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“I thought the music was good, but I thought it would be a big pain in the ass,” Becker reecalls. “That’s one I probably should have investigated more, maybe flew out, spent some time with the guy, got to know him, realized maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I pictured them both sitting on the couch doing drugs after I got off the phone, and shit, and I didn’t want to have that problem.”
There are other near-misses in Becker’s back pocket, too: Thrice, Newfound Glory, Hellogoodbye. He likes to say he passes on more good bands than he signs. But that’s part of the game.
“If we were really struggling, and we kept missing on a bunch of bands, I’d be like, ‘What’s wrong with me? I must have bad luck or no instincts,’” Becker says. “But luckily, we’ve had some successes, so I don’t worry about it.”
Those successes provide plenty to worry about, anyway. Becker has spent much of the past few years being courted by major labels looking to strike up long-term partnerships with Fearless. It’s only recently, though, that he felt confident a deal would be made in the near future.
Earlier this year, Becker signed a letter of intent with a major label, signaling an understanding that Fearless and the major would cement a joint-venture agreement by Dec. 15. Thanks to nondisclosure clauses, Becker can’t reveal the name of the major label nor what, exactly, the deal will entail. But he’s clear that certain things at Fearless won’t change.
“The key words we have heard are that [the major-label guys] want to let us do exactly what we’re doing and do it the same way we have been and that the only time they would get involved is when we’ve got the band to a point where the next thing we can add to it is going to radio,” Becker says. “Other than that, they’re not going to try to tell us how to run our business, who to sign, how much to pay for the bands, what employees to hire. I mean, we’ve been a successful company, and they’ve basically stated they don’t want to change that.”
Fearless would get to hold on to its most successful acts by offering them a chance to get nationwide radio play through the efforts of a major label’s radio-promotion department. It sounds alluring.
“There’s been some more and less successful partnering with majors, most of which have been less successful,” says Louis Posen, founder of Hopeless Records, the Van Nuys-based company that started a year before Fearless and has signed bands with a similar sound. He points to labels such as Ferret Records, Trustkill and Drive Thru. “They’re all great labels, great people, with agendas tied into their major-label partners. They’re all gone now. And they all did have a certain level of success at one point. There are all sorts of dynamics that aren’t there when you’re running an independent company.”
But Posen and Becker both point to the example of Fueled By Ramen—the Florida-based label that’s home to Panic At the Disco, Paramore and Gym Class Heroes and is now wholly owned by Atlantic Records—as an example of a pop-punk indie that did it the right way. Originally, Fueled By Ramen was a partner of its major label, and Becker envisions a similar arrangement for Fearless, he says.
“What they have going is that the band never really leaves Fueled By Ramen,” Becker says. “Once it’s developed and it’s at the point where it needs some bigger muscle, then the major label starts working it, but the band never really leaves.”
Beyond the business considerations, though, is image. Punk-rock purists may label Fearless as a sell-out for getting in bed with a major. But Becker doesn’t think that’s much of an issue anymore. “That’s kind of a weird thing: ‘Oh, they’re no longer an independent label,’” he says. “Not that kids care anymore. They don’t.”
You hear this kind of talk from Becker quite a bit. Would it have once been unthinkable for a “cool” band to license their songs for a car commercial? Sure, but when Phoenix did it for Cadillac last year, few batted an eye. So Fearless hired a full-time staffer a few months ago whose sole responsibility is setting up similar licensing deals for the label’s artists. Half-jokingly, Becker says how helpful it would be to get one of his bands placed on Jersey Shore.