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Switchfoot Goes Independent

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Some big news on the Switchfoot MySpace blog. Sony Records and Switchfoot have parted ways and now Switchfoot will go independent. It was also mentioned that a new Switchfoot album will come out in 2008 in support of this new venture. Furthermore, Jon Foreman, lead singer of Switchfoot will release his solo music and the music he makes with Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek (under the name The Real Sean Jon) on this new indie music venture.

Switchfoot, based in San Diego, was first signed to an indie label called re:think, back in 1997. The re:think label was run by Charlie Peacock and was for artists who were Christian but didn't want to be marketed just to Christians. The goal being to allow Christian artists to not be limited to selling their albums just at Christian bookstores. Soon after, the re:think label was bought out by Christian label giant Sparrow Records, even though the name re:think remained. Switchfoot's debut album, The Legend of Chin was released in Spring 1997 and they began making the Christian tour circuit. Chin had very modest sales but through relentless touring the band began building a dedicated fan base.

In 1999 Switchfoot released New Way To Be Human on the re:think/Sparrow label. This album was a bit different than "Chin" as it seemed to be a bit more in-your-face about Christianity. It contains some amazing songs from the guitar-driven title-song ("New Way To Be Human") to the call to fight loneliness and finding contentment in "Let That Be Enough". This album started to push Switchfoot up the Christian music totem poll and the follow-up in 2000 called Learning to Breathe solidified them as a popular Christian band. The desire of the band was still to be heard outside just the Christian realm but that was with limited success.

Somehow some of Switchfoot's music was heard by a few people inside the music and television industries and their songs were beginning to be placed in some of the teen angst shows and were in the movie A Walk To Remember. This led Sony Music to take notice. The original re:think/Sparrow record deal was for 3 albums. Switchfoot had already begun working on their forth album, The Beautiful Letdown, without a record deal. I distinctly remember this time (May 2002) as I'd spoken to the band just as they'd finished up recording the album and were going to release it soon after (September 2002). A couple of months later Sony signed the band and immediately delayed the album for extra re-mixing and marketing. The album was finally released in February 2003 and made the Billboard Top 100 Albums  the first week.

A couple of months before the release of The Beautiful Letdown they released a single called "Meant To Live". They even gave it away for free for Christmas in 2002 as an MP3 on their web site. They'd recorded a live video at The Roxy in Hollywood but it hardly got played at all. Once the album was released they began two years of marathon touring to support the album. In the summer of 2003 "Meant To Live" started getting some air play. Switchfoot then did a concept video for the song and it started getting played on Fuse, VH1 and made it onto MTV in the fall of 2003. The song was able to get the album back into the Billboard Top 100 Albums. The follow-up single, "Dare You To Move" helped The Beautiful Letdown top out at number 16 on the Billboard Top 100 Albums. At the end of two years the band went on four full tours and sold over 2.5 million copies of The Beautiful Letdown.

As they toured in 2004 they started writing and recording songs for the follow-up album. During this time Switchfoot began undergoing some criticism from Christian circles that they'd sold out to Sony and weren't up front about their faith. The new album, Nothing Is Sound was released in September of 2005 and more criticism came. The album had a lot of darkness to it focusing on issues such as loneliness, contentment and worthiness. This was not a "Jesus Loves Me This I Know" type of album but it was fantastic.  Something else occurred during the making of this album, Sony went and added a bunch of Digital Rights Management (DRM) to the CDs to try and prevent piracy. Although the album debuted at number 3 on the Billboard Album charts it quickly stalled out. A lot of folks blamed the band for the DRM issues but it wasn't their fault. The album did not live up to expectations and only sold a little over 500,000 and I believe this is when Sony started to sour on Switchfoot.

The follow-up to Nothing Is Sound was Oh! Gravity. which was released in September 2006. The album debuted at number 18 on the album charts but soon fell off the map. I've been privately speculating that Sony would drop Switchfoot at this point. I don't believe Sony knew what to do with a band made up of five guys who are happily married, live clean and want to live for something more than money and fame.

Now we have the announcement that multi-platinum artists, Switchfoot is starting their own indie music venture.  I've read that Charlie Peacock (the re:think guy) has been working with Switchfoot and I believe he's going to be involved in this new effort. Both the band and Peacock have learned some hard lessons lately so they should be able to take their knowledge and do something interesting.

I'm hopeful that this new effort will allow Switchfoot and other artists to have more freedom to create without being dictated to, by record companies. Some of the singles that Switchfoot have released didn't make sense for alternative radio and I put that at the feet of Sony. Now they can release what they want and when they want. Don't be surprised if these guys figure out a new paradigm for marketing and selling music. The record companies have truly lost their way and it's up to the artists now.

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  • Mike

    I don’s get it, did Switchfoot leave Sony or did they get dropped? The announcement on their site kinda makes it sound like they left on their own, but common sense would say they got dropped, since bands rarely walk away from a major label and their lousy sales since The Beautiful Letdown would certainly warrent it from Sony’s point of view.

    Good post, by the way. This is the first time I’ve checked out this site and I’ll probably be back now.

  • Mike is right, this is an excellent post.

    You made the comment “This was not a “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” type of album but it was fantastic.” Perfectly said. I know that the majority seem to prefer “Beautiful Letdown”, but for me, I can’t get enough of either of them. In fact, I don’t think I could put an order of preference on their CDs.

    They have a very loyal fan base, (not in small part because they are loyal to fans) and I think they will do well.

  • Emily

    I think it was a mutual agreement between Switchfoot and Sony in cutting ties.

    “The record companies have truly lost their way and it’s up to the artists now.” How true and unfortunate it is! You’re right.

    You know, Switchfoot will do great without Sony controlling them, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future.

    Thanks for your post, loved it.

  • Anonymous

    “I don’t believe Sony knew what to do with a band made up of five guys who are happily married, live clean and want to live for something more than money and fame.”

    Perfectly said. That was a great article. I am personally very glad that Switchfoot left Sony, and I think they’ll be making much better music on their own. But I’m still curious as to whether Switchfoot left Sony, Sony dropped Switchfoot, or they both just agreed on it.

  • Tim

    The author here, it turns out I got a fact wrong. Oh! Gravity was released in December 2006 not September. Brain freeze!

  • krys

    switchfoot i believe are ones who left sony. thats at least what i gather from reading jon’s blog about it. he mentioned something about how they had been trying to make it work for a while but sony had a different vision for the band than they did. i really think this will be great for them. in my opinion they always seemed way too restricted on sony. i can’t wait to see what comes next from these guys now that they are in complete control.

  • cleveland

    jon’s solo albums are amazing. i think the freedom that comes with turning indie is only going to help the band — maybe not in sales, but in the quality and sincerity of their music…which is great motivation for loyal fans like me to go out and buy everything they release.