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Artists: Labels need YOU --- NOT the other way around Modular Synthesizers
Old 4th April 2010
  #1
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Cool Artists: Labels need YOU --- NOT the other way around

As I've become more and more aware of the 'business' side of music over the last few years, one thing that's always shocked me has been the horrible shake that artists get in the whole scheme:

Minimal to almost non-existent income, unfair (at best) to nearly unconscionable contracts with labels, and an unsympathetic public that is less and less inclined to actually pay for their entertainment.

So the more I've been thinking about this, the more I'm convinced:

The music industry NEEDS artists to create content to keep the machine going. Artists DO NOT need the industry.

For centuries, musicians got by just fine without a formal system of record labels, radio, publishing companies, etc. Sure, they didn't live a life of luxury but they also weren't enslaved to some corporation or mountains of debt.

If all the labels vanished tomorrow, artists would still be creating music and performing it. They would get by. But all the bean counters at the labels would be up **** creek.

So where does this lead? I haven't really fleshed the idea out much but I think it's really interesting to think this way.

Why *should* an artist agree to a 360 deal? Why should they submit to the demands of the big companies? If all the artists decided one day to just say, "screw you guys, i'm going home" then the labels would be toast.

Why don't artists man up and demand the recognition they deserve for their talent and hard work??

Old 4th April 2010
  #2
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I think the simple (and unfortunate) point you're leaving out, though, is the fact that not all music is art and not all musicians are artists.

I'm sure a lot of people will take this the wrong way, but know that I mean no disrespect. For example, of the music that I write, I wouldn't call all of it "art". Some of the songs I write I would consider to be my "art", other songs I write are built to get people interested enough to give me "art" a chance.
Old 4th April 2010
  #3
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if all the artists leave the labels, the labels will just make new ones out of gullible kids.
Old 4th April 2010
  #4
On the income thing, unless you are bringing in money, you aren't going to be getting any. The reason most artists don't get paid much is because most artists don't really generate much above and beyond what was invested in them. If the oft quoted (and I don't really see it being denied) stat of 85% of all artists don't even break even, then right off the bat pretty 85% of artists probably aren't going to get much money.

Obviously some have signed really bad deals, and can fail to get much even after they start bringing in more. And that's clearly not something that reflects in the best light on the music industry, but caveat emptor and all that. And folks generatlly never look at the toher side, i.e. the artists who take the $250K advance and then put it up their nose or just completely fall apart and never deliver a dime or a song or OD or any number of other things. So it seems like it's a bit more of a two way street than is often made out.

As I always point out, it's no worse than any other situation where you go to someone, unproven, and ask them to finance your dream. It always comes at a cost. The same applies in the business world if you go to a venture capitalist, and basically the labels are VCs for musicians.

And, finally, it's very easy to get the impression that the labels just take and never give. But that's at odds with the simultaneous complaint that the stars of the past are just bloated and rich. If you are an artist who can constently deliver the goods over time, you'll make a lot of money, or at least that was the case in the past, not sure about going forward. And the way they got rich was by lots of marketing and advertising and schmoozing and so forth by the labels that represent them.
Old 4th April 2010
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scud133 View Post
...
For centuries, musicians got by just fine without a formal system of record labels, radio, publishing companies, etc. Sure, they didn't live a life of luxury but they also weren't enslaved to some corporation or mountains of debt.
where?
when?

actually they were 'enslaved' to one for of patronage or another... or they borderline starved or worked other jobs


the "mountain of debt" to record companies is a meaningless paper debt.
no one ever PAYS IT BACK if they don't make money
Old 4th April 2010
  #6
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The artist doesn't have to sign into anything they don't want to. Ignorance can be bliss, or ignorance can be, well the opposite of bliss.

I read a great article from an A&R from a major just the other day.

He was saying precisely that, in this day and age the labels need the artists more then the artists need the labels. Of course all the usual applies, you need to be killing it and putting everything together yourself, handling your business.

The problem is the artist doesn't deserve anything in a business sense unless the music/image/group/art can somehow make money, whatever and however that may be.
Old 4th April 2010
  #7
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Sure, I get your position. Its not wrong, but its not right either. Have you ever released a record yourself...made the CD, pressed the units, obtained distribution, created the websites, hired the promotion people, PAID the promo people, hired a radio guy, shipped the product, etc.

Have you ever approached you local bank about a loan to help do all this?

