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In too deep: When signing to a major label goes very, very wrong

A handful of artists share their major label horror stories

  • Patrick Hinton
  • 22 March 2017
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In the electronic music world the story of FischerSpooner is perhaps the most famous example of how messy working within a high stakes deal can get. The electroclash duo with roots in the art world made serious waves with a series of shows that trod the line between performance art and music gig. A bidding war was sparked for the release rights of their debut album ‘#1’ in the US. Ministry Of Sound saw it as their ticket into breaking the States, and if rumours are to be believed, tied up a multi-million dollar contract, described by member Casey Spooner to RBMA as “a ridiculous offer that was just stupid not to take.”

As it panned out, the marketing budget was blown through in three months and Ministry of Sound co-founder James Palumbo claimed “four albums, or maybe five” were sold. “It definitely wasn’t ten.” Nearly everyone involved in putting together the deal was sacked, and the contract was bought out by Capital Records for a proper in release in May 2003, by which time the hype had died completely.

FischerSpooner’s tale indicates large amounts of money can be more disruptive to the work of musicians than helpful when a business perspective becomes the dominant impulse, a viewpoint fuelled by our monthly guest columnist The Secret DJ in a recent article in which they wrote “major labels call themselves a business, but are insanely unprofitable, utterly uncertain, totally rudderless and completely ignorant.”

French producer Alexkid, who has done remix work for a number of major labels in his homeland, shares similar experiences, telling us: “[Major labels] call you because they want to have a bit of that street credibility that independent labels have,” but “they’re people who don't come from a musical background; they come from business schools so they just apply recipes on how to market to people.” This has played out with him being sent unsuitable tracks to remix with the naïve demand that they get played in clubs, sometimes directed in nonsense jargon. “I've had people give me a pitch as colours and shapes: ‘This has to sound like mint and amber'. It's just like, I don't know what you're talking about!”

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