Pearl Jam leaves Label - Earth Shattering?

In this article on MSNBC, commentator Eric Olsen states that Pearl Jam has fulfilled its contract with Epic and is leaving after 12 years, and will not be signing with another label, preferring to “go it alone on the Internet”

Olsen’s hype is pretty extreme - for example:

I can quibble with the hype - “the most popular and important American rock band of the '90’s”? Nirvana was far, far more important. But more importantly - is the event of Pearl Jam leaving a label to go with the Internet that big of a deal?

Pearl Jam, while still having a large, deserved fan base, is not particularly relevant as a “musical force”. It’s not like Metallica going after Napster - which woke everybody up to the fact that something had to give with online sharing - or Apple iTunes, whose 1 million songs/week initial sales showed that there could be another way. Or Stephen King, who sold “Riding the Bullet” on line and scared the bejeezus out of publishers.

Given Pearl Jam’s sales and relatively weak influence over the past few years, is this a big deal? There are other non-label bands out there. Is this any different than Prince, who has an arms-length relationship with labels and has had this for years - and who makes brilliant music that is basically only focused on by his fans?

In other words - great, PJ has a big enough fan base that they can go it alone, like Prince and sell enough over the Internet to not require a label. Will it change the situation for any other bands? I don’t see it.

Your thoughts?

I thought PJ disbanded years ago.

I dunno, musicians seem to do better when they are under the thumb of a huge evil record label pimping them out for as much money as they can bleed them for.

Usually when they break free, they fade, fade away.

There are bands that can get by without labels, just like some bands (like Pearl Jam) can tour without Ticketmaster - or try, anyway. Thing is, it’s not all bands. Pearl Jam can probably get away with this because they are a big, successful band with an established fan base. The fans will know when they’re touring and when a new album is coming out and such - they’ll find out from the web or other fans.
I bet more bands could get by with just the web and word-of-mouth and such; hard to know unless they try. I wish more groups would ‘break free’ of the current system, especially because Ticketmaster and ClearChannel (which Radiohead is ‘unofficially boycotting’) are so disgusting and monopolistic. I know those aren’t labels, but not every aspect of this system is mutually beneficial. Labels can screw bands over, or they can help them. It really depends.

Plenty of bands are unsigned, and that’s always the case. If you mean successful bands that get well-promoted, the system can help them. Then again, there are plenty of bands that aren’t helped by the current system.
“Jam bands,” for example, are not well-served by it because they don’t sell large numbers of albums and tour extensively, which builds up the fanbase with less promotion. The Grateful Dead didn’t get much from their labels for most of their career, but they made more money from concerts than just about anyone, and their live albums (the Dick’s Picks series) sold very well).
The Allman Brothers Band released a new album in March on their own label without a promotional blitz - no attempt to reach outside their normal audience, really - and Hittin’ the Note sold 25,000 copies in its first week, entering the Billboard charts at #37 or so. Etc. etc.

Oh, and the notion that Pearl Jam is the most important or popular band of the '90s is ridiculous. They haven’t even been close to that popularity since No Code in '98, and they were NEVER that important. They had popularity, but seeing as how they broke no ground musically, ever? Pfeh.

Regardless of Pearl Jam’s actual chances of success, I wish them the best of luck. This sort of thing has been brewing for several years now, thanks to the rise of the Internet, and I am extremely curious as to how it will turn out.

Pearl Jam in five years will be where Prince is now - “Remember them?”

When’s the last time you bought the new Prince CD?

Nothing against Pearl Jam, but they are at 13:49 and counting on their fifteen minutes of fame.

And I like them, but they’re no longer relevant.

Pearl Jam have been smart enough to test out their future success by selling their bootlegs (of all concerts) through the fan club web site, quite successfully. They’re one band who I imagine could sell about half a million records just on word of mouth/web marketing, which is not bad from a profit perspective.

They could also tour quite successfully, as they’ve made contacts with promoters all around the world who would still work with them, even if they’re not on a major label.

Doing these things, combined with royalties from their major label records, etc, are sure to keep them going as long as they want to. Whether people will care or not is an interesting question, but they still easily sold out all of their Australian concerts this year, and would probably do that in lots of countries.

Whatever happens to them won’t change the industry though. Bands will still need old style promotion to get them anywhere in the first place (as Pearl Jam have had for the past decade).

It all depends on your definition of success. One problem with big record companies controlling so much music is that success is now counted in millions of records. If Pearl Jam is turning their back on the system that made that possible, it is not because they think they can match those results. It is because they no longer see those results as the definition of success.

It will be a great day when more people realize that selling 250,000 records is a huge success. 250,000 records sold means that more people than you could ever hope to meet in your entire lifetime are listening to and enjoying what you have produced.

We can count the exceptions on one hand. There are very few bands that have been successful after the marketing muscle of a label has been removed, and people’s attention spans these days aren’t getting any longer.

So how is that new Prince album anyway?

They should be fine: they never seemed to like being the huge big thing much anyway: smaller venues and more dedicated fans seem to suit them better anyway.

Their most recent record was probably the only one where many of the songs just didn’t interest me much though. A couple good ideas, but too few good hooks and lyrics. It used to be that I loved almost every song on one of their records.