Have you ever looked up a record you released on Amazon and noticed that on the amazon sales chart it is number 1,100,000?

No, I didn't think so.

I have, and a lot more. A major label is two crucial things to an artist, money and manpower. A bank, and a staff. And as much as you say the label needs you, so do you need the label. Of at least the support it provides. You can do it if you are wealthy, and can hire the folks, or are lucky enough to have enough gigs and cash flow that you can do it out of revenue.

Yes, labels have abused thier power in the past. But so do the "powers that be" in every industry. The strong tend to take advantage of the weak.

I am an indie label I have fifteen titles in national distribution, including one percolating right now. I just made a deal with a bona fide national artist to put out his stuff. I for one would LOVE to have the opportunity to work with a real label on a day to day basis and not have to weigh every single decision on money and manpower.

The goal is not to eliminate labels, it is to find a more reasonable way to deal with them. A better formula. Yes the digital age has done a lot to emancipate artists. But there is no digital equivalent to a true staff of sales and support people.
Old 4th April 2010
  #8
A bit dated, but I like Steve's take on labels/industry:
The Problem With Music
Old 4th April 2010
  #9
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Dr. Mordo's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnymac View Post
if all the artists leave the labels, the labels will just make new ones out of gullible kids.
Yeah, you (the OP) forget that the music that makes the most money is straight up 'product'. It doesn't matter what teenage girl is singing it, with the right marketing the right demographic will buy it. They don't even need to be able to sing; autotune takes care of that. As long as they look relatively good and are remotely charismatic, the machine can build them into a star. And as porn valley has made abundantly clear, when one teenage girl says 'no' there is always another who says 'yes' to take her place.

Anybody read Norman Spinrad's "Little Heroes"? It's about the near future (it was written in the 80s, I believe) where a record company team builds a pop star from scratch using modeled elements of former icons. Literally a virtual pop star that has no corporeal form. We're almost there now with how extensively we can treat both sound and image.
Old 4th April 2010
  #10
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"Major label deal" sounds so... -- nineteen somety something.

Maybe it's just me... I'm over forty.
Old 4th April 2010
  #11
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Quote:
and an unsympathetic public that is less and less inclined to actually pay for their entertainment.
so if the public is not paying for music, where do you propose the labels get the money to improve the contracts for the artists?

things suck all over

what else is new?

Quote:
If all the artists decided one day to just say, "screw you guys, i'm going home" then the labels would be toast.
the labels need artists, it's true.

but they don't need YOU. One look at our top 100 will tell you they can make an 'artist' out of nearly anyone. And millions are ready to line up for the job. There will never be the solidarity you propose, if you don't want the deal, there will always be a hungry someone who does. No matter how 'bad' the deal, someone will cross the picket line and take the gig.
Old 4th April 2010
  #12
I'd actually say they need each other. Just like always. All this bands don't need labels stuff is hogwash. Who else is going to finance and invest in talent so that musicians and can be musicians and not "social marketing reps".

All the web 2.0 stuff is mostly nonsense. Great for the bands and musicians that would rather spend their time on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter - but if I was in a band today, I'd wanna rock... not "tweet"....

Playing music and writing songs should be more important than the daily social media update. Maybe someone other than the band should be the non-music stuff?

But to each his own.

I think it's mostly same as it ever was... interdependence is closer to the truth. Labels may be hurting, and piracy may suck, but I don't see "hits" coming from myspace or facebook...
Old 4th April 2010
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Waltz Mastering View Post
A bit dated, but I like Steve's take on labels/industry:
The Problem With Music
No, its not dated, and yes major label does sound old. I agree.

But we are an industry that survives on the excitement of the next big thing. Has there been a "next big thing" in the "screw the labels" era. Someone who has busted it open without an established label?

I talk to artists every day who now understand the frustration of having to do everything themselves...and find the money to pay for it all. With labels the studios could at least get a few good paying gigs. And artists at least had some options as to where to get the money to record and tour.

The simple fact is that the solution to label abuses is not eliminating them, but reform in the way artists and label work together.
Old 4th April 2010
  #14
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scud133's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
so if the public is not paying for music, where do you propose the labels get the money to improve the contracts for the artists?

things suck all over

what else is new?



the labels need artists, it's true.

but they don't need YOU. One look at our top 100 will tell you they can make an 'artist' out of nearly anyone. And millions are ready to line up for the job. There will never be the solidarity you propose, if you don't want the deal, there will always be a hungry someone who does. No matter how 'bad' the deal, someone will cross the picket line and take the gig.
that's a great point, and it's really frustrating. how do you deal with people who have no sense of self-worth, and will stoop to the lowest levels to try to gain an edge?

