We first heard Conner Youngblood back in 2010 with “A Summer Song” and “Monsters.” Since then, he’s released a handful of tracks and a couple longer projects, but with his two recent songs, he shared the information that a label deal he’s been working on since mid-2013 fell through. “Now I guess I need to get back to putting shit out,” he explains in an email. “Kinda sucks, kinda whatever.”
As an independent artist who sings, produces, plays all the instruments on his songs, promotes his own music, and makes the art for his releases, it’s clear that he’s been pretty self-sufficient, but when labels started showing interest it looked like he was on the path to having some serious support. ”For me the biggest thing was the larger audience I thought I’d be able to reach,” Conner explains when asked why he wanted to sign with a label. “Money was obviously was a nice incentive, but it wasn’t about that, and there wasn’t much of that anyway. I thought the credibility of the label would have helped me finally crack into the bigger picture.”
Labels have been reaching out, both major and indie. But don’t be fooled, this is all usually a bunch of talk, awkward meetings, and free lunches.
Labels, both major and indie, started reaching out after Conner’s first releases gained traction on The Hype Machine. “But don’t be fooled, this is all usually a bunch of talk, awkward meetings, and free lunches,” Conner explains. “This most recent and most serious one was an indie label that reached out to me back in March during SXSW.”
The interested label had already seen Conner play live and heard all his previously released music, but the next move was still to be determined. Conner and the label exchanged emails, spent some time on the phone, and dove into new music. The label was convinced, or at least interested enough to travel down to Dallas, where Conner lives, to spend some time with him and talk business. “After meeting in person and playing a show for them while they were town, we shook hands and got to working on the paperwork. It all moved along really naturally.”
Conner and the label started working toward the next releases. “For the most part we agreed on which songs were good and which songs were not. I’m my biggest critic, and I know when one of my songs sucks—so they pretty much let me choose the track listings and direction of the proposed projects. In a few cases they liked songs of mine that I didn’t think too highly of. One thing they did help me out with was getting my live show together and trying to help me on my ‘image.’ I was previously playing with a band live and they thought it took away from the fact that I produced all of the music on my own. They wanted people to think of me as a producer, not a dude with a guitar. The solo shows worked out pretty well. No laptops on stage was the only rule.”
From that point, things started to fall apart. All of a sudden it was taking weeks to get a reply, and nobody at the label seemed to be in agreement. Paperwork went back and forth. “I remember on the second edit we had sent them a bunch of revisions and notes—a lot of hours and thought went into it—and they just replied with the exact copy of the first draft again with one little line crossed out. There were a few other sketchy exchanges, but it honestly just didn’t seem like it was going to work out from the first time my manager saw the actual contract. A big moment I thought was odd was when I was scheduled to headline a show put on by the label, then a couple of days before the show they shifted me to open for a different band.”
Now Conner is back to square one, releasing music himself. He’s not turned off by working with labels in the future, but it has to be the right one. “Right now it feels like breaking up with a girlfriend or having an engagement called off,” he says. “I’ve never been engaged, but I’ve seen enough chick flicks to know what’s up. So if another hot chick comes by, and just so happens to be totally perfect and quality marriage material, I’ll consider it. Obviously labels are the chicks in this relationship.”
His first experience with labels wasn’t ideal, but he learned a lot, and he’s got some words of advice:
“For people trying to get noticed, just make good music, work hard to push it, and realize that labels will take notice. If you truly believe in your music, there is no need to rush anything or settle for a deal you don’t necessarily agree with. While the name of the label might mean a lot to you, its mostly about how well you get along with the people working there and how much you trust them. Plus, remember that 96% of fans don’t give a shit what the name of the label is. Reputation is important, but make sure it’s the best situation for you personally. With that being said, if your music is awful and a label offers you a lot of money, don’t push your luck.”
The Internet is a powerful tool, and an independent artist has just as much access to it as any label executive.
“It is definitely possible now more than ever to do it all by yourself,” he adds, “which is extremely motivating. The Internet is a powerful tool, and an independent artist has just as much access to it as any label executive. Radio is another story, but there are other ways independent artists can get themselves heard. And while its cool to hear a story like Macklemore, you have to keep in mind that a Macklemore happens once every 20 years. The hope is that’s the direction things are starting to shift.”