Everyone keeps bitching about the major record labels. You know, “Oh, I don’t want to be signed to a major label.” And, “Oh, the major labels, you know, if you sign to them you’re signing your life away and you’ll never make any money.” The bottom line is this: most recording artists and people doing the talking, one, aren’t good enough to be on a major label, and two, they don’t understand the workings of a major label.
This is because they have never worked for a major record label, or they’ve never managed an artist at a major label to understand that a label could be your friend. If you’ve got the right product and you’re the right artist, a label can absolutely change your life.
Now, is a record deal for everyone? Absolutely not! Have we heard reports of people who’ve signed bad record deals? Sure. Blame your attorney if you sign a bad record deal. Or, don’t sign it. You’ve got the choice.
Let me start by saying this: The record labels have the ability to take somebody from relatively nowhere to outside the stratosphere. They also have the ability to totally screw things up depending on the record label, and depending on the company that you get involved with.
A lot of times I find that record labels, in my opinion, are signing artists way before they’re ready. Then, the artist ends up getting pissed because country radio didn’t play them, or this, or that, or blah blah blah.
It’s not the radio stations’ fault that you didn’t do your homework. It’s not the radio stations’ fault that your artist can’t perform. It’s not the radio stations’ fault that most of the artists that you bring them don’t know how to communicate with people, make eye contact, or have firm handshakes, or who decide that, if they’re chicks, want to have crapped up fingernails and look like a slob. That is not the radio stations’ fault.
Artists, in my opinion, need to earn the right to get a release. Too often I think we’re falling in love with the song or we’re falling in love with the music. Or, we see this person do one song, and we get really excited. We put the ball in motion and off we are off to the races.
The problem with that is then once you get them out on radio tour, and once the studio time has been done, and once the setups been done, you’re a couple of hundred thousand dollars in. You may find out that the artist is a total jerkoff. Or, that artist can’t wake up at 6:00 in the morning. Or, that artist manufactured that sound in the studio.
That would be like me throwing one great pass and thinking that now all of a sudden I should be the quarterback of the Denver Broncos. It’s not going to happen. There’s a lot more to it than just throwing one perfect pass. Matter of fact, I better understand the blitz or I’m going to get killed.
I’m overweight. I’m 46 years old. The odds of me having a career in the NFL are not there no matter how good of a pass, no matter how many good passes in a row I throw. Once I get in the game it’s completely different. That’s the same thing with the record business. It’s more than just singing. It’s more than just performing.
Yesterday I was talking with Scott Borchetta of Big Machine Label Group. I asked Scott if he could recall an artist who got dropped from their label for selling way too many records or having way too many fans. Of course, we both laughed, because that’s not the case.
If fans are the one thing that can determine whether a record company makes money or an artist gets to keep their career, why wouldn’t they be the sole focus before the major investment, and before taking that song to radio? If the one thing that controls everything is sales, or fans, why is less time spent on fan development and teaching the artist how to engage their fan base before we throw half a million dollars to go work a single to radio and try to build it that way?
It’s beyond me, absolutely beyond me. Everyone thinks Taylor Swift came out of nowhere. Taylor Swift was building her fans and working on her craft for four years before she ever set foot in a radio station.
Everyone says that if you sell 100,000 downloads you should forget the record deal. Ask Florida Georgia Line how that would’ve worked out for them. They did go out and sell 100,000 downloads on their own. They did develop as writers. They did continue to go play college parties and small bars working on their live show.
And then guess what happened after they signed their deal with Big Machine Label Group? They signed on a Monday, shipped their single to radio Monday night, charted on a Tuesday, 15 weeks later had their first number 1, and I think right now they’re up to 6,200,000 downloads of one particular song that they had sold 100,000 copies of on their own.
Would that have happened without the record label? Absolutely not. There’s no way they would’ve been able to get that kind of traction in that short a period of time to control and become the superstars that they are today.
What did Florida Georgia Line and Taylor Swift have that most people don’t have? They had work ethic and they knew they needed to show that they were different. You see, when Taylor came along Taylor didn’t sound like anyone else. She sounded like Taylor Swift, and that’s what scared people.
When Florida Georgia Line came along Florida Georgia Line showcased for every label. Every label knew who they were. Heck, their manager and the publishing company, (Craig Wiseman and Big Loud Shirt), has written hundreds of hit songs. But, see, Florida Georgia Line sounded like Florida Georgia Line. They didn’t sound like anyone, either. That scared people.
Therefore, Taylor went to MySpace and created her own audience. Florida Georgia Line invested in themselves, put a good team together, and they went out and showed the industry that there is a market for what they do.
So, the perception changed. The music didn’t change. The lyrics didn’t change. The melody didn’t change. The perception changed. Today, you cannot turn on a radio station without hearing Taylor Swift or Florida Georgia Line over and over and over again.
So, here’s the deal. Do you need a major label record deal to have a career in the music business? Absolutely not. Do you need a record label if you want to have world domination in the music industry? In my opinion, I believe so.
What’s the best way to get it? Go out there and prove that there are people that are hungry for you and your music. Too often we create the product first and then we try to go force-feed it to an audience. And the labels, I hate to say it, are as guilty as everyone else for doing that.
Right now both independent artists and any industry person or label person can use the Internet to find and develop an audience 24 hours a day 7 days a week. It is possible to find out if there’s a hungry audience for what it is that you’re trying to feed them before you ever have to make a major investment in anything.
So, why would you not take advantage of that? Why would you not spend some time? Who cares if it takes a year or two years? Shit, we’re not curing cancer; we’re in the music business. If it takes two years, three years, if it even takes four years to build a solid fan base of hungry consumers, why wouldn’t that be the focus?
Why is more time spent in the studio or out chasing radio with new artists that actually, in my opinion, haven’t earned the right to be there than trying to see if there is an audience available for that artist?
Right now I think we need to spend less time going to music seminars and more time in marketing seminars. That’s where I’ve spent the last year and a half, and it’s been absolutely a blast to open up and see why it is that our industry, which creates more content than anyone in the world, is not doing as well as it could be online.
Radio is not the end all be all and radio is not your savior. Once again, the fans are your saviors, not radio. How can somebody have a number two song and then their next song fail at #30 and then be dropped from a record label? Because they didn’t sell enough records.
If you don’t understand how a record label works, stop bitching at the labels. They are the banks, and the bank is going to put the best deal possible to get their investment back. I read an article the other day. It says labels rip off the artists. You know, the artists don’t make any money. Well, most of the time neither do the labels on that particular artist. There are more failures every year than there are successes. It’s just that the successful pay very well. So, I would be doing everything in my power to go out there and be a success.