St Albans‘s Enter Shikari are set to return with their third album A Flash of Colour on 16 January. Not a bad for a band that have never had a conventional record deal. In a guest column for Q, frontman Rou Reynolds and his bandmates explain how they continue to survive and flourish outside of the mainstream music industry.
As it continues its decline, the music industry is a fidgety shape shifting beast, sprouting fangs and claws from all angles in an attempt to slice you up as you try and walk the (hopefully) long path of your ‘career’.. We, as Enter Shikari, can only really sit here and natter about experiences on our own path, and how we’ve managed to survive (for a majority of the time) independently on that journey, pausing once in a while to have a wave at mainstream industry and media when a safe clearing presents itself.
Now, let’s be clear, this is a very long, frustrating, and demanding route. If you’re not overly concerned with seemingly outmoded concepts such as artistic merit, integrity and musical progression, then your best option would maybe be to stick to the tried and tested middle of the road route, playing nice with your gatekeeper monsters, producing homogenised muck and peddling naked through hoops of fire on a unicycle. You’ll potentially move along a lot faster, but you’ll be exposed for the whole trip and more than likely hacked to bits before you’ve even reached the first service station (and here ends the beast / journey metaphor. before it’s wheels come off. Hoho…
Here’s what WE have learnt (thus far)
Our most important lessons came during our first three years of touring, before anyone in the industry had ever even heard our name. Mainly, knowing how to perform no matter how many people are there, how to put 100 percent in despite the circumstances, and how to make the best of any bad situation (from powercuts, to onstage injuries, to hecklers).
That touring coincided with the emergence of powerful social networks, so we built up an audience organically and gathered momentum as we learned our craft, so when it first started hitting ‘critical mass’ (let’s say between our first Download Festival little tent slot, and thatAstoria show), we had a lot of friends watching our back and making noise on our behalf. If you build a fanbase organically, without shoving your videos down people’s necks or cropping up in every magazine and late night E4 show to kickstart your career, your fans will feel much closer to you and, ultimately, more emotionally invested in your endeavours. (This engagement cannot be cynically replicated using marketing dollars, it can only happen organically, because fans know – even if its only subconciously – when they’re being sold a wrong ‘un). Even once you have that connection, it is important to never ever abuse that relationship.
Employing the same DIY, ‘not afraid of hard work’ approach we’d applied to touring, and knowing there was a strong and loyal following who would keep our spirits up during the tough times ahead, we decided to self-release our debut album, building our own team around us, rather than a ‘middle man’ record label and used Vital (these days renamed PIAS) for our distribution and help on the scary marketing end.
In the four years since that first album, we’ve tried various options in different territories around the world – including a vaguely unpleasant stint licensing an album to a major label (in hindsight, a necessary part of the learning curve) – but the immediacy and level of creativity allowed by independence is something we feel is drastically important for our band to be complete and uncompromising.
Even going about our business as independently as possible, with the financial income from all avenues shrinking and the actual profit margins shrinking even more, it becomes increasingly tough to keep the integrity that’s so essential when blooming from a hardcore punk background (even one that now finds itself willingly plastered with brands and sponsorship), while at the same time fighting ‘old industry’ roadblocks at seemingly every attempt to carve a path that works for the way we wish to operate (talk to us sometime about excessive box-office ticket surcharges, or the blatant racketeering of charging bands 25 percent of the gross income from merch sales in certain profile ‘chain’ venues), but the support of our fans and the ability to make exactly the music we want to make, and present it in a way that we feel comfortable with, makes the struggle worthwhile.
Head to Entershikari.com for more on the band.