About two weeks ago, Trent Reznor announced that his project How To Destroy Angels had signed a major label deal with Columbia. I was particularly surprised by this move, as Reznor was probably the most outspoken dissenter of labels at the time he left Interscope in 2007. Along with Radiohead, but arguably more successfully, Reznor released an incredible online model so that, as an artist, he could be self-sufficient. So, after that success, why was he back on a major? For the buzz? Even if you weren’t Trent Reznor, you could do well on a large independent, and I think a large indie like XL would have made the most sense. Is it for the money? Ostensibly, Trent Reznor has no need for extra cash. He’s an Oscar winner, a major recording artist who had a major hand in greatly revolutionizing the music industry. It’s not like he needs the label to pay for studio time; he already owns a studio. So what’s the reasoning then? He’s yet to divulge many details, but he’s mentioned that he’s excited to work with his close friend Mark Williams. That detail, I believe is crucial to why I think this was a short-sighted move.
It’s a tale as old as the industry. Band signs to label to work with friend/relative/someone who believes in them. They release an album. It charts or it doesn’t. That doesn’t really matter. After a year or so, the ownership/creative director/whatever changes and then the bands are jettisoned from the label or put in purgatory to rot while the next glitter vomit project reproduces asexually. Ownership changes very often at record labels. In September, for instance, Universal took over EMI in an effort to control what consumers are buying. Control changes constantly and should be regarded as such.
I bet this is what happened to Death Grips. L.A. Reid is still heavily involved with Epic sure, but his focus has probably changed. After all, Death Grips’ The Money Store only spent a week on the charts at the 130 spot. I doubt that’s considered satisfactory, despite the fact that the album, and very possibly NO LOVE DEEP WEB, will top year-end lists. I applaud L.A. Reid and Epic for taking a chance with the infinitely fucked-up M.C. Ride and co., but both the artists and the management lacked the foresight to prepare for what would happen. Of course The Money Store wouldn’t chart. Why would an electronic rap group with roots in hardcore and a front man with crippling paranoia do anything but alienate the masses with their abrasive and confrontational music? I applaud even louder for Death Grips leaking their album to piss off Epic. Death Grips aren’t ones to fuck with and they made the right move in this case. They made the wrong move in signing to a major though. I can’t imagine NO LOVE DEEP WEB will ever see the physical light of day, except perhaps for a bootleg cassette or something. Epic will retaliate with legal fury, and this very well may be the last thing that Death Grips ever releases. At the time of writing this article, Epic has already taken down Death Grips' website.
For Reznor though, this tale has yet to be retold. How To Destroy Angels is hardly music for the masses; the label certainly signed him for the weight his name brings. So when their initial EP fails to chart and then their LP fails to chart, we will once again be reading a long-winded rant directed at Columbia, as Reznor attempts to buy his way out of the deal. Reznor is one of the most powerful artists in the field right now. He may not have released a hard-hitting album since With Teeth, but he won a fucking Oscar in the interim. He knows what he’s doing, I’m sure, but I just can’t imagine that the Columbia deal with result in anything different than what has happened before.
And so, history repeats.