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All that business was awful, it was a fuckin’ humiliation. One has to completely humiliate oneself to be what the Beatles were, and that’s what I resent. I didn’t know, I didn’t foresee. It happened bit by bit, gradually, until this complete craziness is surrounding you, and you’re doing exactly what you don’t want to do with people you can’t stand — the people you hated when you were ten. –John Lennon
Before kicking off your career, you still have a learn a few basic things about the music industry. By learning how record companies work you will understand why they fail, and you will be able to develop a strategy that will help you to make it on your own.
No matter if you will respect the rules or if you intend breaking them, you will at least have to KNOW THEM before getting started.
So now it’s time to learn some more stuff about the industry and about those enigmatic record companies themselves, and even if we’ll just scratch on the surface and if we’ll only review the most important details, then this will already be enough to get you on the right track.
Here are a few important questions that will have to be answered:
Who are the major players in the music business?
Why are record companies, A&R execs and producers (at least partly) responsible for the low quality of today’s music?
What are they doing wrong, and what can you learn from their failures and from their mistakes?
How will you deal with all of those companies and people?
In this subchapter I will cite Wikipedia a few times, as they have some nice and clear information on record companies, and it wouldn’t make much sense to re-invent the wheel. Nevertheless you should read everything here, as this will help to understand why music is so bad nowadays and why you will probably never get a record deal.
The basic relationships between record companies, artists, and fans should be easy to understand, so we will only quickly review the all-important relationship between the artist and the record label.
When a company signs a deal with an artist, then this deal will basically state the following:
The record company provides money, knowledge, and infrastructure.
In return, the artist will deliver a product, and that’s the music.
The record company will pay the artist an advance, and they will pay all production costs (studio, engineers, producer, graphics, manufacturing, video, …). The advance allows the artist to financially survive for some time (usually about 1 or 2 years), while the artist will have to pay for all of this own expenses (accomodation, food, clothes, equipment, manager, …).
As seen before, this advance will seem to be a lot of money at first, but in the end it will only allow the artist to survive at best. The artist will only get further money if the first record will be a huge success, and only 10-20% of all signed artists will ever break even. The ones that become really “rich” are even much more rare, as this will only happen if the album will sell like crazy.
If we talk about a “real artist” and not about some pure puppet / entertainer, then it’s highly probable that the artist will be writing his own songs, and in this case the artist will also be the copyright holder. In most cases the copyrights and / or other rights will (at least partly) be transferred to the record company.
While amateur artists usually write songs in their rehearsal room to record them in the studio later on, most professional artists spend much more time in the studio – most songs are being fine-tuned in the studio, often with the help of the producer, and sometimes they even write new songs in the studio that will be featured on the album later on. This partly explains the higher quality of professional records, and this is also the way most of the greatest albums of all time have been produced. We will discuss all of this in the following chapters.
Modern technology allows us to record music at home (at least partly), which means that amateur artists are now able to use the same production techniques only professionals had access to a few decades ago. Unfortunately most artists don't take full advantage of that opportunity, and we'll dicuss this later on in chapter 6.
If the artist is just a “puppet” however, then things will be quite different of course. In this case the producer and / or professional songwriters and musicians will write and create everything, and the “artist” will just perform. In this case it will also be the producer and / or the record company who will hold all rights, and who will get a much bigger share of the money.
While real artists only get about 10-20% of all income, “puppets” often get much less, which explains why many of today’s Top 40 acts don’t earn a lot with record sales and why many of them will end up in poverty later on, even if they had one or more big hits.
As mentioned before, this system that led to some of greatest music of all time during the Golden Age is now broken. While everyone if waiting for great new artist to rise, record companies prevent all kinds of innovation and evolution, as they only sign artists who fit the norms and who are following trends.
So if your plan will be to become successful by producing music that will be different, special, or even revolutionary, then you cannot count on traditional record companies.
You will need to become a relevant artist, and this will only be possible if you develop a unique sound and style, and if you start writing really great songs that will make people go crazy. And you can only become special and unique if you paddle against the stream and if you break the rules, which means that today’s record companies won’t sign you.
This again means that you will have to make it on your own, and this manual shall help you be become successful without the need of any record company deal.
But in order to be able to make it without the support of a record company, you will first need to understand what record companies would usually do for you – and that’s what this subchapter is about.