Thursday, August 26, 2010

The All Imperitive Record Label 'Choice'

WARNING:  This post is a little depressing.

"Well, hopefully, one day I will get 'signed.'"

I can't tell you how many times in the last 8 years I have heard this statement from musicians of all genres and experience levels.  Its seems to be the most common goal among musicians.  Sure, some are looking to make it on their own accord, others have different grand plans.  But most of us want the all elusive "record deal."

Perhaps most perplexing is that (in a gross, unreserached overestimate) I would say that 70+ percent of these same musicians are unsure of what encompasses a record contract and 90+ percent are unsure of how to attain one and scarier still is that 98% of these musicians are unsure of what happens after the contract is signed.  (by the way, quoting these percentages will get you an automatic "F" on your music business paper) 

However, these numbers are closer to a reality than one might think.  Perhaps a highlight for discussion is the idea that musicians must be well aware of how a record contract works long before their first encounter with one in order to make sure they are making a decision that is going to work for their career.  This would be impossible to advise an artist community as a whole, considering the situation for every musician is uniquely different.

To many musicians, the thought process is that a record contract means a huge boost in support (of their music, by the label) It means money, It might mean touring, it might be a shiny new record.  Sure sometimes it might mean those things, but most of the time it does not.  In fact, what many musicians are unaware of is that entering a deal with a record label can actually stifle your "buzz" as a musician rather than light a flame underneath it. Here are a few notions to be aware of when signing a contract:

1.  Just because you are signed, it doesn't put a rush on your new record.  You might get signed to "Virgin Records" and be working at Denny's for 2 years while the label works out any kinks in your promotional plans, masters, etc.

2.  Just because you are signed doesn't mean that everyone at the label is excited about you and/or your new record.  Sadly, as Moses Avalon taught me:  A&R people don't work in the same department as the promotional department.  In other words, the same guy that signed you doesn't have much of a say in how hard your next record gets pushed.  Everyone in the chain of command needs to like you.  If not love you.

3.  Just because Maroon 5 got a radio tour, commercials, TV promo spots and an interview with Billboard about their new record doesn't mean you will.  Especially if you are on the same label, and definitely if your record is getting released at the same time theirs is.  That is, bigger artists get bigger budgets, simply because their return on investment will almost always be much higher.

This is just a few situations.  Regardless, remember that as these things are happening, it may take years to get a new record into your fans hands (if ever.)  Often times, records never get released after years of freezes on promotional and touring activity.  Before you know it, your fans haven't seen or heard from you for as long as they can remember.  Where does this put you once the label decides to "spit you out" (let you out of your contract, or releases you themselves.)

The point being is that, knowledge of your goals before and after the signing of a contract will prove to help you be prepared in the long run.  What type of advance are you looking for?  What vision do you have for your next record?  Does the label agree with that vision?  What are your touring expectations?  How do you feel about co-writing?

Remember a record label is an employer, not your personal unconditional supporter.  That is what managers and, well, significant others are for.  Just like prospecting for a job, you go for an interview, and in a good one you try to decide if the employer is right for you and if they have any place in furthering your career at this point in your career path.  The label is the same.  Just because a label offers you the contract you have been waiting for, it doesn't mean that their and your future plans match up.  Is this employer going to be a good fit for you?  If a contract is in front of you now, that more than likely means you started your career years, if not decades, ago.  How will this employer supplement your career?  I would argue, an important question.