Brandon Boyd Of Incubus On The Future Of Music And Life Without A Label: 'It's A Really Cool Thing Because It Keeps Everyone On Their Toes'

from the it's-easier-to-move-forward-when-you're-already-looking-that-direction dept

Brandon Boyd has seen both ends of the music industry. With his band Incubus, Boyd rode possibly the last big wave (nu-metal) crafted by the labels. Now, faced with heading out label-less for the first time, Boyd has a refreshingly realistic outlook on the challenges he and his band face in the future.
We are, for the first time since 1996, we are free agents again. We're without a record label. So what we're kind of doing is trying to get our bearings as to what we should do next, just as a band but also as a band that is kind of off in new territory again.
Fortunately for Boyd, he's not completely unprepared for life without a label. During the shakeup at Epic Records and Sony's restructuring, Incubus sort of fell between the cracks and dealt with "a real lack of direction and leadership just when we needed it most." Surprisingly, Boyd isn't bitter about the experience and notes that it left the band free to start exploring other options, including put more effort towards connecting directly with their fans:
So it was hard and it was frustrating but it was also very telling for us and perhaps educational. Because what we were forced to do was we were forced into ingenuity. And so we came up with this idea to set up shop in this art gallery in Los Angeles and do the Incubus HQ and fly listeners in from different corners of the world and do these live broadcasts on the Internet. And so we started getting these ideas about subscription-based live concerts online and it ended up being a really scary and stressful project, but the fruits of it are still kind of revealing themselves.

We have this HQ box set that we're putting out and the DVD set comes out I think August 14 is the release date. There's like the superfan all six nights on DVD mixed in 5.1 with the CDs and pieces of canvases that people were drawing on in the room while we were playing music. Like I said, it's forced us to think outside of that normal music industry paradigm that we had gotten so accustomed to. And so in that sense the lack of attention from our record label and the end days of our record label relationship were really good and very beneficial for us as a band because it gave us a sense of what we might be doing in the coming years.
Living through massive disruption turns some artists into doomsayers who demand the world repent of its "sins" and return to the "Old Way." Boyd lived through the so-called Napster years and came up with a completely different conclusion: adapt or be left behind. The upside of the old way was nice:
Linkin Park and Incubus were two of the very few bands who kind of like got a gust of wind out of the old paradigm of the music industry. But like survived out of it. There are so many bands that, bands in a traditional sense, bands who write their own music, and perform their music, that didn't survive that transition. That fell by the wayside with the industry. So it’s been frightening to watch something that you for a very brief moment almost learned to rely on, because we learned the ins and outs of how the industry worked, you know you poured your heart out into making an album and then the label puts the record out and you go out on tour in support of the album, and we even started doing it in the van and trailer. We'd make a record and get in the van with our gear and the trailer and we'd drive ourselves around the country and sell albums and T-shirts out of the back of the trailer. That was sort of our education and then once things started going really well, thankfully, we got a sense of what it looks like when all of the, when the engine is nicely greased and things are working the way they're supposed to.
But when that way was no longer viable, Incubus moved on, rather than hold on to the way it used to be:
And then it's like the millennium turns and the technology changed. And all of that became old. It became an antiquated model. And it was frightening at first but I actually have come to appreciate it. I'm going to actually use the pun, a living thing. It's a living system. Our technologies are a living system just like we are and our communities as human beings, and for us to expect them to remain constant is really just quite foolish. I mean anybody that's going to come to rely on the way that our music consumption is looking now is going to have the same hard lesson in less time than you think. I think that the technology is going to shift probably sooner than any of us really realize. And that's a really cool thing, because it keeps everyone on their toes. It levels the playing field, too. It's allowing for a really wonderful democratization of the music writing process and the music presenting and performing process. So what it's doing is it's making us try harder and it's making us expect the best of ourselves and the people that we work with. You know, do more with less.
That's the way it works now if you're going to succeed. It's artists vs. limited attention and limited entertainment budgets. A connection is vital and a willingness to explore every option is nearly mandatory if you're going to get anywhere.

What's more amazing about these statements is there is no mention of the music industry's favorite villain, piracy. Boyd sees what the real issue is: disruption. And rather than wait for someone to "fix" the "problem," he's moving as fast as he can to stay ahead of the curve. He's not letting his situation be dictated by others and because of that, he's got a good chance to keep his creative career going.
I personally, when all is said and done, I really welcome these changes. And they excite me. And they scare me at the same time, but I'm choosing to focus on the excitement.
It is a scary time to be an artist. Nothing'is guaranteed. But it's also a time when the field is wide open and the possibilities nearly unlimited. Focusing on the wrong aspect gets you nowhere, but being willing to look past everything that seems to be going wrong and make the most of what's going right.

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  1. identicon
    Jeon, 10 Aug 2012 @ 7:54pm

    MornIng View one if the best albums I've ever listened to...and purchased.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    minerat (profile), 10 Aug 2012 @ 8:56pm

    Incubus has understood the realities for a while

    Incubus really has understood the changing music landscape for a while now. It's not surprising, they're all a bunch smart and well spoken guys (Brandon here, Mike, the guitarist, just finished a music degree at harvard, etc) and they've been doing cool stuff for a while - live bootlegs in 04, direct management engagement with fans through unofficial fan forums (which helped push for a wildly successful south american tour in 2005), and direct individual band member engagement with fans for years all the way back to early myspace.

