Fiona Apple To Label: Back Off, I'm Connecting With My Fans

from the the-internet's-got-this dept

We’ve written about the tangles of singer Fiona Apple and her label, Epic (a Sony imprint), for years. Back in 2005, Epic refused to release her album, because it “didn’t hear a hit.” Instead, the album leaked and started getting radio play, which got fans excited and, finally, Epic felt compelled to release it. The NY Times recently had an article about her latest album, which has actually been done for well over a year, but has been “held up” by shakeups at the label. However, what may be most interesting is a section where they talk about her recent appearance at SXSW, where her management basically told Epic to stay the hell out of the way and not do anything:

“The Idler Wheel” is counting on the devotion of Ms. Apple’s fans. Before she appeared at South by Southwest her manager, Andy Slater, said he told Epic Records: “ ‘I want you to do nothing.’ I said: ‘Don’t make any posters. Don’t make any cards. Don’t put out a single. Just don’t say anything. Let her play the show. It’s been a few years. Let kids go to the show, film the thing, put it on their blogs, and you don’t need to do anything.’ ” Almost immediately after her set amateur video clips were on YouTube.

There are a few interesting things here. First of all, we’re always told that musicians need the big labels for “marketing” purposes. Yet, here’s an artist specifically recognizing that the way a label does marketing can actually make things worse, not better. On top of that, what she (or her management, in this case) clearly recognize is that the way to really do “marketing” these days is to connect with fans and then trust them — not treat them as criminals. Notice that no one wanted the label to release a video or put the music on YouTube. Instead, they full expected and were happy with the fact that the fans filmed the show and put it on YouTube. The same YouTube that is still being sued for a billion dollars for letting people do that. The same YouTube that people tell us needs to be more proactive in preventing the fans from doing exactly what they did and exactly what Apple appears to have wanted them to do.

There’s a big point here. If we shut down sites like YouTube, or force them to pre-block any and all content without proof of copyright or license, this kind of very, very successful marketing wouldn’t be possible. Instead, you’d have nothing but Epic doing its thing — which everyone seems to recognize would lead to a worse result for the artist…

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Companies: epic, sony

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Comments on “Fiona Apple To Label: Back Off, I'm Connecting With My Fans”

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Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Depends. If she were starting her career today, it’s quite possible that she’d be just as well known.

Back when physical media was the only way for fans to get your content, the labels were necessary to have your music widely disseminated. Now they aren’t necessary.

As an analogy: Just because supplies for the first automobile factories were shipped in by horses doesn’t imply that horses continue to be necessary after the automobile was available to everyone, you know?

Anonymous Monkey (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

No no NO! They were first shipped in by the train and then carted to the dealers by horse because the horse-and-buggy markets were glutted and they were offering the transport cheaper due to the market. Once the automobile got more common, the horse-and-buggy industry marketers started getting worried about their profits and complained to the govt. for some way to slow down this new-fangled car thing. So lo and behold the govt. started requiring driver’s licenses before buying an auto. But, that wasn’t enuf, so the age limit was raised to 18+, with a learner’s permit starting at 16. Even with all of that, people just wouldn’t continue with the horse and buggy, so tragically, the industry died out, loosing all those jobs to the insidious creation of the automobile.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Chris, the issue is that you don’t know. Are the people there just randomly, or are they there for Fiona Apple, famous label performer? Would anyone care if a unknown played piano in a room for a few people? Would it matter?

She is here and she is there as a result of all that went before. You cannot undo what has been done.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Those few people in the room would care.

And because of the internet, those few people can share what they experienced and now a few more people know and will probably show up the next time that “unknown” is playing. Lather, rinse, repeat and suddenly they’re not “unknown” anymore.

But Big Money Media wants to take away the ability to do this, to allow for organic, viral growth, all because they don’t control it and they don’t get a piece of the pie.

Maybe the “unknown” won’t become a megamillionaire, but if they can continue to play the music they love for people that want to hear it, and pay to hear it, then why would we, the consumers, allow that to go back to the way it was?

“You cannot undo what has been done.”

