The Music Business: Brave New World?
This is uncharted territory for me. I’ve never blogged before. But I thought it might be helpful to provide some insight in what may feel to some as a really dire time for the music industry. Getting signed brings up mixed feelings for me because of what it once meant, and what it means now.
Over the years, I've heard countless clients wonder why they haven’t been signed yet. Nine times out of ten, none of them have ever played a show outside their local city or state. They're literally sitting around at home wondering why no one has knocked on the door looking to sign them.
And then I hear from my signed clients. Labels big and small don't seem to offer very much in the way of tour support and advertising anymore, so artists still often have to pay for this on their own.
In the old days, having a record deal was really useful, largely because of distribution and advertising. But now, because consumers have moved on to streaming, and can distribute themselves, you now have the very same distribution chain as all the labels.
The other big difference now is that labels only seem to sign artists that already have a well-established business. Yes, in case you didn’t know, you are a business. If a label doesn’t see that you already have a large network of fans (customers) and are extremely hard working, they won't sign you. They want to see that you've already done extensive touring and have what it takes to get through it in one piece. This really supersedes talent. It's beyond lottery odds that an artist or band can get signed without already having a well-oiled machine in place first.
And what about a manager? Having a good manager take you on generally comes with those same prerequisites. The more you can show that you're hardworking and have an established business operating, the more likely someone is to take you under their wing. Nobody wants to represent someone who has no hustle of their own.
I tell artists to watch the show Shark Tank. The contestants who do not already have a functioning business with good cash flow often get passed up by the sharks. A great idea (or great talent) is simply not enough most of the time. This rings true more than ever with modern day record labels. Their business model has evolved and cannot afford to invest in artists in the same way as before.
It's really a DIY time for music, but there's a huge upside to the status quo. When you think about it, if you already have an established business, why would you share a huge chunk of what you built with a label that doesn't necessarily earn their fair share? Perhaps a better route is to find truly passionate people willing to invest in you. Lots of artists are turning to crowdfunding sites like IndieGogo and Kickstarter for tour support or cash to help produce new music. Some people think it’s not a great way to go about it. But in my opinion, if you have fans who are willing to buy your album or a ticket to your show in advance, what’s wrong with that?
"If you build it, they will come" is really the name of the game here. And the coolest part is that "if you build it" you probably won't care if they come because you'll already have a great business with an excellent cash flow.
UPDATE: I should clarify that when I say "build it" I'm referring to the business side of your music. Social media, networking, and marketing are things that you MUST invest time in. Take the time to study how to manage an effective social media campaign. And also take the time to study and develop good business skills. You'll be surprised what happens when you invest even just 10% of the time you do on your music into the business and networking side.
I’d love to hear more from artists, especially if you’ve had experiences that differ from my own. I’ll continue to update this post with any new insights that I think are worth sharing.