"There is no way to sum up nearly 20 years of incredibly important music, experiences, and evolution other than to say a big heart felt 'thank you', and that we hope this closing will provide an opening into other even more positive and rewarding experiences for all of us and all of you who have been a part of our shared experience. For now we bid you all a very fond farewell...." — Aaron Turner
It's likely that those who work to enrich our lives will continue to do so at their own financial peril.
Aaron Turner, best known as the frontman for the now defunct post-metal band Isis, had been running Hydra Head Records for almost two decades. Citing mounting debt, Turner announced yesterday that, as of this December, the label would no longer sell or distribute new music. Instead, Hydra Head will function purely to sell off its back catalogue. It can be surmised that label supporters and fans of Turner's dug into their pockets after the announcement as the label's Facebook page expressed its gratitude:
"Thanks so much to all of you for your kind
words and outpouring of generosity. It makes this painful process a bit
easier to bear. We may just find our way out of debt yet. We sincerely love and appreciate you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you..."
It's difficult to be cynical in the face of generosity.
Still, being a non-commercial entity in the high-stakes music industry is a largely thankless endeavor. When you consider the turn ons and offs of the seeming majority of the U.S.A., most of what makes us feel whole revolves around the things we own, the things we flash, the things we use to shape our existence and convey (for others and for ourselves) a degree of personal success. In the meantime, art, music, film, literature... These things are supposed to culturally enrich us, expand our perspectives, put us in a frame of mind more susceptible to thought or consideration, excite us in a way that could possibly leads us on some personal journey of discovery. Acting outside of the normalized apparatus, you're more likely to find artists and independent activists working to expose the population to something new and potentially worthwhile.
But, if it can't sell something, how worthwhile could it possibly be? I believe this to be the lesson of capitalism.
Now, don't get me wrong, capitalism is a model also applicable to independent industries. Inasmuch as I credit Ian MacKaye, for example, for doing his best to act apart from advertisers, managers and big label dollars, he's a businessman. It just happens that MacKaye is savvy at both art and business and he's found a way to make the two coexist amicably. And, he's managed to do this on his own terms.
Still, Turner's Hydra Head is another casualty of not only the diminishing returns of the record business, but also the production, support and distribution of product too esoteric or "out there" to be deemed "viable." There are many independent labels doing the same thing, attempting to better or evolve our worldview by keeping in plenitude music that could either affect or offend, and all of them depend on their following. They depend on every dollar they receive as these artists are largely inaccessible to the mass public, the notion of scoring additional income through endorsements, commercial radio or licensing absolutely absurd. And, while major labels bitch and moan about loss of revenue thanks to Internet piracy, these labels sell music that sounds good next to a sweaty, colorful can of Pepsi. This isn't a new observation, but what this says is that, while the importance of the album as a
physical manifestation of art continues to weaken, major labels represent
artists that are profitable in ways apart from their music. Plasticity is
versatile and typically capable of morphing itself into whatever's
commercially fit to print, play or process, so long as the performer is
marketable. So, the album weakens. Music weakens. But, it's still perfect background noise for cars, toys and Apple products. It's difficult
to sympathize with the complaints of major labels when they can still
squeeze their talent for every dollar they can get and devalue what many of us hold dear.
Besides, these labels are, after all, guilty of issuing substandard, mediocre product and supporting disposable entertainers, many of whom are so incapable of performing they require pitch correction, not as an added studio effect, but because they really need it. What sane individual would want to shell out their hard earned money just to get laughed at by men in suits completely disconnected from the experience of music? It's insulting. Between Walmart and iTunes, the largest bulk of music is sold through either in this country, so it's really no wonder independent labels continue to suffer and the public's taste continues to dwindle. Who would line the pockets of an industry so hellbent on dispensing shit and expecting the public to happily ingest it? Many people, apparently.
Integrity, though; integrity requires passion and the ability to fail a million times. It requires an acceptance that success, while mostly elusive from a monetary standpoint, will reveal itself in small victories. There's pride in saying you created something worthwhile. There's even more pride in the revelation that what you created affected enough people to keep you afloat for almost twenty years. While Hydra Head will soon be seen as another label doomed to fail thanks to its promise of dealing in uncomprising artists, Turner can hopefully see that his efforts were (and still are) recognized by those of us who still appreciate alternatives.
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