marriage has a place in romantic relationships, but in the music business it tends to be preferable to remain open and non-exclusive.
unsigned bands have it better than they realize. really. i’m aware of the business model of most of the music promotion sites, and they’re counting on the fact that you don’t realize the value of what you already have.
they’re constantly trying to sell you opportunities to play major shows, audition for producers, submit your songs for inclusion on some CD, or get a professional review. they’re relying on your desperation: it’s healthy for their bottom line. but ultimately if you get what you think you want, you’ll yearn for what you have now.
big label fame carries expectations and restrictions. obscurity is the ultimate freedom.
the more third parties you involve, the more likely it is you will lose control of your music. the more unnecessary open hands are in the room, the less you’ll have left in your pocket once those hands are full.
record labels—those people you’re clamouring for the attention of—are not unlike the Internet-based promotion tools in that they have their own agenda, and it runs contrary to yours.
record labels are very good at mass-production and distribution: moving product, and making a profit. and like the Internet freebie sites, they’re relying on your desperation.
- you want validation, you’ll sign the contract without reading or understanding it.
- you’re poor, so they offer a loan up front—money you’ll eventually have to pay back. you’ll use this money to buy things you need (or want), thinking that your fame will pay it back and then some. most likely, it won’t
- labels will make you pay for your own studio time, but will retain control of the tapes you produce and they’ll keep your publishing rights. they’ll expect you to pay for your own tour. they’ll refuse to distribute your songs if they’re not satisfied, and send you back to the studio again. they can drop you at any time.
if you think you need a label for mass distribution, you’ve missed this phenomenon called the Internet: a massive tools that’s excellent for selling music. music on physical medium is disappearing, and someday it will be a limited edition niche item.
sure, the Internet is also excellent for piracy, but the losses on digital files don’t hurt as much as the sales hit to discs—and frankly, any distribution is good distribution.
do you know why musicians tour? sure, there’s the roar of the crowd and the groupies, but it’s mostly for the ticket and merchandise sales. most money in music is made through the things not easily pirated: your presence—the chance to meet you, get your autograph and buy your stuff.
if you think you need a label for technical expertise in recording music, find an expert or a learned fan. sometimes you find both in the same person. in `99 i was playing a small cafe while a fan filmed the performance. he begged to produce us in his home DAT studio. an album was born, free of charge. he became a friend, we credited him for his work and touted his skills as a producer. today, the same people exist, or you could learn to use digital recording software and do it yourself. with free cross-platform tools like audacity, poverty is no object.
and if you think you need to get signed by a label to prove something to yourself, or others—get over it.
record your own music, host your own website, make your own deals with digital download distributors (or do it yourself), make and distribute your own merchandise. manage your own career and own your work! you’ll get a piece of the whole pie instead of trying to live off royalties.
you don’t have to do it alone. the Internet sites have at least one thing right with “street teams”. harness your fans to help. they want what you want, your success, and some recognition for hard work.
“beer and birthday cards” is what i call it. they go a long way. befriend and praise the people who help you by buying them a beer, sending them a card, meeting them in person, hanging out with them, and thanking them in your media (on your website, and in the liner notes included with your digital album).
going it “alone” (without a major label) might feel scary, but it’s not as scary as being a washed-up has-been with no deal, no master recordings, and no royalty checks ever received.