Glen Phillips has seen the music world through a prism that has broken down the industry into a vast rainbow of colors of confusion. He helped found Toad The Wet Sprocket at age 14 while still in high school and the band was signed by Columbia Records by the time he was 18. More than a dozen years later, he was a solo artist and was on his own creatively and professionally. As a solo artist, he's worked with labels and independently with distribution. He's seen a lot during these changing times in the music industry and the business aspect has been a frustration.
"I finally just realized it doesn't make sense," said Phillips, about the business of music. "Abulum I recorded independently and then it came out on Brick Red records which then got almost immediately re-absorbed into Gold Circle Entertainment and that was just a fiasco. Mr. Lemons came out independently but with distribution through Fontana and Highwire."
In between Abulum and Mr. Lemons, Phillips released Winter Pays for Summer through the Lost Highway label.
"The business doesn't make a lot of sense to me and for awhile I was upset about that enough that I think I let it color my appreciation of music," he said. "I took it very personally. I'm kind of prone to depression and prone to anxiety so I managed to take it way, way, way too personally."
Phillips is now working primarily as a one-man operation, with help from a publicist and booking agent. The rest is more or less up to him, and that makes getting music like his new EP Secrets of the New Explorers in the hands of fans and expanding his audience challenging.
"At the size I'm at and the amount of money it takes to get above the noise floor these days, it takes either a lot of savvy, a lot of elbow grease on things that aren't music making, or a lot of luck or a combination of all of them," he said. "For many successful things it's a combination of all of them. "
If it sounds like Phillips is bitter, he's not.
"In the last year or so, I've made a pretty intense effort to stop worrying about it altogether," he said. "I can't afford to let it ruin music for me so I've mostly been making steps to enjoy music again and let the business be the business."
He is also buoyed by an independent music scene that is thriving, creatively.
"There's so many people making really interesting albums," he said. "Indie music has never been better. It's never been easier to find. There's a ton of great stuff out there and I think people are finding more and more diverse artists and they're priding themselves on the diversity of their tastes and are really searching for music. The primary orifices of exposure have changed. The big magazines, some of them are shutting down. MTV stopped playing music a decade ago, and radio isn't really a place to find new music. People are going to non-commercial radio stations, satellite radio, going heavily to the internet."
The changing business models have had a wide-ranging impact on fans, labels, artists, and would-be artists. The next generation of musicians will enter a world much different than when he started out.
"I think of a young musician growing up right now," he said. "The tools have been democratized. Anyone can make a record right now. You don't need special access. You still need some talent, but you don't need special access to the tools. Now that's been democratized."
All this democracy and the changing models might make it more difficult to become that "Next Big Thing," but Phillips doesn't see that as such a bad thing.
"There are more musicians making a modest living than their have been in a very long time and less musicians making it really big and I think that's absolutely fine," he said. "All that means is there's more exciting, good music out there.
"The filters are gone. It's what the record companies used to be. There were particular labels, whether it was Sub Pop or 4AD or Stax that you kind of count on. There was a thing that they did. It's often genre labels. That's worked out very well. Labels still will have some significance in that world and a few of the things affiliated with majors still have that- Nonesuch you know is going to be interesting and challenging. There are labels that can achieve that. Lost Highway has that as well."
While there are still a few labels that are offering up special records by artists that share a common bond, he sees himself stylistically in the company of some musicians who exist on the edge of a lot of radars because there isn't an easy label to describe their place on the musical landscape.
"There are genres of music — some of which don't have name — there's this genre that runs from Aimee Mann to Grant Lee Phillips to David Meade to Neil Finn through me that's like it's singer/songwriter or — Sam Phillips, you can throw her in there — it's certainly more, let's say, more Beatles than Rolling Stones and more Paul Simon than Bob Dylan," he said. "These are individual writers who aren't a part of any other genre movement, who don't have a name or a central hub by which you can find them. If people can find places to find this stuff, there's still people hungry for music that means something to them in whatever genre.
"Singer/songwriters, perhaps because we were part of the pop scene for so long, we haven't found those distinctions or they haven't been found by an audience on our behalf so we haven't really benefited from that kind of collective marketing."
With no pre-made genre to gently fit in, Phillips continues to make his own way in the indie music scene. His new EP, Secrets of the New Explorers, is available through his web site as a digital download in MP3 and FLAC Lossless formats as well as on conventional CD. He's also giving independent artists around the world a chance to collaborate with him, in a sense. Phillips has joined other artists such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails in allowing fans to try their hand as remix artists, making studio tracks from his song "The Spirit Of Shackleton" available to anyone with the ambition to give it a try.
This article is part of BC Magazine’s feature on Glen Phillips. Check out the whole series. Phillips was interviewed on The B-Sides Concept Album program on BlogTalkRadio. You can also hear the interview in its entirety by following this link to the BSCA.