What if the Label Says YES?
So Kelly and I are at a private party with Anthony Orio & friends and we end up in a conversation over beers and cigars about artist development and the damage that happens when artists and/or songwriters get their lucky break too early. What if you get the opportunity of a lifetime to take a big step towards your dream and you’re not developed enough, ill prepared, or worse, searching only for fame? In short, what if the label says YES?!?!
That’s right, I said it. What if the record label or publishing company says “yes”? Are you ready?
Do you know where you’re going artistically?
Are you prepared to fight for your vision or will you be lost in the crowd with your hat in your hand?
Do you understand the hustle of the business and how to operate intelligently within it so you can capitalize on the coming momentum?
The NFL has classes that all rookies are required to take to deal with this instantaneous rise in the players brand awareness and cash flow, but they certainly DON’T offer this in the music business. In fact, they would prefer you don’t know; more money for the powers that be.
You can’t just stick your toes in the water; you have to be ALL IN. To make a living, you have to be a student of the game. If you don’t know your business, you’re being lazy. Trust me, THEY WILL know your business because they’re professionals and you will suffer for your lack of knowledge one way or the other.
What if the Publishing Company Says YES?
One of conversations we had was centered on the 3 discussions or so we have every week with beginning songwriters. Often beginners are understandably apprehensive about spending too much on their dream (which they are inevitably conflicted about) so, in lieu of a proper/professionally acceptable demo recording, they go “shopping” for the best deal A.K.A. the cheapest demo price. I hear it all the time, “I just want to stick my toes in the water to see if anyone cares. I want to see if anyone is interested before I spend more money.” Just like any other industry there are people here in Nashville that cater to that market; and just like any other industry, you get what you pay for. Now, many songwriters are just doing it for posterity to get their music recorded which means the only person they need to impress is themselves so this is a pragmatic approach; this makes sense. However, the songwriters with serious professional aspirations have to impress the professionals, so they are screwing themselves with a crappy demo recording. Paying for a $350/song demo in Nashville (which $100 of, will go to the pro singer) will get a guy that is going to play all the instruments on that recording and he’s going to cut it in his basement, and MIX it in his basement: it’s the only way he can afford to charge that low price. Next, that songwriter will shop the song to song pluggers. These song pluggers are true professionals so don’t fool yourself, they will instantly be aware that the writer cut corners on this demo (because of the sonic nature of the recording) which immediately makes the writer look unprofessional; 99.999% will not pay attention to the song and pass because that’s a red flag that they’re not ready yet. If hit songwriters and publishing companies could avoid using live bands on all their demo tapes to save money, believe me they would! But let’s say that for some reason the song plugger really listens to an amazing song and says YES. What do you think will happen next? They will tell the songwriter, “I LOVE this song, man, but I can’t sell this recording of it; so go back and re-record it.” You see, this “dip your toes in the water” approach has only 2 outcomes for an aspiring professional songwriter:
- Most likely they hear a “NO” and alienate the very people they need to bring their product to market because they look unprofessional; you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
- They hear a “YES” and by the grace of God, the plugger is willing to overlook their naiveté, but the songwriter added $350 of needless extra cost to their first product in a start up business (which could be put towards another song demo to build the catalog).
Everybody has a dream. Tons of you have dreams of “making it” as a songwriter or a recording artist; but if you’re not somewhat prepared, a “yes” could be the beginning of the end, or at the very least extremely expensive and emotionally exhausting. To me, “making it” is defined as making a living doing what you LOVE to do. There are different levels of “making it” based on volume and revenue generated; but if it’s based on making a living doing what you love to do, it’s a solid foundation. Fame is annoying. I get why people seek it because I did initially, they shove it down our throats and we consume it like crazy. I can tell you that fame is a herculean pain-in-the-ass, even in the context of my small-time regional fame; it’s creepy. Everybody is in your business or is talking about your business like they know you when they don’t have business with you and they don’t know you. You only get to find this out when you get a little taste. Eleanor Roosevelt said “Big minds talk about ideas, medium minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people”. So the search or need to only be famous is an exercise for small brains. Those who only seek fame come off to me as green (green like inexperienced and green with envy) and therefore somewhat delusional. You have to do the work, man, or you’re Paris Hilton; a cocktail party joke with a crappy sex tape.
If you want to be iconic, you have to put in the work.
If you want your songs to be timeless, you have to put in the work.
Fame as a byproduct of supreme artistry is a result of great minds, vision, and hard work; it’s no freaking accident. We all have an image of some super famous entertainer that we feel doesn’t have enough talent and we’re baffled by their fame; they’re famous because they were prepared, they take it more seriously, and work harder than you do.
Real success in the music industry is about tons of preparation and experience over years of time. Real success rarely happens overnight and when It does, especially in the new music business, it’s “here today, gone LATER today” and usually disastrous to the artist. So the slow growth will last longer and be worth more in the end…unless you just want to be famous. Expecting or dreaming about a big break without the work is like expecting to walk into a Major League sporting team for a tryout and getting awarded the top spot on the team; you need your 10,000 hours first.
So, What if the Record Label Says YES?
If you get a major label to say “YES” these days it’s because you have generated some kind of attention, a brand, and a following on a reality show, or vocal talent show (where the label feels they have a guaranteed market of sorts) OR you have created real momentum on your own through touring, twitter, Facebook, trackable record sales, sold out concerts, etc., and maybe you’ve managed to fund a Kickstarter campaign with at least 1,000 backers or $100,000 in funds. Let’s dissect the latter first.
In this scenario you will have turned down several label offers already and the conversation starts with you saying something like this, “What are you guys going to do that I haven’t already done for myself that warrants me giving you MASSIVE percentages of my revenue from record sales, merchandise, publishing, ticket sales, etc?” This is called leverage at the negotiating table. Believe me when you are seasoned with momentum you come to the table with a “heavy hammer” and YOU WILL BE PROTECTIVE OF YOUR SMALL PROFITABLE BUSINESS!! You’re eyes will be open to the many ways a label can screw up your future and in this case all the hard work from your past that put you in the seat at that very negotiating table.
Now let’s dissect the artist who gets a deal after skyrocketing to fame on a TV show or from some other crazy, massively publicized anomaly. This artist doesn’t really have a heavy hammer at all. If you win next year’s American Idol, who cares; it’s the 13th season and there are more winners residing in obscurity than there are current, relevant artists. This is what every up and comer seems to dream about because it looks easy; it’s typically a mess. Yeah, yeah you get to feel like a Rockstar for a hot second and you hang with all the big names and feel like you’re somebody but then what? I’ll bet you couldn’t name 5 of the 12 American Idol winners if I put a gun to your head and you’re reading this because YOU’RE IN THE BUSINESS! They are literally here and gone to the mass public eye. It’s easy to spot the artists on American Idol that have a true understanding of who they are and the ones that don’t; aka the developed artists as opposed to the undeveloped artists. For an artist who is green and thrust into the public eye that fast it’s equivalent to starting at McDonald’s on the fry line and getting instantly promoted to a corporate Sr. VP level; you’re instantly promoted to the point of incompetence.
The more hard work you do on your own, the more traction you get as an artist on your own, the less likely you are to sign a major record deal because it just won’t make sense; you’re already making money! However, if you do choose to sign, your deal will be far more advantageous to you, the artist, than anyone getting a deal off of American Idol.
Your music is everything, man, right? DON’T CUT CORNERS!
You need to pay your dues.
You need to be mentored.
You need to be developed.
The Universe is always as it should be.
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