The DIY, unsigned grind is fierce. As an artist in this world, you’re the visionary, the creator. You’re the booking agent. You’re the publicist. You’re the accountant, merch guy, gear tech, driver. You play all the roles, and then some, as a liaison to other bands either in the scene or swinging through on tour.
You run the grind, gaining fans, gaining a reputation, gaining industry eyes on you, all in hopes that you’ll break that glass ceiling to sign a contract with a label. But, even when you make the jump to a label, the lifespan of a signed artist in the pop-punk genre is rarely sustained. Being a band in this genre has led us, Gold Steps, to a lot of reality checks, and one of them is understanding that getting on a solid label is hard, and resigning isn’t a guarantee–for anyone. But in a new age of online distribution, where singles seem to supersede LPs and your social media presence is evermore important to connecting with fans…does a band need a label to be successful?
Gold Steps had the awesome experience of supporting Forever Came Calling on the Texas run of their Retro Future tour earlier this year; the national tour was their return to the scene after a few years of absence. After watching the independent release of Retro Future land a respectable performance on the Billboard charts, it gave us a new perspective on what success can look like as a DIY band. First, a bit of background:
The band, which started out as a Senses Fail/Taking Back Sunday cover band (seriously), gained a following through self-releasing an EP and appearing in the documentary No Room For Rockstars. After signing with Pure Noise Records, the band released two albums, the second charting on the Billboard 200 in 2014. The future was looking bright, but then took an unexpected turn. Vocalist Joe Candelaria’s mother suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2015, and he returned home to care for her.
Fast forward to 2017, Forever Came Calling was ready to hit the studio again–but this time, they did it on their own terms. They had already fulfilled their contract with Pure Noise, and chose to self-release instead of jumping on another offer. Another Pure Noise alum, Nick Thompson of Hit The Lights, co-produced the EP with Rick King of King Sound Studios. The five-some worked tirelessly for two weeks to bring Retro Future to life.
One of the great points we’ve taken away from FCC and our shared experience with King Sound is how refreshing it is to be able to take the time needed to make music the way you want to. The only expectations come from within, and that can be very freeing for a band. You remember why you all play music together, why you chose this path. You choose when the mix is complete, when it’s finally ready to be heard by outside ears.
In our conversations with FCC during our dates together, Joe was very candid about how much work went into Retro Future. From the writing and recording, to launching a publicity campaign, to the arduous task of securing presale orders. Beyond the physical labor, there’s also the anxiety of anticipation and expectations. It’s daunting to enter the realm again after a hiatus–would the fans still be there? Would they like the music, or even care?
Not only did they care, they rushed in with support, and brought a good number of new fans with them. Retro Future charted at #5 on Billboard for New Alternative Artist, and #11 for Heatseekers. The singles and album artwork bounced around my social feeds daily, and our band discussed how much traffic each post got. We took note of how people enthusiastically expressed how much they dug the riffs on “Kansas City” or echoed the connection they felt to “Wish” and its bittersweetly romantic lyrics. We remarked on how deeply the songs touched us and others, and hoped that our music will someday do the same.
On tour, the audiences we were met with held the band in high regard—their heroes were back, on the stage where they belonged. They sang the words as though each line was theirs, and FCC surged to meet their energy, even bringing a whole group onstage in Dallas to sing. The mood in the room was what every fledgling band aspires to, a whirlwind of emotion and movement til the last note faded out. Sweat-soaked and hoarse, fans left with excited chatter about the new record, and hopeful guesses as to when the band would return next.
Gold Steps left our short run with FCC amped up for what is possible for us, an unsigned band striving to grow our audience and stay true to our music and message. We were energized by their dedicated fanbase, who waited years for new music, and turned out as though the band never skipped a beat. That’s a goal any band yearns to achieve.
Is it easy to be independent and successful? No. Is it impossible? Not at all. If there’s anything we learned from Forever Came Calling, it’s that if you’re prepared to dig your heels in, focus on what your fans resonate with and give it everything you’ve got, the future can be pretty bright—even if you’re DIY.
Forever Came Calling released Retro Future earlier this year. To hear that record, or any previous releases from the band, click here.
You can hear more from our authors, Gold Steps, by clicking here.
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