Ever been in a creative rut? It’s something I struggle with regularly. When I’m in a creative funk, nothing feels right. Everything sucks. I feel like I’m beating my head against a wall…and the Muse is mocking me. I begin to wonder, “what if my best work is behind me?”. Fear creeps in. I feel like I’m trapped in a dark pit of…. nothingness. And I hope to God I can climb out.
Maybe for you it’s not that strong. Or maybe it is. But we’ve all been there. There are days when our creativity flows, when the Muse dances along with us, and inspiration is offered up to us like a holiday gift from the Universe. Those days are intoxicating, right?
But then there are days when the well runs dry. Every song lyric falls flat. Every chord progression is lifeless. Nothing feels new. Nothing excites our curiosity or our playfulness. Everything is dull and gray.
In those days, what do you do? How do you grow your creativity? How do you feed and water and nurture it? In my experience, I’ve found three basic starting points that have helped me.
Get outside voices. Innovation is literally everywhere. Steve Jobs once said ‘creativity is just connecting things’. When I need a fresh shot of creativity, I immediately look for outside voices to inject into my soul. I recently asked my FB tribe for suggestions on audiobooks (I like to listen while running, driving, etc.). Fiction. Non-fiction. History. Psychology. Drama. Graphic novels. The response was amazing! (Not only did I receive about 30 widely-varied suggestions while I slept that night, it also gave me a priceless insight into my community…). I grabbed 2 random suggestions (someone in my community actually ‘gifted’ me a book on Audible.) and got started. Sometimes I ask for music suggestions. Sometimes it’s a random TED talk or artist interview on YouTube. And sometimes I ride my bike to our community library and pick a random children’s book. I watch Telemundo TV shows. I buy a coloring book. I do whatever I can do to make my right brain chart new territory. For me, it’s not necessarily about the source of the voice. It’s more about exposing myself to a new voice. That’s helped me gather enough ‘escape velocity’ to blast out of the rut I’m in.
Get out of your head. Yes, creativity can be difficult sometimes. It can take effort. But remember, all creativity is play, not work. You don’t work a violin! The moment my creative endeavor becomes ‘work’… I’m done. Finished. Kaput. You see, work comes from our head, but play is in our soul. The moment I can get out of my head and return to ‘play’, I’m free. When I’m creatively stuck, I create something disposable. Something that no one will ever see or hear. I write a bad song. I record the most horrible drum track I can play. I pull 20 random words from a random website and write a silly song. I draw a terrible picture. I build something out of Play-Doh or Legos. Whatever it is, I focus on the ridiculousness of play, remembering that play, like art, is its own reward. It doesn’t need justification. Recreation is recreation.
Get into your heart/emotion. Emotion is the seat of passion. And emotion creates motion. When you’re stuck, you gotta get moving, right? Pick an emotion and go to that place where you feel it can intensely (a memory, a hope, a fear, a dream ) and create something from within that state of mind/feeling. Typically, I think anger and love are the two emotions we can tap into quickest. (Remember, the goal is to get moving quickly.) Ask yourself, “What makes me angry?” Is it injustice? Is it wounds you’ve suffered? Is it something personal? Political? Cultural? Whatever it is, hop online and read up on the latest statistics or events about it. Get really pissed. I mean, like, Hulk-turning- green-pissed. Now go write. Vent. Vomit. Purge. Sit down at your notepad or keyboard and freakin’ bleed. The same can be said for the emotion of love. Going through pictures, videos, memories or even gifts that belong to a loved one can stir up powerful, passionate emotions. It can be even more powerful if that loved one is no longer living. (My mom passed away just before Mother’s Day this year, so this has been especially helpful for me lately.)
Do YOU ever get stuck in a rut? These are just three starting points that have helped me. What do YOU do when you’re stuck creatively? How do YOU approach it?
I have always been attracted to music. Ever since I was a young kid I was fascinated by music, my favorite toy was the fisher price record player.
