You're a product
When I was a kid growing up in the ’60s, music was an outlet for enlightenment, frustration, rebellion. It was more about individualism. Today it’s just like a big business.
– Joey Ramone
In this giant machinery, music, art, and artists are just goods.
Artists and records are products that have to be sold, in order to keep the machine running.
Of course this is not what people are seeing. People out there only see the artists and listen to the records. The industry is invisible to them – well, maybe except for the store where they’re buying their music, if they’re buying at all. This is also not what most artists want to see or want to believe. Many artists live in some fictional world where everything is just about art and creativity. Many artists do not understand the elementary principles of the industry, as those are really boring, down to earth, and even disgusting sometimes.
Of course there are also artists who understand very well how to run themselves as a business, but I guess that’s a minority. If you want to become a successful artist, then you’ll have to learn how things work and you have to follow some rules. Those rules have been about the same since the 1950s, and you’ll never be able to become successful if you make all of those common mistakes every amateur musician seems to be making. We will discuss those rules in the following chapters, for the moment just remember the following:
The artist is at the very bottom of the hierarchy.
Learn to play by the rules and you’ll make some progress. Or – even better – learn how the rules can be broken, and take fate into your own hands. You’ll learn about this very soon.
Times are changing, and chances to become successful on your own have never been higher.
Nowadays you can produce your music at home and you’re able to distribute and promote it on a global scale. And you can do this all on your own, while you’ll only need a quite small amount of money, at least when compared to the amount of cash that was still required 20 years ago. There are a number of good reasons to make it on your own, instead of signing a deal with a record company, and you’ll soon find out that getting a record deal usually means the end of a musicians career, and not the beginning of it.
This may sound weird at first, but you’ll soon understand why this is the case. More than 80% of all signed artists fail and never recover, no matter if we talk about deals with independent or major labels. So maybe you should be careful before signing anything. If you want to make it on your own however, then you’ll need to know the rules, and you’ll need to understand how things are being done. The world is changing, the music industry is changing*, but the basic rules for artists are not, so we will need to explore those rules in the next few chapters.
*) Record companies may not be innovating, but the industry is still changing because they’re forced to change by external factors, mostly by technology and by tech companies. The music industry is not taking any real action, they are just re-acting to those external forces, which means that record companies are no longer in control.