Ed C. says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Which is entirely beside the point. The point is that her label is not doing it’s job now. It’s job is supposed to be distributing and promoting their artists works. Instead, not only did it cluelessly sit on what turned out to be a popular album, they try to stop anyone else promoting it. And that’s why labels are failing these days. Rather than looking at what they can actually do in the digital age to make more money for themselves, they are solely focused on control–being the only source for promotion and distribution, having absolute control over what people hear and which acts get the golden tickets this time around. They do this because they mistakenly believe that this is what made them successful and rich in the past. However, that belief is even more wrong now than ever. What they’re doing is not only suicide, but digging their own graves.

hfbs (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ok, maybe I should look at things before I post, but my point still kinda stands – if you weren’t around for her earlier success, you would still have no idea who she was. The label didn’t initiate her second wave of support.

Although, I’ll admit, I haven’t a clue who Fiona Apple is so I could be talking out my arse… Shame I can’t delete comments, but hey ho, talking rubbish is par for the course for me 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The only reason the labels are/were ever needed is artificial in nature. It’s due to wrongfully created government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies and IP laws that make it prohibitively expensive for many restaurants and other venues to host independent performers (and for bakeries to allow children to draw custom pictures on their birthday cakes) without paying a parasite third party an extortion fee (or face legal threats) under the pretext that someone might infringe. This harms artists, it harms the public, it harms restaurants and bakeries, the only people it helps is the parasite middlemen that contribute nothing.

We don’t need them. Abolish government established broadcasting and cableco monopolies and abolish IP.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What an absurd question. What did the big labels do to make Fiona Apple who she is? Sure they promoted her to various radio stations, but it was the radio stations that did the actual promotion to her eventual fans. Are you suggesting radio stations would be incapable of selecting music to play if it weren’t for the labels?

If the labels didn’t exist, it’s impossible to know whether Fiona Apple would be where she is. However, it’s absurd to think that without labels there would be no one in her place. Maybe *she* needed the labels to get where she is, maybe she didn’t. But without the labels (big or small) someone would still be where she is, whether it was Fiona or someone else.

You’re right that we don’t know where Fiona Apple would be without the labels, but to assert that without labels no one would ever be known is all kinds of stupid.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Is this the real life?

Back in 2005, Epic refused to release her album, because it “didn’t hear a hit.” Instead, the album leaked and started getting radio play, which got fans excited and, finally, Epic felt compelled to release it.

I’ve heard this story before. I’m so grateful that we have the labels that keep all of this cruft off the radio.

Ed C. says:

Re: Re:

Not really a good example of how piracy helps the recording business.


But it’s not about supporting suits who don’t even have a picogram of talent, who care more about control above all else, its about the supporting the artist. Obscurity is the worse thing for an artist, and a lot label artist toil in obscurity because of their label’s obsession with control.
Part of supporting an artist is getting exposure, something most label artist don’t get.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Perhaps this illustrates the wave of the future. Labels promote an artist, and then they go indie.

The labels still have an enormous marketing machine. Look at all of the mediocre talent and formula musicians that they have promoted in recent years.

I can see a future where the labels find and promote new talent and give them a start. Discovering new talent was something that the labels did once upon a time, and they sometimes did it with great success. It would be ironic if the realities of the new market forced them back into that role.

Milton Freewater says:


Fiona broke big in part because she was a “manufactured act” on MTV. But that’s not the reason we’re talking about her today.

Fiona fought with her label every step of the way since and is successful today only because she did so. If the label had its way, she would have been a success in 1994 and an unknown today.

Also, this discussion has nothing to do with piracy.

gorehound (profile) says:

I have loved playing punk rock music for years now.I started doing it back in the 70’s and scribbled punk lyrics on my work breaks in 1976.I never ever dreamed of or wanted to have anything to do with Large Labels.
We musicians and music hobbyists do not need the RIAA or any Big Label.I did my thing all DIY.I still remember the times I had to walk down to the printer to print off hundreds of press kits and how I had to physically mail every record I sent out for Review, ETC.
You can design and make your own press kit and have a PDF and a Website.
You can leave your song or songs or albums on that site as MP3,FLAC, CD IMAGE, Whatever.

Musicians who did not do that old route never had it easier and I am 56 so I know this.
Come over to the wacky world of Big Meat Hammer and my second band The Lynn Rebels.

The eejit (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s better even from a rational economic perspective, and the rwasons why are twofold:

1) it saves on other marketing costs, thereby cutting costs in general, which in turn would mean that the act is more profitable;

2) It reduces the amount “levied” on the artists thus ensuring that they get royalties/residuals sooner (provided no shady accounting practices).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, except that most artist tweets and blog style posts aren’t made by the artist, but rather are made through management, through spin doctors, through professional writers, and so on.

