Guest Post | Who Is Crazy Enough To Start A Record Label?

Yesterday, Umphrey's McGee not only announced the details of their new album, but they also revealed they've started their own label - Nothing Too Fancy Music. We've asked music industry veteran and Umphrey's McGee Consigliere Syd Schwartz to discuss the reasoning behind the band's decision to start their own label. Take it away, Syd...

So if you've been paying attention to the press since about 2002, the music industry is a DISASTER. Piracy is rampant. Sales are in the toilet. Royalties from streaming services are fractions of pennies and artists are struggling to make a living. Labels have been firing staff left and right and the six major labels that started off this century are now down to three. So who in their right mind would START a record label in this environment? More importantly, why?

As a 25 year veteran of the music industry (many inside the walls of a major label) I believe this is a strategically brilliant move on the part of Umphrey's McGee that will only allow them to serve the music and the fans in bigger and better ways. Lets look at a few scenarios to support this assertion:

1. Signing to a label is indentured servitude. They advance you some money to cover your recording costs, but then EVERY decision has their input...from album art to release date to what you give away to your loyal fans. And that isn't consistent with how Umphrey's McGee operates. Not that Umphrey's isn't appreciative of the hard work and support of previous label partners, but the compromises of prior album releases don't have to be on the menu any longer. All decisions on music releases are 100% Umphrey's McGee. Oh, and that money the label advanced you? You have to pay it all back and the label owns your recordings until you do. And if you want to use those recordings elsewhere...lets say you have an opportunity to put a track on a movie soundtrack, or you want to give away a download of a studio track as part of a campaign, you need to get the permission of the label. And sometimes labels say "no" because its not in the label's financial interest, even if it is in the bands' best interest. That isn't the label trying to be schmucks (usually), that's just how the business works if you're not in control of your own recordings.

2. Umphrey's having their own label means working on Umphrey's schedule. Which means if they want to go into the studio again next month and drop a new album again next year, there's no one telling them they can't. Studio "Rocker II" anyone?*

3. Umphrey's own label means there is a home for side projects, new solo albums and reissues, special Umphrey's releases and perhaps someday even releases by others. Holiday acoustic show box set anyone?*

4. The same team of managers, marketing, tech and UM office staff who work hard to ensure great experiences for band and fans alike are running the label, with distribution to stores and digital service providers handled by handpicked industry pros. So fans can count on the degree of quality and care that they've come to expect out of Umphrey's McGee in other areas when it comes to releases on their label.

5. Always on the cutting edge, having a label of their own provides the optimal scenario for Umphrey's to experiment with new platforms, formats and technology to raise the bar on recorded music experiences without 3rd party label partner issues, politics or compromise. This allows Umphrey's to do what they've always done best - identify cool opportunities to create great music experiences for fans and execute on them quickly. The fewer friction points in that equation, the higher the likelihood for success and the great the chances for innovation.

Is starting a record label a good idea for all artists? Absolutely not. But the right combination of great music, the best fans on the planet, an amazing crew/office and the #teamwork that brings them all together make the launch of Nothing Too Fancy Music a no- brainer and a great next chapter in the history of Umphrey's McGee.

* - I'm not suggesting these things are promised, scheduled or even under discussion....but a guy can dream, right?

Umphrey's McGee will release Similar Skin on June 10.

[Published on: 3/19/14]

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