OK, so you are a “sold” punk rock. Now what?

“There are stories of kids sitting on the floor playing their majors songs, kids turning their backs on them. They got spit on a lot,” Ozzi says.

It didn’t matter that their only release on a major, the years 1995 Very expensive, was the hardest the group had pushed themselves. Or that this was instrumental in the formation of what we know today as emo. The kids just weren’t buying and the group eventually broke up.

It’s easy to get the credibility of never selling if no one is buying. But when you are really faced with this decision? “It made you think a lot about yourself as an artist,” Tim McIlrath said in an interview with NPR. McIlrath is the singer and guitarist for the band Rise Against.

He found reading and participating in Ozzi’s book enlightening because the groups that went through it didn’t talk to each other about that sort of thing. “Maybe it was a combination of people who were either embarrassed to talk about it or still dealing with what they thought about it.”

And each group had a slightly different experience. Some, like all-girl group The Donnas, had label reps trying to micromanage and change their image.

“They had some A&R guy say, ‘Yeah, you’re awesome. What we’re going to make you do is drop the instruments so you can sing and dance,’” Ozzi said. Which was a problem because they couldn’t dance. But also, why change now? Being who they are has made them successful.

But the image Ozzi paints in the book is not as binary as the righteous independent label versus the evil and greedy big labels. He interviews various people from corporate entities who came from the punk scene and really, really wanted the best for bands. And there are also, of course, shady actors from independent labels. “There are people who do not seek to defend your interests on either side,” he says.

Each art form deals with some variation of this question: what concessions are you willing to make for more eyeballs, more opportunities, and more money. But money has always been a particularly sensitive topic for punk bands at all levels.

About Joan J. Hernandez

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