When I was 7 or 8 my dad had to go to Germany for work and one of the healing things that occurred for me was he sent a cassette tape with his voice on it and some music. I would listen to what he had to say and then play the music he had sent. It was not a replacement but it did help heal me from missing him.
We recently had a trip that we took where we had stops and performances each night. On each night a different story was related to me and all stories had a musical healing in them. All stories were random and unexpected from the source they came from and out of ordinary conversation.
The First Story:
There was a woman who had gone into a coma. Someone she knew wanted to visit her upon hearing this but her location was undisclosed. He somehow managed to find out what hospital and room it was she was staying in.
He went to her room and upon seeing his friend laying there in a coma he did not know what to do. So he simply grabbed her hand and started to hum not a melody just hummed. He left sad that his friend was in a coma.
The next day he received word that she had come out of the coma.
He went and visited her. She then told him that she had been lying in this void she knew she was in a void but had no idea what to do to leave the void. And then she heard humming and while it took her hours to find her way out of the void it was the humming that sent her back to consciousness. Humming to me is our primal music it had to be the first thing a human did on their discovery of singing.
Story No. 2:
We had finished a gig and were doing the usual stand around and share stories laugh and enjoy each others company. I became engaged with a woman who shared this story with me. The loss of color and back.
There was this girl she had known who had attended a catholic school as a child. The school had an art assignment of drawing flowers where you make the circle and do the petals out from the circle and paint the petals a certain color etc.
Well this child was an artistic child and had paid attention to flowers very closely and so some of her petals were big and some were small and some were white with a hint of purple or red or whatever artistic choices the child felt it needed to make.
This was not taken to kindly and the student was reprimanded by the teacher with a paddle or spanking. This spanking caused the child to not be able to see color for years.
Then later on in life this child who had not seen color for years started playing the violin. As she started becoming a decent player on the violin she started seeing color again.
Story No. 3:
A musician friend of mine was asked to play at a lunch party for a community organization working with individuals with disabilities. He set up and played for a room of about 15 people.
When he stopped he went around to each person and shook their hand and asked their name and said thank you for listening to his music. It was such an amazing experience just playing to them, but then he came to a girl in a wheelchair.
She was obviously pretty low functioning and had to be pushed in her wheelchair. He started to shake her hand and introduce himself and the staff told me she doesn’t speak… and before they could finish saying that she spoke up loud and said “Music” clear as day!
I don’t think I’ve ever been a fan of any “Battle of the Bands” setup, but I’ve been a judge for a couple of them. People asked, and it was something to do.
After one such outing, a band that didn’t win was curious as to what had prevented them from reaching the top of the podium. Having conferred with one another, they had identified at least one potential “deal breaking” problem – and they asked about it:
“Do we need better equipment?”
The answer that day was “no.” The answer for most bands on most days is “no.”
What they had failed to do was to play as a team, and that made their perfectly adequate gear SEEM like a problem area. (To be specific, you couldn’t hear anything the fiddle player was doing, because nobody would give the poor guy any space.) So, of course, the answer is to spend money on a bigger, fancier amp for the fiddle player, along with some extra doodads and geegaws to fight the inevitable feedback that results from trying to make a fiddle SCREAMING LOUD…
Their gear wasn’t fancy, but it was adequate and working. The only upgrade they needed was teamwork.
Now, yes, there’s a point where instruments, amplifiers, and their associated accoutrements just can’t do the job. However, that point is best identified as an “absolute:” The setup just sounds terrible, or it’s constantly breaking down, or it’s too hard to use. If that isn’t the case, though, then it’s very likely you’re facing some sort of issue with working together properly.
If your band doesn’t sound right, but everything seems to be working decently for everyone individually, you most likely need to put your wallet away. Before you spend any money on stuff, spend time on becoming a team.
I was talking to a musician last week who was complaining about how, although he’s a well-respected musician in his local area, he can’t get anyone he meets online to take him seriously.
“I’ve got a website and a link for people to subscribe and get free music. I’m giving away 7 of my BEST songs! But I can’t get anyone to sign up. And the few that do, never buy anything,” he told me.
