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Indie Artists: Do You Really Want A Major Label Deal?

Blog : May 11th, 2011

Excerpts from this post comes from Robin Davey, a musician, artist and Head of Music and Film Development at GROWVision Media.

A recent survey suggested that 75% of artists are still chasing that ever-elusive major deal. This shows the credulity of bands, rather than the shimmering prospects that a major can offer.

The times of a band getting signed to a major record label like Warner, Sony, Universal and/or EMI are pretty much over. Unless you’re already established and got signed years ago, those labels will probably not look at you.  Some of them have had to downsize due to the decline of record sales. Also due to the decline, there has been a huge rise of indie labels.  Even when the advances used to be respectable, it would only set you up for a few months at best. After that you better be earning money independently of the record label, because it’s a long wait until that next advance is available.

When you take into account the cost of recording an album, paying a producer, giving your manager 20%, and splitting what remains of the advance between your band members, you can kiss goodbye those aspirations of putting an Escalade in the drive way. In fact you will be lucky to be able to afford to fix the oil leak in your Ford Focus.

The 360 deal further exemplifies this notion. If the majors take a piece of everything, the artist loses an even bigger portion of their lifeline when it comes to everyday survival.

A CATCH 22 SITUATION

In the current climate, the only way you will gain any major label attention is if you are already achieving a level of independent success. This is the catch 22 that the 75% of bands – who are still eager to pursue the major route – just don’t get.

If you already have independent success, why would you want to go to a major?  Why would you sign a contract if you’re really not going to benefit from it?  This is what a label wants to see, but if a band can do this on their own then what is the point in having a label?  The bands that play it smart take their time to do their own PR, getting their own name out there through social networking and whatnot. They write an ep or two, maybe even a full length. They dump a lot of their own money into the life of their band, looking for distribution deals, making their own merchandise, doing short tours.

A record label is just that; a business.  If they don’t see some kind of turnaround, why would they want to keep dumping money in to something they aren’t going to make a profit from?  They can no longer take the risk of signing every act with potential, and they cannot offer a lucrative incentive for those who are already proving themselves in the independent market.

With services like i-Tunes, Topspin and Bandcamp, it is now easy to sell direct to your fan base. High visibility in the marketplace and accessibility to new followers are also far more obtainable without the need of industry muscle. As a result you have the prospect of earning substantially more independently, than the royalties filtered down through the corporate system.

INDEPENDENCE DAY

The independent mentality is to do everything in house in order to keep costs down and productivity up. The corporate mentality has always been to get outside entities to do the job when needed. Although the majors would have departments to handle tasks like promotion, design and radio, it seemed they were only there to fulfill contractual obligations for the artists that did not show the prospects of real success. Any manager with experience would negotiate the use of an outside company to initiate a prolonged campaign, as opposed to the week or so the in-house department could dedicate to individual releases.

The latest job hiring at major labels reflecting a more independent mindset. They are on the look out for multimedia creators to handle a plethora of tasks, and this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, if they want to survive they don’t need to be tentative about this, they need to be bold, because it is the boldness of independent bands that is winning the day. Musicians who unabashedly embrace new ideas, and create innovative and accessible content are making the break through. As yet this is something that the majors haven’t been able to compete with, or indeed, fully comprehend.

NO EASY ROUTE

The problem with a lot of bands is that they are looking for contracts but not knowing that sometimes they are just signing over the rights to their music without being offered much touring support. This is what separates the smart bands from the eager bands. Patience and hard work pay off in the long run. Instant gratification of being signed and the misconception that your band has “made it” can leave a band broke and indebted to a label; either being forced to tour relentlessly to pay off their debt and honor their contract, or break up and go back to a day job and maybe starting fresh one day.

Label support isn’t what it used to be. With very minimal album sales, the labels can’t give the bands the support they need. Their investments (The bands) do not turn out the money like they used to. When the bands are initially signed, the label does what they have to do to get the ball rolling. They promote the bands in the best ways they know how through banner ads, hiring public relations firms and contacting bloggers. Bloggers give labels and bands so much [almost] free press. They get the band’s name out there and get most everything going for them before the release of an album and their tour. Unfortunately they can not offer them much more beyond that until their investment starts to make them some kind of profit.

While going both routes has it’s benefits, in these trying times it pays to be smart about your approach. Aspiring bands and artists, I am afraid there is no easy route, the majors will certainly not provide it, and they never did. It comes down to hard work and offering up something different and innovative.

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