Old 4th April 2010
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steffmo View Post
Sure, I get your position. Its not wrong, but its not right either. Have you ever released a record yourself...made the CD, pressed the units, obtained distribution, created the websites, hired the promotion people, PAID the promo people, hired a radio guy, shipped the product, etc.

Have you ever approached you local bank about a loan to help do all this?

Have you ever looked up a record you released on Amazon and noticed that on the amazon sales chart it is number 1,100,000?

No, I didn't think so.

I have, and a lot more. A major label is two crucial things to an artist, money and manpower.

(edited down)
I think you raise a lot of great points here. There's one theme I notice running through the post, however, and that is a total reliance on the 50-yr old label system.

If an artist approaches his craft with his outlook confined to only one way of doing things, then yes, he will be totally dependent on the label.
Old 4th April 2010
  #16
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slaves666's Avatar
It is a relative to what you are looking for as an artist. Majors are great for certain things, indies for others....and sometimes no label at all.
Old 4th April 2010
  #17
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Bob Olhsson's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Waltz Mastering View Post
A bit dated, but I like Steve's take on labels/industry:
The Problem With Music
I find Steve's take somewhat naive. It sounds to me like a classic case of a band getting ripped off by their own manager and possibly their producer who then blame the record label.

The economics of this stuff is painfully simple. More money up front always means less money later on and a LOT of money up front, generally with the manager and lawyer grabbing a third off the top, means no royalties unless by some chance it's a monster hit.

Plenty of artists have owned their masters and have very profitable arrangements with the labels who distribute their recordings. It's just you don't hear these artists whining on the internet about their record labels.
Old 4th April 2010
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scud133 View Post
that's a great point, and it's really frustrating. how do you deal with people who have no sense of self-worth, and will stoop to the lowest levels to try to gain an edge?

Woah there, cowboy.
ART? Joe Sixpack has no understanding of or appreciation for it, and that speaks to education and why the industry is feeding him candy.
Consider: the ends justify the means. if all they're looking for is a quick hit -meaning a rise to celebrity or even stardom and a hugely positive cashflow in the short term- as a grub stake with possibility of residuals trickling in over a lifetime or 2, it's really the way to go. but you have to be ready to
1. be very good with the money, cuz it's only gonna last so long, and
2. use that fame as leverage to nurse a career for as long as you care to work, I say why not?

Say you make a few millions doing that, to lose your deal after a couple of records. Take the money, settle into a quiet suburban life and live off the interest. NOW do your music for the sake of art.

Why not have a comfortable life rather than an extravagant one? pay cash for a house out of that bigtime money and then only make enough money from doing little gigs on the side? basically get yourself set for life...I'd do it.
Old 4th April 2010
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Waltz Mastering View Post
A bit dated, but I like Steve's take on labels/industry:
The Problem With Music
and I think it's mostly self-promoting spin
Old 4th April 2010
  #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scud133 View Post
that's a great point, and it's really frustrating. how do you deal with people who have no sense of self-worth, and will stoop to the lowest levels to try to gain an edge?
perhaps the metaphor of a "strike" is overblown

in a real strike, people surround a physical building such as an office or a factory and prevent scabs from entering. Sometimes physically, sometimes even with violence.

The music industry is not a single building that can be surrounded and the only person who will participate in your 'strike' is you. If you are amazing, if you are already attracting an audience, you can try to negotiate a better deal.

But if it's 'take it or leave it'- you are back to xeroxing posters at your Day Job, back to burning CDs on your computer and selling them at a table after the gigs. Someone else will gladly 'take it'.

The potential rewards of a successful music career, imagined or real, are great enough to lure all the competition. It is not them 'stooping' - it is simply someone else deciding the deal you think is beneath you, IS worth a shot. Hold out if you think you are The Exception, but don't expect all the others to join you.

