NEW YORK (Billboard) - Rock acts Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and the Eagles have all thrived since leaving major labels. A fresh crop of well-known musicians may join them in 2009.
Here are a few of the higher-profile acts who appear poised to take the leap.
Beck’s decade-plus contract with Geffen was fulfilled in 2008 with the release of “Modern Guilt,” which entered the Billboard 200 at No. 4 in July but turned out to be his lowest-selling major-label album at 262,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It’s not hard to picture the iconoclastic artist going off on his own or perhaps returning to his roots and signing a deal with an indie like K Records. Beck told Spin magazine last fall that he might give up touring after his current round of dates and that he may “never make anything again that a major record company would want.” An e-mail to his publicist regarding his plans was not returned.
Few major-label artists in recent memory have released as much material in a concentrated period of time as Ryan Adams did with Lost Highway: nine albums and three EPs since 2001. But the recent “Cardinology” fulfills Adams’ deal with the label, and it seems abundantly clear he’s seeking an arrangement that would allow him to release music whenever inspiration strikes, as he often does on his blog. “As much as we’ve tried to accommodate him by putting out a lot of records, a major-label deal is probably a bit restrictive for Ryan,” Lost Highway chairman Luke Lewis told Billboard in October. “My sense is he’d be better served by being independent, and by that I mean totally independent.”
The veteran Seattle band didn’t re-up the album-by-album deal with J Records that it signed in 2004; its lone studio release for the label, a 2006 self-titled set, has sold 704,000 copies, nearly 200,000 more than its 2002 Epic swan song, “Riot Act.” Sources say Pearl Jam is likely to self-release its next studio album, due in summer 2009, in the United States and team with a major label for distribution elsewhere. The band, which has long sold its own authorized bootlegs online, has in the past inked one-time physical distribution deals for self-released DVDs and live albums. It still has strong ties with Epic, which will reissue the band’s seminal 1991 record “Ten” March 24.
Once derided as a dinosaur for its strong public opposition to Napster, Metallica would now be considered a little more forward-thinking in its older years. The band’s contract with Warner Bros. ended with the September release of “Death Magnetic,” which topped the Billboard 200 for three weeks and has sold 1.6 million copies. In a recent interview, drummer Lars Ulrich hinted that the band might do things itself, adding, “It’s just exciting to be able to communicate directly with your fans.” Warner Bros. and Metallica offered no comment on the matter.
The superstar rapper’s empire goes way beyond music, with an apparel line, video games, a Vitamin Water deal and the branded online social network and content platform ThisIs50.com battling for time with his recording career. His last album, 2007’s “Curtis,” has sold 1.4 million copies — a respectable number, but a drop in the bucket compared with the 12 million his two previous efforts sold combined. “Before I Self Destruct,” due in February, fulfills his contract with Universal Music-owned Interscope. A source at Universal says 50 remains a global priority for the company. The artist told Billboard that he plans to “free himself up as an agent” after the release of his new album.