I checked out his music and he plays quite well, actually. So I know it has nothing to do with his skill.
The next obvious culprit was his online presence. So I took a gander at that and some of the reasons he hasn’t yet become an internet sensation were glaringly obvious.
First of all, giving away 7 polished studio versions of your best songs attracts the wrong type of fans. That’s the kind of offer that attracts “freebie-seekers”.
Those are the people who will gobble up all the free bonus content that you give to your community and then submit a spam complaint when you make on offer to buy something.
You don’t want those leeches in your “fanmunity”. And it’s up to YOU to curate a community that will support you financially.
That’s why I rejoice whenever someone that unsubscribes complains about how my emails have no value and I’m just trying to sell them crap. Those people obviously don’t appreciate what I have to offer. And all of my solid advice is wasted on them.
So I’m glad to see them go.
You should have the same standards for your own fanmunity. You deserve it. But its up to you to take ownership of making it happen.
The other problem with his offer is that fact that when you give away 7 songs from your studio albums (even if they are from a mix of albums) you devalue your music and take away their incentive to buy it.
I know music biz teachers who will tell you otherwise, but the truth is that there is NOT a “magic number” of songs that will make your subscriber bonus attractive to the kinds of fans you want.
There IS, however, a “magic word”.
The next thing I looked at was his website. The first thing I always look for on a musician’s website is the squeeze page. And he had no such thing. In fact, the subscriber opt-in form was all the way at the bottom of his site in the footer.
NO WONDER no one was signing up! They couldn’t even figure out where to subscribe if they wanted!
Of course you SHOULD have an opt-in form on your website. But NOT in the footer. Make sure it is visible near the top of every page so people can see it without scrolling.
But if you’re really serious about growing your email list, you NEED a squeeze page. The sidebar opt-in form is small potatoes compared to what you can do with a squeeze page.
Let me put that into numbers for you:
For the standard sidebar opt-in form that you see on most musician’s websites, about 2%-4% of the people who see it will subscribe to their email list.
A squeeze page, on the other hand, will convert more like 30%-40% of the people who visit it into subscribers. Especially if you set it up how I show you.
The next thing I looked at were some of his social media profiles.
And they were pretty plain. Certainly not optimized to help him get any email addresses. His header image and profile pic were basically a picture of him playing guitar on a background of a different picture of him playing guitar.
He hadn’t even filled out his bio!
Optimizing your online presence is crucial to be taken seriously as a musician online.
No matter how well you play, no one is going to hear you if your online presence makes you look like an amateur.
That’s why “Online Presence Optimization” is one of the first modules in the Musicpreneur Apprentice Program.
And for those of you who are considering joining, I’ve decided to make the replay of the webinar I did on that topic available for you to preview.
In it I tell you all about the “magic word” and how to attract the RIGHT kinds of fans…
I show you what a squeeze page is and exactly how to make a great one…
I even show you how to set up your social media profiles in a way that directs traffic toward your email list…
Now it is time to get into what happened the night of the show…both the great and the not-so-great.
I was driving to the venue in Ohio and had just pulled off an exit when it began snowing…HARD. I immediately began worrying about the weather impacting attendance but held out hope knowing that the band had played the venue two times previously and had packed in a large crowd both times.
And then it started snowing even harder. Fortunately I pulled into the venue’s parking lot and saw quite a few vehicles there. It wasn’t as many as I hoped to see but at least it wasn’t a ghost town and we still had about an hour to go before the band would take the stage.
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS
This is something that warrants a bit of discussion. I have a very low tolerance when it comes to how some music artists dress and present themselves during shows. I’ve had to lay into several clients over the years because of the lack of effort put into looking great on stage.
And, yes, it is a discussion I had with Amanda at one point after watching videos of some of their performances before I was brought in to help with their shows. They didn’t look BAD in those previous shows…they simply looked too casual. I always tell artists that there is a visual expectation that most fans carry into a show (whether they are conscious of it or not).
