Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Why (successful) bands have the power

Bands may hold all the cards in the music business in 2013, but it’s the successful ones who can really call the shots

The National contemplate their next move

Wed, May 15, 2013, 09:35


It’s always interesting to get a reality check. Over the last few years on OTR, we’ve often talked about how changes in how music is made, distributed, consumed and shaped means that the power to call the shots now rests with the artist. Thanks to technology, we’ve seen a far-ranging democratisation of the recording and releasing process which means acts don’t need to rely on the old gatekeepers, toll-booth operators or players to get their music out to the masses anymore. It’s a brave new world. To paraphrase the B, who runs the musical world? Bands do.

Well, in theory anyway. The truth is a little more nuanced. The power does indeed rest with artists, but you have to be an act people want for various reasons in order to really get your own way. You have to be an act with an established audience, an act people want to associate with for various reasons. There’s huge oversupply in the music market at present so the filtering means promoters, agents, managers, brands, lawyers and even fans really just want to associate with successful acts. And those successful acts know all too well when the tipping point occurs and they can say yes or no with impunity.

Some of you will already have read my interview from the weekend with Aaron Dessner from The National. They’re about to release their new album “Trouble Will Find Me” and go on tour for the rest of the year (they’ve three Irish dates in the diary over the next six months). On a lovely spring morning a few weeks ago in the studio in the back of his gaff in Brooklyn, Dessner talked about what it’s like to be in The National in 2013 and what has changed. It’s certainly a long, long way from playing to very few people in the Cobblestone pub in Dublin or the Triskel in Cork on their first visit to Ireland all those years ago.

One thing which Dessner said that morning really struck a chord with me. He talked about how the band’s success with their last album and their arrival into the mainstrean means they can now call the shots. They have found that the power to make decisions and demands tends to shift to the band as their audience grows. “During High Violet, we were still at a level where promoters could force us to do things,” says Dessner. “Now I think we’ve graduated from that – we don’t feel scared any more of saying, ‘No, we’re not doing that, we’re doing this.’ ”

Most would have assumed that a band like The National with their fanbase and sales would be well capable of getting their own way, even before “High Violet” sold the guts of a million copies to make them the most unlikely overnight success story in the mainstream. Yet, as Dessner notes, they still found themselves forced to do stuff they didn’t want to do. Now, he says, it’s a different matter and that won’t happen again. That confidence – that bravado – comes with success.