Jim Carroll

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Major label ins and outs with Trent Reznor and Death Grips

It’s the major label version of “Lanigan’s Ball”. First you have Nine Inch Nails’ dude Trent Reznor inking a licensing deal with Columbia for his new How To Destory Angels project. It’s not as if Reznor didn’t already have form …

Tue, Nov 6, 2012, 09:30


It’s the major label version of “Lanigan’s Ball”. First you have Nine Inch Nails’ dude Trent Reznor inking a licensing deal with Columbia for his new How To Destory Angels project. It’s not as if Reznor didn’t already have form with the big boys – NIN were signed to various Universal Music labels for many years – but he’s been to the fore over the last decade when it comes to pointing out that acts don’t necessarily have to sign major label deals to do the business as well as attacking various record industry practices. Then, you had the strangest major record deal of recent times predictably falling apart as Epic dropped Death Grips after just one official release (“The Money Store”). That this followed Death Grips leaking their new album online spoke legions for the WTF? aspects of this particular deal. You have to wonder just what Epic’s A&R department were thinking when they pushed this one through business affairs.

Death Grips drop the Epic bucket

Talking to David Byrne about why he was happy to take major label money again at a recent event in Los Angeles, Reznor said it all came down to presence. He spoke about how he would walk into record shops in cities while on tour to no evidence of his band in the racks. Reznor began to realise that NIN’s hardcore following was just not enough and what he needed was a team of people who would be able to work worldwide on his new releases. “It’s been pleasantly pleasant, actually having people that know what they’re talking about and having a team, that’s nice.”

Major labels may not have the greatest track record when it comes to breaking new bands or working on new channels for doing this, but they know what to do when an act already has traction. They still have the muscle to push established acts seeking to plug new releases and to get them into all right media and retail places (in fact, the majors probably have a stronger in with the permanent establishment than any DIY upstart could dream of having).

The other great advantage for acts like Reznor is that it’s an one-stop shop: you don’t have to deal with different entities in every new territory because HQ have already taken care of things and sent out the memo. It’s why promoters like to deal with Ticketmaster rather than a myriad of different sellers. It simplifies things. Reznor may get a kicking from some of his fans about his about-face – and he may change his mind down the road at some stage – but he firmly believes that a major relationship is what he needs right now.

You have to wonder just what Epic and Death Grips were thinking when they became partners back in February. Were both parties smoking something strong when they thought this one would work out? Or was is a publicity stunt from the very start by the band? Whatever way you look at it, Death Grips were a band who would never look comfortable on a major label roster. It might have been different a decade or two ago when labels were flush with cash and A&R departments were allowed go crazy now and then, but it’s hard to see what Epic’s moneymen saw in this deal with a resolutely uncompromising underground act like Death Grips. Of course, A&R departments still make costly mistakes – evidence for the prosecution: that awful Kreayshawn album – but that Death Grips’ deal was one which caused minds to boggle from the get-go.

The band don’t appear to give a damn. After all, everything about this debacle, from news about the initial deal to the leaked emails from the label about the leaked album (leaks all round), has generated a ton of publicity for the band. They’ll be viewed as the band who thumped The Man between the eyes, which ensures hero worship in some quarters. They’ll still release albums, tour and play to a dedicated fanbase which may well increase on the back of this story.

For the label, it’s costly red ink and a sense of embarrasment about what went down. For every Reznor who realises what a label can do when they set their minds to it, you’ll always have a band like Death Grips who take the label for a spin. It’s the fact that Epic thought they could tame the band and bring them into the fold which is the most confusing aspect in all of this. Perhaps seeing how Odd Future have become accustomed to major label patronage has made them rethink their strategy in this regard? Whatever the reason, it just didn’t work according to plan on this occasion.