Technology is a wonderful thing. But it has its drawbacks. We’ve all heard stories about the band who made it “on their own” using YouTube, My Space, Facebook etc., but is this really true? When you heard that band X has 100,000 Facebook fans, did you hear it before or after they were signed by Universal?
The story is that the internet has democratised music and removed the gatekeepers. You can now make it without the big boys. But how many top 10 singles or albums can you name that were self released (excluding those by previously signed artists who already had a following thanks to a record company)?
The main effect of the internet and the reducing price of recording technology has been to really ramp up the background noise and to shift most of the costs of establishing a music career to the musicians themselves, saving record companies millions. And where once you just had to make great music, now you have to be a great marketer, promoter, producer, PR person, videographer, communicator and a real people person.
Now, anyone who wants can make a record in his bedroom and get it out there and promote it (and most do). If 10,000 new tracks are released today, how do you make yours stand out? How do you make people listen to yours over the 9,999 others?
And nowadays, A&R men (the people who find new artists and sign them to record companies) probably won’t go anywhere near a gig unless they know that at least one of the bands playing has at least 10,000 FB likes/Twitter followers/YouTube views.
They won’t listen to your demo unless it’s produced to release quality (no more bedroom live takes). Who pays for all that promotion, the studio and the producer? You do of course.
Once upon a time it was a case of who was good enough and who got lucky. Now it’s a case, of who is good enough, who gets lucky and who has invested a small fortune so the record company don’t have to.
Of course there are many small record companies who do pretty well with smaller budgets and more focussed contacts. But unless you want to be a businessman rather than an artist, it’s unrealistic to think you can compete. It’s a full time commitment.
It is certainly possible to make money from music without any record company involvement. And it’s possible to make enough to live on. But you’re unlikely to ever become a megastar without them. It’s almost impossible to compete with their budgets and their access to important people.
For the rest of this post I’m assuming that you want that megastar treatment, or you at least want your music to reach a bigger audience than you can do alone.
What Do Record Companies Do?
- Scout Talent
- Sign Artists
- Identify Material (in conjunction with publishers)
- Arrange Producers/Studios
- Arrange Publicity & Promotions
- Organise Manufacturing & Distribution
- Tour Support (Finance)
Advantages of Majors
- Bigger budgets / advances
- More contacts / access to Radio/T.V./Shops
- In house manufacturing / promotion / more clout with external – good for urgent pressings
- Bigger acts available to support on tour
Advantages of Independents
- Less debt to repay
- Higher royalty rates – more likely to actually break even and even make a profit
- Less competition with other acts on the label (are the big boys really going to prioritise you over the new Coldplay album which comes out the same week?)
- More attention / freedom – they are genuine fans; it’s more about the music and less about the money
- Less likely to be dropped unceremoniously if sales fall below requirements
So how do you approach them? We’ll look at that next time.