Weezer, Lyrics, Record Labels and Why the Industry Needs to Change: A Rant

It seems the number of bands who are upset with their record labels, is sort of skyrocketing. Actually I think it's more so the number of bands that are coming out and speaking about their label troubles that is increasing, as opposed to the actual number of bands unhappy, because the times just seem right for bands to strike out on their own, what with the industry changing so rapidly right now. We can add Weezer to that list after a recent spat over their latest album, due out in the next few months (if not sooner).

You may have heard about this story in the past week or so on some other major music sites. It sparked me to rant, which has subsequently been edited down into this post.

Rivers Cuomo (lead singer/guitarist of Weezer) apparently left a recent meeting with the band's label (Geffin Records) where he was told to "write catchier songs." Obviously upset, Cuomo reacted by writing lyrics designed to annoy the label and vaguely reference the incident into of the tracks on the new album (Yeah Rivers, that'll teach um).

The fact that any record label would say such a thing upsets me. I understand that the music industry is a business and profits are what keeps business moving, BUT... A band like Weezer easily pulls in probably a few million dollars in revenue with each of their albums simply because of the fan base they have amassed over the years. This is not an up and coming band that you can justify such a statement by saying "their music needs to be more palatable for the mainstream for them to be successful" (There's a problem with that statement to begin with, but that's another rant). This says to me that the only motivation behind such a statement is greed... "We're not satisfied with a few million, we're only satisfied with the next big thing that will earn us a clean 50 million over night!". Apparently they just got too used to the big bucks rolling in every day that a million dollars just doesn't cut it anymore.

Maybe I'm judging Geffin Records a little too harshly, or maybe Cuomo over reacted or whatever. What it comes down to is that it makes me so mad to have someone who's not even a songwriter/musician/artist come out of no where and tell a songwriter/musician/artist what they can and cannot write about. I almost would have preferred that Geffin just decided to drop the band when the album debuted, or whenever they felt that they couldn't support the band anymore. To have them come out and ask them to write "catchier songs" is just insulting.

Ok, now maybe I'm over reacting a little, but it does upset me, and probably would upset a lot of musicians out there as well. I'm glad that Rivers did react to it in some way and isn't taking this lying down. Perhaps a little subtle persuasion will get Geffin thinking differently.
I think this type of behavior will ultimately be what kills the record labels (well one of maybe things that ultimately kills them). In the age of the Internet when it's been proven that bands literally do not need a record label to get their music to the masses, especially if they're a well known group with a strong fan base, you'd think that the labels with big names on them would be courting those names to keep them with them, and not go independent. Apparently Geffin doesn't work like that though and is instead going to alienate one of it's big names in the name of greed. It's as if they don't realize that writing a song about it is not the worst thing that Weezer could have done. The band could have easily said "screw you Geffin", went independent and made a couple of million for themselves on the album, even if it isn't their "catchiest" work, by releasing the album through other means.

There's more and more bands speaking out about ill treatment by their labels these days. We've all known that this kind of thing has been going on forever in the music industry. Finally it seems like bands don't have to put up with a record label that isn't going to let them make their music how they want to anymore... it's as simple as that.

There's plenty of other things going on in the music industry right now as well to indicate that a change is not only necessary but taking place as we speak. Bands like the Raconteurs are coming out talking about how labels don't take chances on bands like they used to... it certainly does seem like back in the 60s and 70s at least some more "adventurous music was being released. Meanwhile the RIAA continues to talk about how they're going to need DRM music, how it's going to come band and how it isn't a failed business model... sounds like more signs that they are completely out of touch.

It's interesting times, that's for sure... but everything seems to be building. Independent/artist centric music industry here we come.

-- end of rant --

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