How we turned 1,000 fans into 100,000 by actually giving a shit…

Reflecting on a decade in the music industry, life, and what really matters most.

The Maine from 8123 Fest (Photo by Lupe Bustos)
“It’s about a number you can’t really explain but you don’t really have to, because the people you love already feel it too”

This week our sixth studio album “Lovely Little Lonely” will be released. As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m doing my best to reflect on the past 10 years of not only being in this band but also being in the ever-changing climate of the music industry. We started back in 2007 thanks to a handful of songs recorded on a budget and MySpace. At the time, half of us were too young to even go on tour (still finishing high school). Our plan was to release music and attempt to interact with the people who were following us online. Right out of the gate, we started to realize how important those first hundred people were. Simply acknowledging other human beings on the internet clearly held some sort of power and we ran with it. It became so important to us, we began spending hours every day just responding to fans online, making sure they knew we heard their praise or criticism. It became the thing we have built our entire career on. I can remember how it felt to watch as bands could no longer be mysterious. The idea of a “rock star” with crazy stories was long dead. The contact between fan and band had become a two-way street. It’s for this reason that we’re sitting here outside a sold out show in Seattle 10 years later without so much as a late-night TV performance or a hit song on the radio. What we DO have, however, is an entire family of supporters that we call 8123.

Once things picked up and we signed our first record deal with Fearless Records, we began to have some luck with getting in front of bigger crowds. The first big tour we ever did, we were the opening band for Boys Like Girls and Good Charlotte. Even then, when it seemed fairly daunting, we would wait for the show to end and head out into the bustle of the emptying auditorium to meet as many new faces as we possibly could. Things were looking great and word was spreading about our new little band. We kept this up for every tour no matter how big or small, always taking the time to walk outside after a show and meet as many people as possible to say thank you.

The next big step for us was in 2010 when we signed to Warner Bros. Records. We quickly found out that we did not align with their ideas on any level. Within a few months, the entire team we had met when we signed had disappeared almost out of thin air. We felt a calling. We felt a duty to our fans to stay true to what had brought us so far in the first place. The plan was to record the next album without notifying anyone at the label. It was our hope that in the best case scenario, the label would like the album and release it. The worst case scenario, and one we were all bracing for, was if they didn’t like the new stuff. They didn’t like the new stuff. This was a problem for us because contrary to what they thought, we actually were fully behind the songs that we had just finished. So this led us to a decision. From that moment forward we would fight as hard as we could to not only release Pioneer on 8123, but to finally end our contract with Warner Bros. and operate independently through 8123. Since then we have released 4 albums independently, and we have had complete control over every aspect of our band. We don’t consider ourselves a part of the music industry and we tend to stay in our bubble, only caring about what we want to do, and including our fans as much as possible.

Of all the creative and off-the-wall concepts we have brought to life as an independent band, one that really stands out was our 2015 “Free For All” tour. We played free concerts across North America as a thank you to fans for coming to so many shows over the years. We had grown tired of seeing other bands charge their fans for meaningless photos or meet and greets instead of adapting to the state of the industry. These bands who have stayed behind the curve struggle to make money, and as a result end up passing those costs onto their loyal fanbase with pay-to-win schemes like VIP packages and signings. It is our belief that if you like our music and support us by buying a shirt or coming to a show, you should at least have the same chance as everyone else at meeting us or getting a signature. At the core of this band, we understand that without the support we see from our fans, no matter the level of dedication, we would never be able to keep giving them unique experiences like a free tour.

Another invaluable thing we’ve learned along the way is to never underestimate our fans. At times, I’ve wondered if people are going to understand the message we are trying to convey with a song or a video or even something as simple as a tweet. Time after time, I have learned that this community we have created will be there for us through thick and thin. If you go back in time and listen to our first record all the way up to where we are now, it is no secret that we stretched ourselves in every direction. Our band went through an extensive exploration period after we left Warner Brothers. We had so much creative freedom, and we started making the music we felt like making. Through all of those twists and turns, however, our fans kept showing up. They kept buying albums, kept interacting online, kept growing the 8123 family, and most importantly, they kept listening. This helped us discover who we truly are as a band.

So as I sit here in Seattle watching the line of fans filter into the venue, I think about who our fans are as individual people. Some of them are young, some old. Some have moved onto the next thing, and might throw our older records on to remember a specific time in their life. Some are still fighting the good fight with us every day. Every fan has their own story. How they discovered us, how we made them feel, what our band means to them. I think about our new album, “Lovely Little Lonely” and what it means to me, and how it will no longer just be mine in two days when it makes its way out into the world. I think about how the 8123 family will listen to it in their cars, on their way to school, on the subway, on their phones, maybe on their record player. I’m reminded of something we did recently for some unsuspecting fans in Phoenix. If we were a traditional band, we might have sent these fans a special box set or a signed poster or something simple like that. Not our band. We stuck with what has always worked for us. We thought outside the box, and ultimately ended up in a box, or a box truck, that is. We drove to these fans’ houses with a fully-loaded box truck and surprised them with a live, full-band performance of our single “Bad Behavior”.

Our new album Lovely Little Lonely is available worldwide April 7th 2017 via 8123. www.81–