So it goes without saying that I was extremely excited when I walked into the room where the band was preparing and saw everybody was dressed to kill and the ladies’ hair and make-up were totally on point. They looked fantastic, the best I had ever seen from them…and I made it a point to yell as such upon seeing them.
You never know who is watching you perform at any given time and what it might do for you down the road (as you will see was the case for the band at the end of this article).
The band took the stage at 9:00 pm and the plan was to do the three-song FB Live broadcast at the tail end of the first set, which was expected to be around 10:00 pm.
The band hired a professional AV company to come in and set up a rear projection video screen on which we could show the FB Live broadcast to the crowd in the venue. That was set up to the side of the stage because the layout of the venue did not allow us to place the screen over the stage (which would have been optimal for what we were doing).
People were continuing to trickle in and the crowd was growing but it still wasn’t where we were all hoping it would be at the start of the first set. Making matters even more difficult was that a lot of the audience members who were there seemed a bit allergic to the dance floor and the area directly in front of the stage. And all of that seemed to be sapping some of the band’s energy as well. I had dinner with Amanda and Michael a week or two after the show and Michael admitted that the unexpectedly lower attendance was deflating when they first walked out on stage.
But they did exactly what they needed to do: they continued to perform with energy…something that would pay off as we got further into the night.
This is when things became interesting.
I was sitting with Alyce (the young lady tasked with operating the camera during the broadcast) and we were keeping an eye on where the band was in the set list. It wasn’t long before I realized we were running behind schedule. Even though the band promoted the FB Live broadcast would start around ten, it looked more like that spot in the set list wouldn’t come up until closer to 10:30.
They realized the time issue as well because there was a sudden jump in the set list and the band skipped several songs to get us closer to where we needed to be prior to the start of the broadcast.
Which created another problem that required quick thinking.
As you will see from the broadcast video below, the FB Live broadcast started with Jones Family Reunion, a song that kicks off with a female audience member being brought up on stage to take part in a fake marriage proposal from Nathan. When the band skipped several songs, they went straight to the song in the set list that was directly before the start of the broadcast. And one of the songs that was skipped was an acoustic piece that allowed Nathan to leave the stage long enough to find an audience member for the proposal at the beginning of Jones Family Reunion.
That is when Alyce said “uh-oh” and asked me what we should do. My response: We grab the first female who walks by our table to ask her to help out.
That is exactly what we did. We had to work quickly because not only did we have to get a fan on board with going up on stage in front of everybody, we needed to hurry and have her sign release forms due to the fact that the images and video of her on stage would be used for the broadcast and various marketing for the band.
So I had to ask the young lady to help out, explain to her what we needed her to do on stage, talk her through everything on the release form, have her sign it, flag down Nathan while he was performing and point to the volunteer so he knew he didn’t have to worry about finding somebody, signal to him that I was taking her back stage, and then rush her to the back stage area all in the time that the band performed that three-and- a-half minute song.
And then we ran into another hiccup. As the last song before the broadcast was wrapping up, I was standing back stage with the volunteer and Alyce, who was suddenly having a difficult time maintaining a strong Internet signal on the phone that would be used for the FB Live broadcast.
Where the venue was located, 4G access was spotty due to it being in a rural area. The venue did have open wi-fi, which had sufficient strength earlier in the evening, but the signal strength began going up and down as we were getting ready for the show to begin. The phone we were using belonged to Brittany (Amanda’s sister and the band’s keyboard player) so I made the decision to attempt the broadcast using 3G and instructed Alyce to run up on stage to have Brittany make a few adjustments on the phone.
Here is something you need to keep in mind when attempting any FB Live broadcast from a venue. A lot of artists don’t have unlimited data and FB Live broadcasts are demanding since you are live streaming both video and audio. So those artists have a tendency to use the venue’s open wi-fi. In many situations that isn’t a bad approach but you have to take into consideration that a large crowd also attempting to access that open wi-fi at the time you are doing your broadcast can slow down the signal and it could potentially impact the quality of your broadcast. Even worse, you might find yourself being booted from the signal in the middle of it.
