Should bands combine their album release and farewell shows? The Quelle Source (and others) are doing it.

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quellesourceI’m going to go on record and say this recent trend of the combination album release party / farewell show is bumming me out. And not just because bands I enjoy are parting ways.

To recap some incidences from the past month, just in Philly’s indie rock sphere – Arrah and the Ferns played their “indefinite hiatus” show on May 24th while simultaneously rolling out their latest LP Make Your Mind. Catnaps said goodbye on June 19th, just a few days after their Forget About It EP showed up on Bandcamp. And now The Quelle Source – who we know from last summer’s very fun music video for “The French Rapture” and eight or so years of gigs and recordings – announced their album release show for the new Send Out the Creatures (August 2nd at MilkBoy) with the caveat that it doubles as their final show.

On the one hand, I can absolutely understand why artists do this. Making a record is a long, labor-intensive (and, depending on what studio you’re using, potentially expensive) process. A lot can change from beginning to end, and sometimes along the way, a band realizes for a variety of reasons that it is no longer able to continue being a band. So what does it do with the music it just invested all this time, money and energy in making: let it disappear unheard into the ether, or make a final push to get it out in the world? So on that level, the trend makes sense. But it also feels alarmingly defeatist.

There’s a taste of the album in question, by the way. A spunky slice of bookish indie rock from The Quelle Source called “Hot Metal Coverage,” a free download leading up to the album release. Like most of the band’s output, it’s toe-tappingly catchy and enjoyable. Probably not a song that’s going to move massive units without a lot of upfront investment in the public relations machine – an unfortunate reality in the post-physical music world – but something that, coupled with a high-energy live show, at least reinforces The Quelle Source’s rep as a fun Philly band.

Not that money is the primary motivation for their split. The reason given in their announcement is that “co-songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Kevin Ryan will relocate to San Francisco at the end of August, and the group refuses to carry on without him. ‘We started this band together,’ Wisniewski explains. ‘It’s not The Quelle Source without Kevin.’” This is also why Arrah and the Ferns went on their own hiatus: guitarist Daniel Ryan Belski moved to Montana for grad school. (Catnaps did not make an official statement on the reason for their split, but judging from the hugs and smiles at their last show, it was not an acrimonious one.)

If a band is breaking up due to geography, a farewell show is in order, no question. But if said band is going to go through the trouble of releasing (and celebrating) a collection of music they recorded, however difficult it may be to monotize music in 2013, don’t they at least owe it to their departing bandmate to make an effort to get behind the music they labored over together, beyond one all-stakes show?

Arrah and the Ferns and Catnaps both released their records as name your own price downloads on Bandcamp. The Quelle Source’s solution to this dilemma is – wait for it – crowdsourcing. From the announcement: “Left without time to earn revenue as performing musicians, the group launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding to complete Send Out the Creatures. The release of the new LP is contingent on the group meeting its fundraising goal, and, as of this writing, the band is more than halfway to its goal of $3,050 with five days to go.”

Now I don’t want to get too deep into publicly shaming these guys here, because I do enjoy their music and wish them well, and I’m sure their farewell show will be a lot of fun. But speaking more broadly, these two ideas need to be separated.

Being a musician is a tough haul. It’s lots of late nights, dank clubs, gigs where you’re left to divvy up maybe $100 (if you’re lucky) between the lot of ya. And that’s just working withing your hometown; meet these same conditions on tour, and it can be disastrous, since gas, food and lodging are added needs. It takes years and a surplus of motivation to turn a band from a crazy hobby-ish pursuit into a full-time job, and there’s a lot of risk involved. I applaud anyone who can do it, since I sure as hell couldn’t.

But when it gets to the point where you realize you’re no longer up for the haul, stop doing it. There’s no shame in cutting your losses, having your farewell, maybe handing out download cards for your fans who show up so they have the new music to remember you by.

But if you’re going so far as to promote a new album – even as much as just tossing up an banner about it on your event page – actively promote it. Too often independent artists put too much emphasis on the album release party without planning beyond it. The “album release / farewell” is the ultimate symptom of this.