You put out a track that's starting to generate momentum and before you know it you've got labels knocking on your door. With so many people making promises, what can you actually believe?
Austin Staubus from ItsNoRequests shares some insight into the thought process behind major labels, and tips for how you can read between the lines so you can know what you're really getting yourself into.
1) “We’re Not Going To Sign You To A 360 Deal”
This is one of the biggest myths that major labels love to perpetuate to unsuspecting artists and managers. Of course they’re going to offer you a 360 deal. They have no choice. They have no choice because their entire business model has been decimated by streaming culture. Napster was the beginning of the end. They never saw it coming. No one is buying records anymore. You know it. I know it. The labels know it. Labels must have a stake in your publishing, touring, and merchandise. Otherwise, the deal doesn’t make any sense for the label. How are they going to see a return on investment? Without a 360 deal in place, they won’t.
2.) “We’ll Develop You And Give You The Resources To Grow”
Back in the day, when labels had real budgets, they would invest in and develop artists they thought had potential to make money for the label. This model doesn’t exist anymore. This is partly because labels are hard pressed for the funds. It’s also a symptom of very few labels understanding how to correctly leverage the online space for their artists. They’re like ostriches with their heads stuck in the sand. Presently, labels are content with finding artists who have done the hard work of developing their own fanbases and brand. This, of course, begs the question: why sign to a label? I’ll touch on why you’d sign later in the article.
3.) “You’ll Be Able To Release Music Just Like You Are Now”
This one’s a real zinger. I can’t tell you how many artists we’ve seen who’ve had successful digital strategies be completely derailed by unnecessary red tape and “approvals” that come with signing to a major label. It’s a small production to release a “free download” or “cover” when signed to a major label. Labels move at a glacial pace. This is largely why they continue to struggle to adjust to the times. If you’re not releasing content every month you have no chance of gaining real traction online. The old “let’s drop a single every 6 months on Vevo” and hope for the best is losing strategy. There’s simply too much content online to compete with for this strategy to have any real impact. Sadly, many labels still subscribe to this idea.
4.) “Your Album Will Definitely Come Out”
Your album probably won’t come out. Here’s how it works. Let’s say a label signs you. They’ll invest a bunch of money into a single that they think is a sure fire hit. They’re excited. You’re excited. Plus, you have an album you’re planning on rolling out. Despite your best efforts, your lead single that the label loves doesn’t turn out to be a hit. What’s the label going to do? They’re going to put your project on pause. For how long? That’s anyone’s best guess. Why? You didn’t make any money for them. In fact, you’re probably in the red with the label. When you’re an artist signed to a major label, you only have a few shots at creating a hit until they a.) shelve you indefinitely or b.) decide to drop you from the label. This happens to artists all the time. It even happened to Frank Ocean, who’s now one of the biggest artists in the world.
5.) “We’ll Spend Your Marketing Budget Wisely”
When you sign to a label, the artist usually receives an advance. What many artists don’t realize is that you have to pay that advance back. That’s not free money. In fact, when your single or album comes out the label is charging you for every expense incurred to promote the release. No, I’m not kidding. As you can imagine, this presents a precarious scenario for the artist. In some cases, a project can perform moderately well and the artist actually ends up owing the label. Don’t get me wrong. Some labels work hard to spend your marketing budget wisely. They’ll provide a detailed accounting of how the marketing budget was spent. However, there have been many instances where an artist’s marketing budget has been misappropriated.
6.) “We Can Get You Played On The Radio”
Plot twist: this one is actually true. It’s not a myth. Labels wield significant power over program directors and radio stations. They have all the right relationships and can get your music to the decision makers. Whether or not the radio station continues to play your record longer than a few weeks is a different story. The only reason you’d sign to a major label in 2017 is to be on the radio. While streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music will eventually eclipse FM radio (some argue they already have) radio holds dominant amongst the soccer mom demo that still purchases physical CD’s at Target. Is it impossible to get on radio without a label? Not at all. Just ask Chance The Rapper of Macklemore. However, significant headwinds as an indie exist.
7.) We Can Definitely Get You Playlisted on Spotify”
I’d take this one with a grain of salt. Many labels are struggling to adjust to the times and are behind the ball. They’re just now starting to understand the power of being playlisted, which is no easy task. Spotify is an incredibly competitive data driven platform. Only the very best songs (that Spotify thinks will perform well with their userbase) get included in playlists. Think about it. Everyone from Universal Music Group to Sony to Spinnin’ Records to Armada are looking to convince Spotify or Apple Music to playlist their new release. The reality is that labels get their releases turned down all the time. Any label, manager, or distributor that tells you they can 100% get you playlisted is likely telling you a tall tale.
I’ll be back next month with a brand new “Industry Insider” column. Until then, drop any comments or questions below!