Techno Tuesday: Sharam on the benefits of releasing music independently
The mighty Sharam sits atop a two-decade long career in dance music. The Iranian-American producer first came to prominence as one-half of award-winning electronic duo Deep Dish, before embarking on a prosperous solo career. In 2009, he released his first solo album, Get Wild, through Ultra Records. Now, seven years later, he’s returned with his sophomore offering: Retroactive.
The album finds Sharam blending influences past and present for an engrossing 13-track affair. With guest features from Giorgio Moroder and Daniel Bedingfield, it’s a comprehensive ensemble, and a perfect showcase of Sharam’s rare balance of commercial and underground appeal.
In celebration of the new album, we asked Sharam to weigh in on the merits of releasing an album independently versus on a major label. In response, he’s provided an in-depth breakdown of why he chose to release his new record on his independent imprint Yoshitoshi.
Retroactive is available for purchase here.
5 Reasons Why I Released My New Album ‘Retroactive’ Independently on Yoshitoshi, and 2 Reasons Why a Major Label Makes Sense
As some of you might know, I recently released Retroactive, my new album, on my label Yoshitoshi. It is my second album, following 2009’s Get Wild by seven years. The great people at DA asked me to give them my view and perspective on releasing an album via an independent label vs. a major label. From the experiences I’ve had releasing albums on my own as well as with Deep Dish, here, in my opinion, are the advantages of releasing an album independently.
What I’ve found over the years is that everybody has an opinion when it comes to your music, and everyone’s opinion is rooted in something that might not necessarily be aligned with your vision.
When you work with a major label, the A&R (and the powers that be) give you a lot of pointers. Some turn out to be good advice, but I’ve also been in situations where they completely confuse you because they want you to sound like the last successful record they released, or fit the trend du jour. They chase the big records, don’t always recognize quality, and more importantly, they may not understand your vision. So you end up sort of losing yourself in all these conversations. When working with an indie, artistry trumps commercial viability more often than not.
2. Freedom to make bold decisions
As some of you may know, I decided to change my album’s name after it was already announced and in the distribution system. I felt it was important as an artist to represent my vision fully, and changing the name from ‘A Warehouse’ to ‘Retroactive’ was necessary for my vision. I hate ‘what ifs’, and it would have eaten me for the rest of my life had I not changed the name.
On a major, this move a month before release would have been near impossible. We would have had to change the release date – IF there was one available near the original release date. Plus, with a tour already planned around the release, we would have derailed a carefully mapped tour and lost out on the synergetic opportunities. As an independent, you are able to gather the troops and work with the team – from design to PR to distribution, to make such radical decisions a reality without any bureaucratic or departmental roadblocks.
3. Final cut
This ties into number one, but the main thing here is you’re completely in charge of the end product. What I’ve learned over the years is that a great record that sounds bad will never reach its full potential and a great concept executed poorly will have you (and your fans) scratching their heads. With an independent you are fully in charge of the end product. Want to throw a complete curveball on the album? Do it, it’s your prerogative. Want to design a completely wild set of visuals to accompany the album? Done! There’s no exec to tell you what you can and can’t do; the image is yours alone to cultivate.
4. No Deadline
This may sound horrifying to some, because without deadlines nothing would ever get done (and I’m a firm believer in creating deadlines and working systematically to make those deadlines). But when you’re as busy as I am, and many of today’s artists are, balancing music-making with relentless touring, and personal lives), sometimes things just get done at the 11th hour. It’s not a product of being lazy or unproductive—there’s just so much going on that even with help, sometimes it just takes longer than expected to get things exactly how you want them.
Working with a major label means meeting the strict deadlines, and there’s rarely any wiggle room for things like redoing a master or making last minute adjustments (or, for that matter, changing the album name). You can be more flexible and ultimately present a better product, without missing out on release dates.
5. You’re Loved for Two Weeks
In a major system there’s usually a backlog of new records waiting to be released. When its your turn, you will get the focus and ‘love’ for about two weeks before the next record comes through the pipeline, then all that focus will shift to the next record/artist. If your record made an impact in those two weeks, you’re golden. However, if your record is a slow burner, then luck and your dedicated fans are the only things that will give it legs. As an independent, we are able to keep the focus going for longer periods. The focus is drawn out over months rather than weeks. With so much music out there, you need that extra attention to get your music heard.
And that brings me to the 2 reasons I would want to go through a major.
Budget! Funding your own album isn’t a walk in the park, and the likelihood of an independent label taking out a loan to execute and promote your record with the resources a major would have is slim to none. Recording, manufacturing, marketing, visuals, legal, PR, radio promo; it all costs money. When this is recouped from your royalties its not as painful as watching it deducted from your bank account. So if you can find a major label that is willing to spend the money and give you the focus with an independent mindset, jump on it! I’ve had to dig into my own pocket in conjunction to what the label can afford to do, but I know that is not a possibility for a lot of artists, especially new ones.
2. REACH, PR & Radio
Majors have a bigger audience reach, a rich contact list and even richer pockets to activate and enable those contacts. Good PR people are out there and I’m lucky enough to work with a few of them. They do a great job. However, when you have reps from a big major going to the media outlets, chances are you’re going to get a bite faster than if you’re DIYing it. The media outlets and radio stations tend to respond better to majors when it comes to featuring and promoting your music.
Conclusion? Make interesting and unique records that can do a lot of the above for you. There is no better promotion than having a great record that connects with the masses – regardless of its genre. The good news is, that a lot of the resources that were traditionally available to majors are now available to independent labels (and even solo artists) via the advancement of technology. When the opportunity arises, align yourself with an independent that knows what they’re doing. Or, better yet, start your own!