Pearl who?

Pearl who? :smiley:

Seriously, I can see a lot of established bands doing this in the near future, especially now that the dirty little secrets of the RIAA are common knowledge. (Price fixing, Internet radio taxes, etc.) Any band on a major label only sees 50c to $1 of each album they sell (and without a single raise since the 70’s) , and that’s only AFTER they’ve paid back for all the costs of production, promotion, concert tours, etc.

Too bad so many musicians aren’t business-savvy enough to strike it alone and continue to suck at the corporate teat because they don’t realize that they have a choice…

Part of Prince’s problem is that years before he went it alone, he was having HUGE problems with his label. That’s why that whole ‘symbol’ thing happened, and all of the controversy and confusion helped to de-rail his career. It wasn’t just because he left the label.

We can count the famous exceptions on one hand, yes. But there are smaller bands that aren’t going through the traditional system as well, that’s what I was saying.

I remember from magazine and newspaper articles of the time that, into the mid-1990s, Pearl Jam was the most popular rock group on the planet. You may recall that Vs. broke the record for first-week album sales (although the album no longer holds this record).

Pearl Jam’s decline in popularity was in no small part due to their own choices, mostly backing away from the media and MTV, but also putting a serious cramp in their touring schedule by choosing to fight Ticketmaster. But I don’t think there are many other groups who had more popularity in the 1990s. You could make a case for a few other bands of that era being more popular, but very few.

That’s not exactly an objective fact there, is it? Even if it were, breaking ground musically is surely not the sole measure of a band’s importance. Pearl Jam today must hold some importance by simple virtue of being the only surviving major act of the “grunge scene”. Some people would consider their social/political work to be of great importance. Pearl Jam has also been widely imitated, from the time of their peak popularity into the present day. As best as I can tell these imitators have all been hacks, but some of them have been fairly successful hacks, and influence has to count for something even if it’s not always something to be proud of.

In re the OP, Pearl Jam’s decision to leave Epic and the major label system is significant for just the reason expressed in the article. When major acts leave one label for another it often makes the news, and for a major act to leave labels behind altogether is so rare as to be essentially unprecedented. Is this earth shattering? Of course not. But it is certainly unusual for a profitable group to go independant, especially when their label has been so supportive and tolerant of their projects. If Pearl Jam had been having problems with Epic, as Prince did with his labels, that would be a different (and less noteworthy) story.

Yes, they may have had that title from about 1993 to… '96? I’m not sure that qualifies them as the biggest band of the decade. As I said, they haven’t been anywhere near that kind of popularity in at least half a decade (Vs. came out in late '93).

No, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Just my opinion. I’m not sure that just surviving makes a band important either, though. They did indeed spawn their imitators - and I can’t think of any that weren’t awful either. I didn’t say they were unimportant either; but I think to be an important band you have to do SOMETHING new.

Anyway, I don’t mean to steer this off topic.

The last one was OK. “The Work” had kind of a “Sexy MF” feel, which is fantastic in my book. His musicianship and production skills are virtually without equal, but his newfound devotion to Christianity takes a lot of the fun out of it.

Put me in the camp of “they don’t need their label.” The Greatful Dead were just about the most profitable band of all time, and they did it by treating their fans with respect and putting on a great live show. What good did their label do them?

I can see your point, but if Pearl Jam wasn’t “the most popular and most important American rock band of the '90s” then who was? I’m sure there were plenty of more innovative bands performing and recording at the same time, but precious few ever approached Pearl Jam’s popularity. I don’t think they have much competition for the full title Olsen gave them. Ruling out '80s bands that continued to be successful into the '90s, the only serious contender I see is Nirvana (arguably a late '80s band, but their first major label release wasn’t until '91). And I personally have to give Pearl Jam the edge there if we’re thinking of the 1990s as a whole, since Nirvana disbanded with Kurt Cobain’s death before the decade had reached its halfway point.

Others may make the call differently. Olsen would have been making a less questionable claim if he’d said “one of the most popular and most important American rock bands of the '90s”, but that’s not as strong of an opening sentence. You’ve got to expect some rhetorical exaggeration from this sort of article.

I realize that we are talking about the carreer of a rock band here and not the cure to cancer, but the wording of this statement kind of peeves me. Forgive me if I have misunderstood you, but it comes across as “if they’re not popular anymore, it’s their own damn fault.”

A statement like this assumes two things:

  1. They liked being as popular as they were; and
  2. Having 2 million fans instead of 20 million fans somehow qualifies as being “forgotten.”

Pearl Jam confronted Ticketmaster because it was more important for them to play cheap accessible shows than to play large venues for big money. They backed away from their label because they didn’t feel the need to have massive, stressful distribution and 20 million fans as opposed to smaller, more comfortable distribution and 2 million fans.

They’ve chosen a life of less stress and a smaller audience. Hopefully they’ll enjoy it a lot more.

I’m afraid you have misunderstood me very badly indeed. The meaning I intended to have come across would have been something more akin to “If Pearl Jam is no longer as popular as they once were, it is because they willingly sacrificed some degree of popularity in order to follow their own path.”