Those who do tweet directly tend to fuck it up sooner or later, calling out a jewish conspiracy or drunk dialing someone on twitter.

The costs to do twitter properly for an artist is pretty much on par with any other marketing campaign.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You clearly don’t know anything about twitter or blogs, if you did, you would know who tweets what, and how.

For the record, most good artists, those worth following on social web, do the posting themselves. Few people fallow the ones that are done by managers, or marketing agents. Those are the ones that are the most boring and uncreative shit you can read.

Next time, try following a few before talking shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

“First of all, we’re always told that musicians need the big labels for “marketing” purposes. Yet, here’s an artist specifically recognizing that the way a label does marketing can actually make things worse, not better.”

Suing fans, dragging them to court and asking for thousands in damages? How could anyone go wrong doing that or object to that? I mean, think of the free publicity the musician gets when the newspapers and blogs publicize the case, and the labels will get a chunk of cash in damages. It’s a win/win situation.

Well… except for the fans but hey, who needs those dirty money-sucking, freeloading freetard pirates anyway right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You make it sound like the labels take a list of their customers and sue them all. How full of shit are you? They sue the ones stupid enough to openly file share and take money away from the artists they are “fans” of.

How many people exactly do you think have been taken to court?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“You make it sound like the labels take a list of their customers and sue them all. How full of shit are you? “

You do realise that real life is not binary, it’s not “us vs. them”, it’s not people who buy everything they hear vs. people who do nothing but pirate, right?

Please, learn about reality since that’s what’s discussed here, not the flimsy black and white fantasy you seem to address.

“How many people exactly do you think have been taken to court?”

Not as many as have had money extorted out of them based on little to no evidence and the threat of bankruptcy if they exercise their right to a free trial.

deepblue54 (profile) says:

David Clowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame, gave a speech at the S.F. Music Tech Summit he titled “Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss?” in which he gave an extensive comparison of a musicians life under both regimes. I think it should be required reading for anyone who posts here regarding music and copyright. A print copy of the presentation is posted on

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

David Clowery, of Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker fame, gave a speech at the S.F. Music Tech Summit he titled “Meet The New Boss, Worse Than The Old Boss?” in which he gave an extensive comparison of a musicians life under both regimes. I think it should be required reading for anyone who posts here regarding music and copyright. A print copy of the presentation is posted on

His report is neither “extensive” nor is it even remotely accurate. It’s laughable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You know, I’ll grant you this… at least you didn’t put anything about the pirate bay as a label. Still, some of us have gone and looked at thetrichordist website. It follows along with previous rantings (with no proof or evidence to back them up) made by David Clowery (isn’t his name Lowery?). The only people who think it is extensive or even true are some of the troll ACs who come here (and David Clowery himself).

Anonymous Coward says:

Here’s you a clue. I no longer buy music. I’m sick of the idea that major labels have about music. It is my fervent hope that they go bankrupt, taking all the artists that have signed with them down as well.

That seems to be working out better than I had hoped as we are now down to three majors and I hope within my lifetime to see the rest follow the path the others have already taken. That cut into your revenue? Tough ain’t it.

There was a time when major labels were run by those that used to be artists and knew how to connect with the fan. Now that lawyers (whose only answer is court) and accountants (whose only answer is someone else paying for what they want) are running the places, I’ve come away with the attitude I want nothing to do with them. Majors now have an image problem, not just with me, but with the world. That’s what happens when you piss on your customers.

I hope the trolls here remain in the underworld of no fame nor money, cause honestly, they are just adding to that dislike.

Scott Kirby (user link) says:


Musicians attempts to connect with their fans will go kicking and screaming into the future; a positive winning future but there are three labels, COUNT EM’, who will do everything in their power to keep the record industry backwards and archaic. Those would be Sony, Universal and Warner Brothers. Yes we all see what Ms. Apple is trying to do and see that she is a part of the new wave. Every person who buys a song from Apple or Amazon or any FIXED 99 CENT PRICE PER SONG is supporting organized crime and planned obsolescence. IF THE FEDS FORCED THE MAJOR LABELS TO OBEY THE FREE MARKET ECONOMIC STANDARDS our country lives by economically, they would all go out of business in a matter of months.

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