My first 5 or 6 albums were released on Pillow Mountain Records. I would be referred to in American magazine articles as ‘Pillow Mountain Records recording artist Steve Lawson’, and my music would be described as ‘his prolific back catalogue, on Pillow Mountain Records’. No-one ever referred to me as an unsigned artist, no review ever had ‘private release’ next to it (what the hell does that mean anyway?) No-one ever accused me of vanity publishing.
Only, Pillow Mountain Records never existed. It never had a bank account, never had any staff, never did anything. It existed in name only. It was a way of me lifting myself out of the conversation about being signed or unsigned, and focussing on making music.
So when Andrew Dubber and I were talking recently and he mooted the idea of starting a label that would sign everybody and anybody, I was in with both feet, and we decided to launch Any And All Records, as a New Music Strategies project.
Head to the website to get a record deal now. We’ll sign you, I promise. As you’ll see on the site, we offer nothing by way of finances, support, resources or promotion, but neither do we ask for anything from you. It’s entirely non-exclusive, you owe us no money, you’re just no longer ‘unsigned’. So we can stop talking about it, and get on with the life-long task of making the most amazing music we possibly can.
I’ve never – as a listener, journalist, musician or friend of musicians – found any remotely useful distinction between being ‘signed’ and not signed. the idea of labeling ourselves (or other people) as ‘unsigned’ is about as useful as describing us as ‘untall’ – just so you know the music was made by tiny people. Unsigned implies that either the ideal state is to be signed and this person isn’t, or that there’s some qualitative meaningful difference between an artist on a label and one who who isn’t. Both of those statements are steaming piles of bullshit.
Bearing in mind the huge range of meaning in the notion of record label – from Pillow Mountain-style non-existence through to the kind of major deal that mires the artist in debt and so often results in music being altered, delayed, mis-marketed or just not even released, the distinction of being ‘signed’ is entirely meaningless. That it’s absence could act as an obstruction to anyone’s music being discovered on its own merits is absurd.
In between the non-existent/major label extremes, there are quite a few useful alliances of the support, infrastructure, finance and branding varieties. There are many situations in which the role played by the people acting as ‘label’ is a useful, creative and supportive one, and I know artists who have wonderful relationships with their label. But you still can’t tell by listening to their music.
- Support can happen without a label, or with a label.
- Financing a recording can happen with or without outside assistance… or you can make records without spending much money at all, if last time round you bought recording equipment rather than paying for studio time…
- Collectives and Co-operatives are wonderful vehicles for discovery, branding and audience-pooling. Labels can operate in that way, but so can more ad hoc relationships that leave the music making to you.
So, signed, unsigned, it matters not, just make great music, talk about great music, and support the people who make it. But if you want to put ‘out now on Any And All Records’ on your press releases, please go get signed. I’m now signed to Any And All Records, and we’d love to welcome you to our burgeoning artist roster.