After Arcade Fire sold out Madison Square Garden and won Album of the Year Grammy, the indie world seemed ready to take on the mainstream rock world in terms of above-ground cultural clout. This well-attended — and instructive, if rather dry — panel corralled together an impressive roster of indie heads whose labels may not be considered ‘indie’ for long: Jonathan Poneman (Sub Pop), Gerard Cosloy (Matador), Priya Dewan (Warp) and Daniel Glass (Glassnote).
Moderated by Hits Magazine president Karen Glauber, the panel, which she called “the most important hour of your life,” started out feting Merge’s Arcade Fire. McCaughan — who called his long-running band Superchunk a “legacy act” – said that having regard for their artists is just as important as getting the Grammy, and noted that the win hasn’t really changed anything for Merge in that they weren’t going to “take over the world.”
Glass spoke of his label’s Mumford & Sons, marveling that a band with a banjo player could sell in the platinum range and said he’d initially thought that if the label exposed the group at a calmer pace — something he thinks is unique to indies these days — they could be massive. Cosloy explained that Matador releases fewer records now and can concentrate on each project more. He also noted that pre-street date leaks have had a big (negative) effect on sales, and stressed that labels need to know their bands, especially in the “courtship” phase — which some bands seem to think “will go on forever.”
Knowing a label’s artists was also an element that Poneman stressed, noting that the marketing campaign for his label’s heavily-anticipated next Fleet Foxes record would not have been possible without the cooperation of the band.
And considering that product placement was largely taboo for most of these labels and their artists 15 years ago, there’s little resistance these days. Dewan said that one event or product placement isn’t what puts a band over the top, but can work with other elements to create synergy. Glass said he felt that Phoenix’s ‘tasteful’ Cadillac commercial helped sell them to a larger audience, but stressed that it’s important to “say no to a bad product placement.”