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Wet’s Kelly Zutrau On Knowing When — and How — To Leave a Major Label Deal

This story is part of Billboard’s third annual package spotlighting the trends defining the independent music business.

We felt like [signing with Columbia] made sense at the time. It was a two-album deal with the option of continuing, and when we did the second record [Still Run in 2018], we were going through a tumultuous time personally, as a band and with our management. I think second records are just difficult in general. After your first album, which you’ve had your whole life to write, you’re scrambling to find material and cement yourself as a voice. Also, we had a lot of turnover in our team at Columbia — which is really common at major labels, and I didn’t know that when I was young and [first] signed.

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There were different people who had come in that we didn’t really align with creatively, and we felt like there was this baggage. When there’s a lot of money involved — as there often is at a major label — there’s this pressure to make something that’s going to make the money back. And we made a really hard decision that we don’t want any expectations for this third record; there’s basically no point in making it if it’s going to be about that. We just have to make something that we love, that feels natural and that feels like a progression and growth artistically, and we felt like we couldn’t do that at Columbia anymore. We left on really good terms — we asked to leave and they could’ve given us a hard time, but I think they probably thought it wasn’t working amazingly either anymore.

The most concrete thing that I’ve noticed [as an independent artist] is the timeline. You can move much more quickly because you’re working with people who want to work on it regardless of budget, because you don’t have a big budget. There are definitely things I miss about Columbia, but I think overall, we were able to make something that I’m a lot more proud of. For me, with this third album, I thought, “If I want to make money, why would I be in music?” Figure out what your goals are. I had to really think about that, and I realized I wanted to make a piece of art that I could stand by.

A version of this article originally appeared in the October 23, 2021, issue of Billboard.