I think there is a misconception about what bands see as the road to success in the modern industry, and the reason is: they still believe the path is through a record label. The problem is that no one is buying records! We have coined the phrase dinosaur mentality for this view of the industry. The path to success now is through touring, and here is why you should detour now!
Is There a Time for a Record Label?
Some bands still believe that getting a record deal is a mark of success, but we have said ad nauseam why that can actually hurt you as an artist.
One area that is rarely discussed is how a record label decides to sign an artist. Record labels and industry insiders are now in a situation where an artist must conform to what is selling because remember, a record label’s sole purpose is to make money off your music sales. This also means that they want bands to earn chops by playing on the road and selling music before they choose to sign them (with some very rare exceptions). Meaning, you will have to do all the work to get to a certain point where you are profitable before they sign you, or you must fit into a preexisting popular (i.e. potentially profitable) niche. The days of developing artists are gone, so you need to do all the work and become a cash-making commodity.
The other thing that record labels will do is sign a bunch of bands with a certain sound, and use the funds they make from those artists to fund their more successful artists, leaving you screwed. The problem with this methodology is that when you get to that point as an artist, if you sign with a label, that can be the point where your band gets killed and loses revenue. Not only that, but all your hard work for the band will be funneled to the label, funding their endeavors and not yours.
There is obviously a time to get strong representation when you are so large you need a company to handle those functions. But you should be at a point where you are dictating the terms to the contract — not the other way around! Look at industry veteran Irving Azoff of the Madisaon Square Garden company, who sees that the traditional record label system is failing. He is looking to reinvent the business model forward, and so should you!
If you look at our interviews, every major band we have talked to says touring is the way to success. Here is where the industry has turned the most. In the Golden Days (what dinosaurs in the current industry talk about with ignorance) most of a band’s revenue came from music sales. In fact, most bands didn’t really need to tour because of how well a record label could monopolize the market with revenue from albums and singles.
Today, that is gone. What bands should be doing is looking to find good booking agents. In order for a band to succeed, they must tour! DIY tours can be set up with Indie on The Move — even if it’s just weekend tour to build your fan base!
One thing that I see with local bands all the time is that they will play big local shows with major acts and then bitch and moan about not having big shows outside their area. This is why you need to DIY tour to build your brand! The reality of those big local shows is that you’re playing in front of the same 1,000 fans at each show, playing early, and it truly doesn’t mean shit. Then, the bands are surprised when they go play a show outside their area and only a sliver as many people come. I have news for you: I know plenty of major acts on tour that will show up to a venue for 1,600 people and there are just 100. You are not special, you have to get out there and beat the pavement the hard way!
When you can start drawing good crowds on tour with your blood, sweat, and tears, it is time for a good booking agent. A booking agent will take 20% of your guarantee (if they are good), which is seriously a better percentage than what you will make with a record label where you get 5-10% of the cut. Plus, you can sell merch and CD’s to supplement on tour. Like it or not, you are a traveling merch salesman who also happens to play music. If you were on a record label, you would be buying your CD’s for $7 each from the label to sell to fans while on tour — which would cost only pennies to produce them yourselves and sell them alongside all your other merch.
Check Your History
A lot of musicians don’t understand history where markets change, like the value of free in technology or how Gillette started with giving away things for free to build their empire way back in 1921. Those are just similarities, but what about the music industry direct in its history?
Before the phonograph, the only way to hear music was live music. Live musicians were plentiful and played events everywhere, being payed well. When the industry changed with the advent of recorded music, (which was decried by live music purists, just like the anti-downloading purists of today) performance musicians got the shaft. The age of the session musician was created, where a few musicians could perform on numerous recordings, and many live musicians took a huge hit to their livelihood. The market changed, just like it is changing now back to live music because of free downloads.
When the Beatles wrote their own music instead of having songwriters create the music for them, more artists began to write their own music. As a result, professional songwriters shrank in size, and were used more for mass-manufactured popular music as they are today. But before the Beattles, 95% of all music was written by others, not the bands or artists themselves. Again, the industry changed.
Contrary to cries that “the industry is dying,” the music business is actually growing since music now is easily accessible from anywhere in the world with a click of a mouse or tap of a smartphone. However, the traditional music industry (where only a few labels control the vast majority of available product) indeed is shrinking and growing more irrelevant as independently-released music can have a comparable presence online as whatever big labels are churning out. In other words, artists are able to control their careers more effectively now instead of relying on a label to do so and exploit the shit out of them in the process.
As usual, change is for the better.