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Trent Reznor & David Byrne On DIY vs Major Labels

Destroy-angelsA talk Sunday night featuring David Byrne and Trent Reznor included an interesting discussion of the business options facing musicians today. Due to Trent Reznor's recent deal with Columbia Records for How to destroy angels_ coverage has focused on DIY vs Major Labels. However both artists shared the stance that the current landscape is not about label deals vs DIY but about choosing the right path and the right deals for the artist in question.

Trent Reznor and David Byrne Discuss Major Labels and DIY

Trent Reznor's recent announcements that his band How to destroy angels_ had "formally partnered with Columbia Records for our next series of releases" and that he is working with Beats By Dre has some wondering about Reznor's commitment to DIY approaches. But in a recent dialogue with David Byrne (in conversation with USC's Josh Kun) both artists make it clear that the choices today are not between signing with a label or going it alone. Musicians now have a broader array of choices and can make decisions based on the needs of their art and career.

The above video is said to capture part of the discussion between David Byrne, Trent Reznor and Josh Kun focused on major labels vs. DIY and the choices facing today's musicians. Comments below are from the video.

Trent Reznor on experiencing the limits of DIY marketing and distribution:

"In the last tour we're playing Prague. We're walking around. We're playing that night in Prague but I see flyers up for Radiohead that's playing the same place we're playing six months from now. And I walk into the record shop and there isn't a section that says Nine Inch Nails. And there's no kind of presence that we're even there because I start to realize the last few years all we've done, Mr. Twitter Big Shot with my bunch of followers, it's preaching to that choir of people."

What Reznor liked about self-releasing:

"The great part of self-releasing has been controlling your own destiny. Nobody having any approval. Finishing a song at midnight and putting it out the next day. Getting fans excited with no leak because you have the only copy and you uploaded it and you hit publish. Wow, that's fun. It felt great particularly after a long career in the weirdness of labels."

Trent Reznor on making the decision to work with a major label:

"It have a team of people that are better at that [marketing and distribution] than I am worldwide...that felt like it was worth slicing the pie up monetarily. Our main agenda at the moment was to make people aware of it in the right context versus a little bit more money we might or might not make."

"And so far it's been pleasantly pleasant. Having people that actually kind of know what they're talking about. Having a team, it's been nice."

David Byrne on emerging musicians and the team approach:

"I've been reading interviews with younger more emerging musicians...they would rather have a team, whether it's a record company or whatever, that is going to help them get to that point where people know who they are...And, as you said, You make a judgement, they make a judgement."

"Ok, it's worth it to give up some percentage of the money you get, you get more money if you did it yourself, but maybe it's worth it to give some of that up if you're going to get people who really believe in what you're doing to help get it out there. Of course, if you make that gamble and it turns out those people don't really believe in what you're doing and they kind of bail out on you you're kind of screwed."

David Byrne on the view that musicians can make more if they do it themselves rather than sign with a label:

"I might have believed that at one point...I don't need this kind of bloated system. I will make more money per item sold. There's truth to that but there's also truth to the fact that if there's people helping you out then the tradeoff can be worth it."

"And now there's lots of different models that a musician can take. It's not like this is the way the record business works, this is the way the contract is, take it or leave it, that's it. Now there's a whole spectrum of things that can be done."

Trent Reznor on current options and the limits of his experiments as examples:

"There are options now. I know when I was experimenting, I was catching some complaints that "well that works for you because you came from the record label system"...Well, yeah, cause I'm trying to figure it out for me right now. I wasn't trying to say this is going to work for the unknown artist...I've tried to share every bit of information I've learned in the process and maybe you can, as the unknown artist/new guy apply some of that information."

"But really I haven't figured it out...I'm trying to solve problems primarily with my own interests in mind. How to get my music out, be an artist, explore different options."

Trent Reznor's advice for emerging artists:

"Thinking about where you want to end up directly affects the right path to get there. If it's mainstream radio play then probably a label's the best route to get there or a powerful manager."

Much of this section of the discussion between Trent Reznor and David Byrne focused on finding the right business structure for an artist at a particular stage of their career. To some degree they seem to be saying that instead of outsourcing the parts they don't do well, they both prefer working with labels. Of course, that option works better for these two as established artists than for emerging musicians.

But it also illustrates that neither Reznor nor Byrne are stuck in ideological stances that hinder them from making the right deal based on practical needs and opportunities.

More: The Heist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take DIY Route To iTunes #1

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/ blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians (@CrowdfundingM). To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.