I know it’s hard to get a record deal, trust me, I’ve tried with countless deserving bands and ended up with nothing. I’ve worked countless hours pitching to guys in labels I count as friends and getting turned down. This isn’t always obvious and sometimes it can be a veritable sumbitch. There’s a reason for this though, actually a set of very good reasons. Which is why I want you to think about something for a second. I know that’s hard for a lot of you, but please bear with me. Think about how utterly difficult and ridiculous record deals are from the perspective of the label. When you think about it in this way it becomes patently obvious why on the independent level especially expecting to get a record deal is the peak of entitlement and is going to make you look like nothing more than a pompous ass. I know that’s a little crass and maybe too harsh for some of you, but it’s time to take the fucking kiddie gloves off guys.
When you are asking for a label to sign you, even a small one with no A&R or advances you’re still looking at them investing at least a couple thousand bucks into you assuming you count PR and production costs. If you’re looking at a label that does a substantial amount of PR and actively helps to grow your band then the minimum is probably more like five or six grand. Once we get to the phases of advances and music videos being paid for by the label suddenly we are looking at ten to twenty thousand dollars of expenses, minimum. That last option is what most people view as typical of a label! Now think about that. How often in the rest of your life do you ask for someone to give you that kind of money? Furthermore, how often in the rest of your life do you ask for someone to give you that kind of money on the merits of ‘The music is good’ and ‘It will probably sell hella copies’? Never! So think about that. I know you’re investing a lot of money and time into your art, but your dad invested lots of money and time into his baseball card collection and where did that get him? A box of cardboard in the basement.
Now I’m not attacking the merits of recording music or collecting baseball cards, I just want you to think about it for a minute. I want you to think about how so many artists expect so much cash for their art. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it but I m saying that you need to think about what you’re asking for before you go for it. You need to realize that regardless of anything if you’re getting on a label worth shit then people are relying on you selling at least a few hundred copies of whatever you’ve recorded. Now, if you’ve only sold maybe a hundred of any record ever you are going to see why this can be a problem, even at a low level. If you get to a higher level then you understand why you’re going to need to sell thousands of copies. Of course, that’s pften unrealistic in todays music industry which is why we end up with 360 deals. Now 360 deals are a topic for a different day, but I hope you have started to understand the logic now.
You need to think about how much the labels are putting up and that they are counting on you. So now think what happens when these selfsame bands fail to do key things like, I don’t fucking know tour around the record? Give the record appropriate lead time? Do interviews for the record? The label is expecting you to have all your ducks in a row on a variety of different levels. As we all know people in bands are not necessarily the most professional people all the time and can be suffering from any combination of mental illnesses, delusions, incompetence or sheer laziness. For example, if you sign a band who make great music but are assholes in person and in interviews that going to catch up with them. They might sell a bunch of units on the strength of the music, at least initially but that sort of success rarely lasts beyond the most superficial stages. As a label you need to be certain that any band you are investing in isn’t going to fuck you over, and sometimes that’s a big gamble to have to make on relative strangers.
Finally you need to realize that most labels view individual bands as a long term investment. I know that artists want to get one album deals as much as possible these days, but unfortunately that just can’t be the case for a lot of these labels. If you’re looking at the bigger independent ones especially you’ve got something like a twenty five thousand dollar upfront investment for a small band – an investment they know they probably won’t make back. But they know that if they do the legwork for the first record then they can usually push something greater for the next record and start to make money then. People don’t seem to realize that labels are in it for the long haul. They are often putting a lot of money on the line and doing so with the prayer that it doesn’t blow up in their faces. Think about that – you would probably never do that! Record labels are insane, you gotta embrace that if you want to move forward.
So I hope this sort of makes sense. Getting a record label is no longer just a question of having good tunes. In a hyper exposed age where anything you do or say can and will be held against you it’s hard to want to put your money on the line. Record labels take big risks with the hope for a similarly sized payoff and a lot of the time it ends up working out, but sometimes you are left choking on a bitter pill to swallow. They need to be careful with who they sign because if they aren’t making money they are pretty much screwed. If we can’t go out and embrace this simple suffering then I think we might have a whole new problem on our hands.
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