EMI’ 12 months later in what would prove to be another major turning point, as it was unheard of that a band so early in their career would be signed up that quickly to such a sizeable label. Recent signings around Ireland include The Riptide Movement, Le Galaxie and the Delorentos, faith has been restored in the Irish Scene.

Perhaps the standout of all the labels in Ireland is Rubyworks Records, based out of Dublin. Suffice it to say that the label, ran by Roger Quail, is largely the end-game for most fledgling Irish acts. Hozier, Otherkin, Little Hours, Wyvern Lingo, Rodrigo y Gabriela and Hudson Taylor are just some of the artists on the books, all of whom have had massive commercial success over the past 12 months.

The times are a’ changing once again, and the days of the major-labels passing over countless talented acts are gone. Independent bands releasing independent records by themselves is a trend that’s here to stay, but the door to a major record deal is now more than just ajar, it’s primed and ready to be flung wide open.