Sunday, June 22, 2008

Why You Should Stop Trying To Get Signed

In the music industry ten years ago if you were an artist, songwriter, or composer of some sorts your absolute main objectives would be fairly simple to jot down on paper, and they would look something like this:
  1. Write some songs
  2. Establish yourself locally by playing live
  3. Get with a good studio and record a kick-ass demo
  4. Shop that demo to as many radio stations and record labels as humanly possible
  5. Hope to get signed
In case you haven't noticed, times have changed significantly. I'm subscribed to the mailing list (which is very informative) and they recently sent out a link for an audio interview with some of the industries biggest shot callers, A&Rs, and producers discussing the current state of todays music industry. I forwarded the email to a few of my artists and colleagues as I knew I wouldn't have time to listen before I wanted to write another post. To no surprise my good friend Scarlem D sent me a text message saying he listened to the feed I sent him, and informed me that all the big wig label whores were talking about the same things that I've been talking to him about for the last few months - Unless you are specifically writing songs for the top 40 market, there is no point trying to get signed to a major record label.

Shocking? Not so much. If you were a band or artist in the 1960's one of your biggest challenges would be to get your music recorded. It was expensive, and the studio's were very picky especially if they had a reputation to maintain. If you weren't up to par musically, it didn't matter how much money you had they studio would not give you the time of day. It was simply not worth their time. Lets get back to 2008...

Every 15 year old with a part time job and a dream has a computer, sound card, condenser microphone, and some recording software. There is no longer a need for skill; simply load up some plug-ins and choose your favorite preset, and if you're having problems all you have to do is visit YouTube and type in "name of recording software" tutorials to get a one on one lesson. So long to the days of acoustically treated control rooms, sound floors with a sunlight ceiling, and a Studer 2 inch sitting in the corner waiting for the final dump.

So where am I going with this?

Because the act of getting your music recorded is now a self-taught art amongst bedroom studio aficionados, the competition is stiff which means the amount of aspiring artists in your local town and city are 1 in every 5. Everybody is trying to be a rockstar, get signed, or be the next Kanye West. Every other kid on your block has an album out, with a myspace page, and a mailing list. This is presenting a major challenge to the record labels (aside from physical sales vs digital) which has put them in a position where their main concern is to capitalize, but not oversaturate - and that can be quite the task. There once was a time where a record label would consider signing an artist to a development deal because they saw "potential". In the information age music industry you are looking at a 1 song digital download/ringtone deal - if your song does well, they might consider allowing you more of their time and money.

Its scary.

If you are fixed on getting signed and living your rockstar dreams I have two pieces of advice for you; Build a strong online fanbase via myspace, facebook, etc.. And target indie labels with major distribution. An independent label will allow you to grow, build your fanbase, get a website up, and even help you shop your album to a major label if you've got that "hit" everybody is looking for.

If you're a composer or producer of music, you have a nice alternative which is to compile your catalog of original music and shop around for a publishing deal (which is much easier compared to getting signed). For those of you who aren't clear on what exactly a publishing deal is, it is pretty much agreeing into relations with a company who will get your music placed in commercials, movies, video games on a contract basis. Imagine spending two hours making some lo-fi mood music and getting a $10,000 cheque for licensing it to a major cell phone company 3 months later so they can use it as background music for their fall advertising campaign.

So go ahead and get signed, chase that dream of yachts, bling bling, and parties at the Playboy Mansion. For those of you who are a little more realistic, stay tuned over the next little while as I will be going into further detail on getting signed to an independent record label, and music publishing for profit.




Anonymous said...

Poo poo pa choooooo.
Dude, I think you can leave comments on here now.
Check out ill mitch on youtube, he's a fache.


Scarlem D

Harsh said...

It's kind of a catch-22 how getting signed is not neccessary anymore because independent labels have so much clout in the industry now compared to even ten years ago, but at the same time major labels promote artists to an extent which is unreachable by an independent.

The way music is going, in my opinion it doesn't even make sense to focus on selling albums anymore. Selling CDs, Downloads, Cassettes, 12", 7", whatever, none of that makes anywhere as much sense as it used to. When there's so much music available for free (illegally, but really, how will they stop it?) people want music as fast and for as little money as possible.

The money in the industry is back to how it was 75 years ago, live performing or song-writing (publishing). To make a decent income as a musician, I think you need to be performing live or writing and/or producing songs for other musicians. You can sell 10,000 CDs at $10 for 13% royalty and still owe the label a hundred grand, whereas you can perform for 1,000 people at $20 a ticket with 50% ticket-sale revenues, and make $10,000 in one night.

The problem here, however, is that with an independent label it is so difficult to get enough exposure to get even 500 people to your show. Especially in such a niche-market like jazz, or "real" hip hop, it's so hard to get on to a major label in the first place, and on an independent its too difficult to get exposure.

Would Kanye sell-out his last Toronto show if he wasn't on Roc-A-Fella/Def-Jam and signed with Rawkus instead? Probably not.

Bottom line is that this industry is fucked up. It takes money to make money, major labels have it but will not invest in the better arists, independents don't have it but are ready to invest the little change they have into the artists.


P.S. Ill Mitch is the shit, he punches while he raps.

MrBlue said...

Harsh, absolutely.

Well put, it's all about music publishing and performing. Why focus on trying to sell 10,000 CDs at 13 points when you can write 13 tracks, get them published a $3000 - $10,000 per license?!?

Makes more sense right?