Everybody is looking for that edge. Anything. People sit down and try to write 'dumb' songs they think will appeal to a certain audience. They try to get something viral going on YouTube. They dress up in weird costumes. They sign bad label deals.
Old 4th April 2010
  #21
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A solution: Free "Britney & Beyoncé pay my bills" - t-shirt given by the record company upon signing for everyone of those label artists who are in it for artistic reasons or self expression.
Old 4th April 2010
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by scud133 View Post
I think you raise a lot of great points here. There's one theme I notice running through the post, however, and that is a total reliance on the 50-yr old label system.

If an artist approaches his craft with his outlook confined to only one way of doing things, then yes, he will be totally dependent on the label.
No Scvud...I'm all for indie and support anyone that wants to go that way. I do it everyday and I totally agree that for some folks building your own mousetrap is a great way to go.

However I think th "Robin Hood" arguement horribly understates the pressure it puts on the artist to be a lot of things he or she isn't. They might not want to admit it, but most artists are overwhelmed by the tasks that need to be performed to get a record to generate some kind of traction to really better their career.

The future? I've been very vocal in various formats and at conferences I appear at. I think small, closely held companies generally run by manager types are the future. If they get big enough they might partner with what is left of the major labels. Records will be built regionally, as they were in the 50's, so that whatever the record is doing can better the artists touring situation. As money is generated it can be used to spread the territory the record sells in. These small companies will probably also manage the act, so even if the record only breaks even, the company still gains by being involved.

Which of course is similar to the much derided "360 Deal" many majors are now looking for. My objection in most cases to a 360 is that the major label does not want to really help manage, they just want money from that sector. A small comany like I suggest is a closely knit group of people truly working together. That makes the 360 part more acceptable.


As usual, black and white turns to grey. I simply feel that blanket vilifying of labels is a shortsighted as assuming all artists have it great in the current model.
Old 4th April 2010
  #23
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you're right, I think

but one might also say that the major is probably going to give you $100,000 or more to make a record, and several times that in promotion, advertising and other services.
So they want a way to make that money back, now that record sales alone probably WON'T

the indie model may in fact do more "managing" and other things for their '360' share, but probably invest much less up front, or over the course of the record's life, in actual cash



I know lots of bands who made several records, got to work with good producers in good studios, toured, sold their own merch, got publishing deals with very decent advances, and generally MADE A LIVING for many years on the backs of their major label deals.
even though those deals never recouped and they technically still "owe" the labels money...
they made money and they will never pay that money back.
They just won't see royalties.
But they made ASCAP, kept their publishing advances, got tour support, own equipment, and continue to sell t-shirts and back catalog to fans.
or in short: they had careers thanks to their 'unsuccessful' major label deals.

had they done it all themselves, they'd be the major shareholders in companies losing money.

If someone offers you $100,000 to make a record with ________ (fill in producer you want to work with; unless you're so hip you think all producers are useless) and enough tour support to get a van and go out on the road... and you sell a total of 10,000 records, you will never recoup that deal.
but
if you owned it yourself, first of all you're not going to make that same record unless you are independently wealthy... but you'll make what?
are you likely to sell that many records of your homemade variant and on your own without any marketing help?
how much ARE you likely to make on your own?
at WHAT point does that ownership actually turn out to be worth more to you than the money sent your way by the 'enslaving' label deal?

in the examples I mention above, I know lots of people who made about $50,000 a year like that.
Are you making that on your own self released records?
Old 4th April 2010
  #24
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scud133's Avatar
 

^ ^ ^ ^
thanks, great post

(hope i didn't give you the wrong idea --- producers are still valuable )
Old 4th April 2010
  #25
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7161's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by wwittman View Post
where?
when?

actually they were 'enslaved' to one for of patronage or another... or they borderline starved or worked other jobs


the "mountain of debt" to record companies is a meaningless paper debt.
no one ever PAYS IT BACK if they don't make money


starved? patronage? i dont think he's talking about the 1700's or something

dancebands, orchestras in everywhere from theatres & radio studios to circus's, etc etc - live bands were the only music providers to go dancing to - there was plenty of paid f/t employment before discos & other technology appeared.
Old 4th April 2010
  #26
A lot of great posts above.
Pretty much every point covered/explained so far.

I think it also comes down to supply and demand.
There's an over supply of people wanting to enter the music business.
That leaves us all with very little bargaining power.
On the other hand there's never been a better time to do it on your own - with home studios, digital downloads and the internet for promotion and distribution.