The problem can become even more severe if patrons of neighboring businesses are also attempting to access the venue’s wi-fi, something that is quite common. I remember staying in a hotel room in Nashville for CMA Fest and the hotel’s wi-fi signal was horrible on our side of the building so I had to utilize the wi-fi from the Taco Bell location next door for the entirety of my stay. Sometimes you just have to plan for the data usage that comes with a big FB Live broadcast and suck it up.
Back to the show.
Amanda instructed the audience prior to the start of the broadcast while Alyce set up the phone with Brittany and we shuffled the volunteer on stage. As soon as we went live on FB, the folks from the AV company projected the broadcast onto the big screen set up next to the stage and we were good to go.
For as much energy as the band showed despite a lower than expected turnout, the start of the FB Live broadcast was like a switched had been flipped. Their energy instantly went to another level. People in the crowd who had been sitting down looking at their phones began looking up at the stage. They became more vocal over the course of those three songs and they slowly began making their way to the dance floor. Additionally, all of that momentum carried over into the last two hours of the show and totally changed the dynamics of the audience’s engagement with the band.
One of my favorite things about the broadcast came in the form of a comment a fan left on the Facebook Live feed, when she proclaimed the show the best she had ever seen at that venue. People had their phones out taking pics and video of the show and posting them on social media. They were doing exactly what we wanted them to do.
Here is the entire video of the FB Live feed…
In addition to the Facebook Live video, I also shot video of the performance from in front of the stage. I missed the first minute of the first song because I had to escort the volunteer for the proposal from the back stage area and, for some reason, my phone cut off at the tail end of the final song but much of this video will be repurposed for the band to use in a sizzle reel when attempting to get booked for other shows.
For any of you who are interested, the Facebook Live broadcast was captured on Brittany’s
phone, which was an iPhone 6. The video I shot from the front of the stage was done on my
phone, which is a Samsung Galaxy S5.
And for those of you who remember the picture of Amanda on Nathan’s shoulders during
rehearsal (it was included in Part 1 of this case study), here is the same shot during the actual show.
SOME THINGS ABOUT THE SHOW
One of the first things you will probably notice is that we did NOT throw the beer mug through the section of the drum shield in front of Frank’s kit. Michael contacted a company in California that manufactures the stunt glass that we wanted to use but it was going to take too long to ship it to Ohio and still have time for the glass to be cut down to the size we needed. So while we had to shelve that specific moment in the show for the FB Live broadcast, it is something we will look to implement in a show later this year. It is too good of a card to have up our sleeves to go unused.
There are some things I would like to see us do a bit differently next time. For the next
broadcast, I would like to see us utilize a three-axis stabilizer for the phone and camera. If you don’t know what that is, it is a device that holds the phone in a manner that completely
eliminates any bouncing. The user holds onto a handle bar and can move their arm all over the place and device revolves around the phone keeping it in one spot. You can get them on
Amazon with some of the better quality ones costing between $100 and $200. There are some cheaper alternatives but many of them don’t use multiple axis points for keeping the phone
steady. I’ve heard many people say that using them efficiently requires a little bit of practice so don’t chance busting it out of the box ten minutes before a show and trying to use it if that broadcast is an important one.
Another slight change I would make when doing something like this again is make sure we hold the camera on each musician for just a bit longer before moving to the next person. Alyce did a fantastic job operating the camera, mostly considering it was her first time doing it and we had limited time to rehearse it.
The engagement between the band and the camera went much better than even I anticipated. It totally changes the dynamic of doing a FB Live broadcast from a live show. Viewers are no
longer observing from a vantage point off to the side. With this approach they feel much more wrapped up and invested in the performance.
