Why While She Sleeps decided to ditch their record label
Talking to While She Sleeps' frontman Loz Taylor about the band's decision to go it alone and not look back
Being a band isn’t easy these days. The speed and ubiquity of the internet means musicians need to fight twice as hard to be noticed, and even when the fanbase is out there, there’s the issue of making a profit. When labels have taken their cut, how much is really left over for the band? And could things work better without the middlemen?
That’s a question While She Sleeps are trying to answer by ditching their label (Sony Music) and going solo. Some people might see it as a foolhardy decision; getting a record deal isn’t easy, especially one with a major label, and While She Sleeps have decided to cast away that safety net. Shortly after the band revealed new song Civil Isolation, they announced their third album would be entirely funded through PledgeMusic, and at the time of publishing, they’ve raised 73% of their target amount. So we decided to give vocalist Loz Taylor a call to find out what inspired the decision.
What made you come to the decision to go solo? Was it one event or a collection of things you were unhappy with?
"It’s a collection of little bits and bobs really. With going independent, we’re not saying don’t sign to labels, because for a lot of bands, labels are brilliant. Just from personal experience, we’d had a bit of a hard time, we’d had stuff scheduled, and when you work so hard on something and it doesn’t go to plan with major labels, it gets you down a bit. We’re very DIY and independent anyway and when stuff does go awry, you start asking questions. So there was a bit of that, but I think it’s the way the music industry needs to go for bands to sustain being a band. There’s so much money taken away from bands when you owe people percentages for what they do for you. When we played our first ever show in Sheffield we had demos on the table, and that money went to the band and enabled us to carry on. So I think that’s a bit of the ethic we’ve taken on here. We want to do it straight from us with no else involved, and give the fans what they want from the band. Fans are helping us out by pledging and wanting new music and supporting us directly, and when that happens we get to work on a project we’re really proud of. We’re feeling really positive.”
How did your label react when you told them you wanted to leave?
“To be honest, they were probably a bit gutted but I don’t think it was that much of a big deal. We were signed to Sony, and they’re a massive company, and we’re not fucking Justin Bieber! In terms of the Sony world, we’re a DIY band from Sheffield and they’re dealing with really big artists, so I don’t think it mattered to them too much in that respect. I think they understood our DIY ethic and we broke it off quite cleanly. I think they’re alright about it. By then we already had our head and our hearts set on how we wanted to move forward. We had a lot of discussions about how major labels can help bands and what we’d struggle with if we went out by ourselves, but in the end it made so much sense.”
What do you think you can do better without a label?
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the last year building a warehouse down in Sheffield, and that gave us a much more creative space. It’s like too many cooks in the kitchen [with a label] and things get lost in translation. You’re dealing with 15 people on an email chain when you want to drop your newest song. The main thing for us is taking back that power, and we can achieve these things as a DIY, punk-rock ethic band.”
What have the reactions from fans been like?
“It’s been amazing. The support’s been really good. We haven’t got around to opening the pledge up to the rest of the world yet, there are a few bits and bobs we need to sort out, but the response from the UK fanbase has been really strong. We’re already well over halfway with our pledge and it’s only been two weeks. That’s another thing when you do something like that, it’s a real gauge of who cares about your band. There’s obviously a bit of doubt sometimes about who cares about While She Sleeps, but the pledges show people do care.”
Tell us about the warehouse you’ve been building for the past year.
“We do all the artwork ourselves, and a lot of other stuff for the band, so the warehouse gives us that creative space to do that. If we want to make a piece of art for an album cover, we’ve got the space to do it. It’s the ultimate man cave, we’ve got five dudes with motorbikes chilling in a warehouse. When you get to the warehouse, it feels like we’re there for a purpose. It’s right in the centre of Sheffield, and they have a lot of parties nearby which is cool.”
Are you having to inject your own money into this project?
“Yeah, definitely. But the money we earn from the band always turns over itself. We always put everything we get from the fans back into making While She Sleeps things. It’s been a long, steady process with a bit of money laundering here and there… I’m joking! A lot of stuff in the warehouse is reclaimed; wood and brick and those kind of things. So it has been pretty cheap to build. I like the fact that our fans are looking at what we’re doing and seeing what we’ve achieved. We’ve learned a lot – before that we hadn’t laid breezeblocks or built rooms or done plumbing or joinery. It’s nice to get a bit of creative control over the place and express ourselves inside a hub that we own, because we haven’t had that before.”
Is there anything you’re having to do that’s surprised you?
“For me personally, I didn’t think a lot of the stuff would be so easy to get hold of. For example the necklaces we’re making that are on the pledge are made out of plectrums that the guys have used on the guitars for the album, and weird little things like that that we can utilise. People are really stoked to have it. That’s really cool, and it was a bit unexpected for me how simple it is. Another thing people can do when they pledge is have their name put on one of the bricks in the warehouse, and I think it’ll be really nice for the band to sit down when the new album’s done and look at all the names around our warehouse that have helped us create what’s a special album for us.”
What have PledgeMusic been like and what have they done to support you?
“It’s been great working with Pledge. They’ve not put any stamp on us that says ‘you have to do things this way’. They’ve been really open and helpful in getting the campaign up and running, and open to new ideas.”
What most frustrates you about the current state of the rock music industry that you think you can bypass by being independent?
“The thing for us is that it’s difficult for every band now. Again, this is in no way slagging stuff off, I have Spotify – but people are just less inclined to buy albums because of the internet and illegal downloads. I think it’s caused a lot of bands to break up and get crushed under the stress of ‘where are we going to go from here, what’s the future of our band?’ The main thing for us is to try and not let that defeat us, and with the Pledge campaign we’re coming up with new ways of going direct to the fans. We’ll always come back fighting. With the internet being so huge, it’s difficult for bands to see a future when there are so many other bands out there at the click of a button. It’s so easy for bands to get noticed now that it does get tough. A lot of bands are reiterating what I’m saying here and probably feel the same way, but if you support a band, support them properly. The Pledge campaign has shown people do care about our band, and that’s a great feeling.”