Also.....
I really can't buy this idea that major labels can manufacture a pop star from nothing.
The artist still has to have something...... confidence, charisma, great dance moves.
The idea that Joe or Josephine normal can be moulded into a music legend by machinery, studio trickery and major label clout is simply proved wrong every week - there are hundreds of pop releases by the next Pink, or the next Radiohead. 90% of them sink without a trace despite all the efforts of the big labels and huge amounts of money spent.
Old 5th April 2010
  #27
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by 7161 View Post
starved? patronage? i dont think he's talking about the 1700's or something
I think he is:

Quote:
Originally Posted by scud133
For centuries, musicians got by just fine without a formal system of record labels, radio, publishing companies, etc
it only takes few centuries to get you back to the 1700's

in any age before the industrial revolution, the only opportunity to be a full time musician was to work for a church or a king and play and write music to please your patrons.

when records and radio were invented, the businesses designed to make money off of it and lock it up very quickly followed.
Old 5th April 2010
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chrisso View Post
I really can't buy this idea that major labels can manufacture a pop star from nothing.
The artist still has to have something...... confidence, charisma, great dance moves.
.
Agreed, this idea is an exaggeration, but it has a grain of truth in it. They don't need to manufacture a pop star from 'nothing' because there are plenty of somethings already out there.

There are more genuinely talented people than slots to put them in. They are all ready to take your place should you wish to 'stick it' to the labels. So the effect is the same.
Old 5th April 2010
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
There are more genuinely talented people than slots to put them in.
true enough.
Old 5th April 2010
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wwittman View Post
you're right, I think

but one might also say that the major is probably going to give you $100,000 or more to make a record, and several times that in promotion, advertising and other services.
So they want a way to make that money back, now that record sales alone probably WON'T

the indie model may in fact do more "managing" and other things for their 30 share, but probably invest much less up front, or over the course of the record's life, in actual cash



I know lots of bands who made several records, got to work with good producers in good studios, toured, sold their own merch, got publishing deals with very decent advances, and generally MADEA LIVING for many years on the backs of their major label deals.
even though those deals never recouped and they technically "owe" the labels money...
they made money and they will never pay that money back.
They just won't see royalties.
But they made ASCAP, kept their publishing advances, got tour support, own equipment, and continue to sell t-shirts and back catalog to fans.
or in short: they had careers thanks to their 'unsuccessful' major label deals.

had they done it all themselves, they'd be the major shareholders in companies losing money.

If someone offers you $100,000 to make a record with ________ (fill in producer you want to work with; unless you're so hip you think all producers are useless) and enough tour support to get a van and go out on the road... and you sell a total of 10,000 records, you will never recoup that deal.
but
if you owned it yourself, first of all you're not going to make that same record unless you are independently wealthy... but you'll make what?
are you likely to sell that many records of your homemade variant and on your own without any marketing help?
how much ARE you likely to make on your own?
at WHAT point does that ownership actually turn out to be worth more to you than the money sent your way by the 'enslaving' label deal?

in the examples I mention above, I know lots of people who made about $50,000 a year like that.
Are you making that on your own self released records?
William,

You of course have seen it enough to know the angles. There are pluses and minuses to both sides of this game. In fact there are quite a few bands out there who greatly benefitted from doing an album or two with a major...absorbing the benefits or the promo, and then getting dropped.

For some it has worked great. The jam band Moe comes to mind. Two records for Sony...at least 800k spent on the band and dropped.

But they were dumped in a position to do their own records (with the same production team, now charging indie rates instead of major), but with enough market recognition to sell enough to at least break even on the record. But even breaking even on the record means they can continue to tour, and probably make a little more each time around.

However stuff like Commercial R and B and pop, where a band might been to be hired to tour, is still almost totally beholden to the major label/big radio axis.

Your comments about management and how much they spend is also I tinnk accurate but at that level sweat equity and passion make up for some dollars. Also, in my observation bands that develope fan bases from a more grassroots effort generally have fans that follow forever, not just until your single falls off the charts.

If Dave Mathews never has another hit...he will be making a good living touring. Same model as the dead, who never really sold that many records.
The recent rise of Joe Bonnamassa also falls into that category.

Nonetheless, I don't ever think sweat equity alone can catapault an artist to the top. It will always take the cash and manpower that a bigger label can supply. But also, the farther up the food chain these boutique labels can push their artists, the less risk to the major, which should translate into a better deal for the artist, and more security for the artists support network.

Just my inflation devalued two cents.

Love your rekkids by the way.
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