    The were at the SF MusicTech Summit last year ( and when asked specifically about the leak of their new album they said:
    "It was like, for about a day, where it felt like someone had broken into your house and had taken something you were making... kick in the balls a little bit. But a day later I realized that it took away the fear that people don't want music any more. That really reinforces that they really want it - they want to take it before you're even done with it.... we're in this weird middle zone, we don't get paid per record sold, out job is to make music and play concerts... we realized we're not the ones in control of it anymore... I'm just thrilled that people are not only enthusiastic about music, but love our music so much that they want to steal it".

    It'll be interesting to see what they do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    none of your biz, 10 Aug 2012 @ 8:59pm


    What a total moron. There is no future for the music biz, as it is ion the hands of no one. It's a free system with the lowest of the low muddying the waters and no one setting the bar anywhere at all, let alone low. Going without a label? What a concept when no label wants you, and no label means anything. It's all over, music will just get worse and worse, and no one knows any better

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2012 @ 11:18pm

    Re: incubus

    The music biz will be just fine. It does not need to be in anybody's hands. What has happened is that the price per unit of content has fallen considerably, but the number of potential customers has gone way up, courtesy the internet. That is terrific for music and terrific for those artists that adapt. For old-fashioned record labels who decline to come down to where the market now is -- they get to go broke. Nobody will miss them.

    The price of something going down, is nothing unusual in economics. The price of hard disk space was $19,000 per gigabyte (approx) in 1984. It is now less than $0.05 per gigabyte. Manufacturers who adapted, are still around today. Those that did not, look them up in Wikipedia.

    The record industry is finding out the hard way, that they are not some special little flowers, who get to be exempt from the laws of economics. They should stop whining, stop bribing and get to work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 12:54am

    Re: incubus

    Because the label system gave us...
    Rebecca Black
    Justin Beiber
    and a whole host of interchangeable pop-stars...
    The music is all the same, and it is just was easy to imaging the song sung by any of them.

    When the "artists" are like lego you just plug in... your doing it wrong.

    Dan Bull doesn't have a label, his music keeps the bar high. See because he has fans, so he wants to keep the same high quality, so the fans stay with him.

    Britney Spears had a mental breakdown and the label had her churn out an album of the same crap, the only reason people cared was because of the circus her life turned into.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 1:07am

    Something something fans, something something benefits.

    I am very happy to hear from an actual artist speaking in human terms.

    They are approaching a brave new world, and they are a little afraid. They are experiencing a human emotion, that all of us can relate to. Rather than freak out and demand a law, they are moving forward.

    Even if they try something new and it sucks, the fans will stay with them because they will be sharing the journey with them, and most likely will have no problem saying...
    "Well shit this idea sucked, We're sorry. This is what we are going to try next."

    The freedom to try and fail means they can fine tune the new model to themselves. A failure is not the end, you can learn a lot from it as long as your willing to keep trying rather than throwing your hands up and demanding the world stop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2012 @ 2:14am

    i would think the hardest thing is to actually realise you are free to take whichever direction is thought to be worth exploring. if it works, great. if it fails, try a different one. with no fences, moving to pastures new at least is easy

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    RadialSkid (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 3:21am

    Re: Re: incubus

    Black and Beiber aren't very good examples, since they both found their initial fame without record labels. As far as I know, Rebecca Black still isn't signed to one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 4:15am

    Re: Re: Re: incubus

    While they did get the initial fame outside of the label system, they were picked up because they were the hot new thing, and now all produce the same sounds.

    Beiber is a hysterical example because he is famous for violating copyrights and "stealing" kajillions of dollars by performing others works and posting them on YouTube.

    People thought Beiber would never be anything, and his entire point in posting was to get discovered. There wasn't a thought about him crafting a career on his own, it was about getting buzz and hoping the right person saw him, pulled the sword from the stone and knighted him pop star.

    Black might be a bad example on my part, but she was big enough for a minute that I am sure someone wanted to sign her up until the "problems". Black has started her own label after fighting with ARK over control, following the typical pattern we have seen over and over. Hoping to generate success and I am sure if they find another act, they will try to sign them to the label and then hope they can get enough buzz to be acquired by one of the cartel.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    PaulT (profile), 13 Aug 2012 @ 12:23am

    Re: Re: Re: incubus

    "Black and Beiber aren't very good examples, since they both found their initial fame without record labels."

    Black perhaps, but Beiber is definitely a product of the label system. Yes, he got noticed by doing something outside of labels but before a label employee spotted him and offered him a career, he was just another teenager among many thousands posting videos of himself singing cover versions on YouTube. He didn't really do anything to create his career himself beyond that.

    But yes, they aren't necessarily good examples. Pick any of the glorified karaoke singers who get record contracts by "winning" American Idol/X Factor, who just go on to sing the songs written by other people they're told to sing for a better example.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Ninja (profile), 13 Aug 2012 @ 5:00am

    Re: incubus

    Well, I'm at a loss, I've been waiting this musical apocalypse for a while now (home taping is killing music remember?) and it only got better and more diversified. I do wish the labels die faster though, should help the ecosystem and allow true enablers to take their places.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 13 Aug 2012 @ 8:58am

    Re: incubus

    Your optimism is infectious!

    But reality, in my experience, disagrees with you. The majority of truly excellent music I have heard over the past 10 years has been from the label-less. And those artists get my money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    amber, 13 Aug 2012 @ 4:17pm

    Such a cool article. I love the direct to fan approach they're taking. So freaking excited for HQ Live tomorrow too! Been watching the videos constantly!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Rachel, 15 Aug 2012 @ 3:30pm

    Looking forward to...

    I feel like Incubus is really on the cusp of some amazing things - and has probably been working on them for quite some time. I just found this video for "Nice To Know You" from their new DVD and it looks killer. These guys are never going to stop blowing minds

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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