While the band struggled to get people out on the dance floor during the early part of their first one-hour set, doing the broadcast from the stage caused a radical shift in the crowd that carried on through the entire show that night. And the band even got caught up in it all, with Michael at one point getting down on his knees and playing guitar while people in the crowd threw popcorn up so he could catch it in his mouth. Below is a pic the band took during a guy/girl sing off…
And when I left the venue not long after the broadcast, I snapped this picture of the crowd
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE
Remember earlier in this piece when I said you never know who might be watching your show and to what it could lead? Prior to this show, Michael had spent the last two or three years
attempting to get booked for two big shows that he had been targeting. One was at an important venue at Geneva On The Lake (a tourist hot spot on Lake Erie) and the other at a major festival near Mentor, Ohio. He couldn’t even get them to return his calls.
The night we did this show, an individual with ties to both the aforementioned venue and festival was in attendance. He was blown away by what he saw. Within 24 hours of this show taking place, both the venue and the festival had contacted the band. One of them booked them immediately and the other is working with the band to find an agreeable date for them to perform there. Two to three years of frustration trying to get on those people’s radars was erased just like that.
This was within 24 hours of the show!
Now the band is working to take the video we captured from both the broadcast and from what I shot in front of the stage to create a short sizzle reel. That will be used when they attend trade shows attempting to get booked at festivals and college campuses. The video WILL get them a lot of shows. We also plan to add that video to the band’s website and electronic press kit and find ways to use it on social media. Keep in mind that while the audio in the videos isn’t the greatest quality, the live audio will NOT appear in the sizzle reel as it will be replaced with one of their songs playing in the background.
Compared to the number of views many of the band’s previous Facebook Live videos generated, the broadcast of the three-song set had nearly 300% more views! BOOM!
We have several big shows to prepare for that will be coming up over the next few months and we have to keep the live show fresh with new elements. The first big show is scheduled for May and that will be the band’s first experience with including pyrotechnics as part of the show. I’ve also told Amanda to prepare for the intensity of the shows to become far more physically
demanding. We are even making plans for her to perform on top of a large truss 40 feet in the air. We are also working on a bunch of ways to implement video into the show.
All of this came from a simple 12-minute, three song set created specifically for a Facebook Live broadcast. We went outside the box in what we wanted to present, did something a bit different from the normal, planned it out and rehearsed it, and then executed it in spectacular fashion.
The band has even captured the attention of an independent label based in Nashville, one that is made up of an incredible team of people with considerable experience in both the music and radio industries. The label even invited them to do an acoustic showcase during Country Radio Seminar in Nashville (that performance is taking place the same night I am writing this).
For Amanda Jones & The Family Band, 2017 is going to be an extremely pivotal year
Inevitably, as you try to make money playing live, you will run into the question of what might be a reasonable amount of money for your act to bring in per night. (This question is also tied to what rooms you can expect to work in.)
Now, of course, there are no hard and fast rules. It’s not like everybody in the music business gets together and decides how live music payouts are going to work. However, as someone who has been “behind the scenes” on the money side of small venues and concerts, I can say that there’s some basic math which starts to make sense over time.
I call it “The 2X Net/ 4X Gross Guideline.” Here’s how it works:
A band’s monetary clout is directly proportional to the real value they offer the venue or event organizer. For an act to ask for a specific payout amount, the real value they represent to the venue or event should be 4X their asking price. The exception to this is when the band, in and of itself, is THE draw to the event. In that case, the multiplier is only 2X – but venue or organizer expenses should be factored in.
That probably doesn’t make any sense without examples, so…
Let’s say that you’re booked for a private party. You’re being paid to be entertainment for guests who will (very likely) show up whether you’re there or not. The overall event value, which includes things like space rental, food, decor, etc, is $4000. In such a case, it wouldn’t be out of line for you to ask for $1000 as a payout to the band, as $4000 is 4X $1000.
Or, let’s say that you’re looking to get booked at a club, and you want a guaranteed minimum payout of $750 for the night. The club may or may not charge a cover, but they will definitely be selling drinks and/ or food. For your request to be seen as reasonable, the booker has to be pretty danged sure that bringing you in will generate at least $3000 of revenue for the club. ($3000 is 4X $750.)
Finally, let’s say that a small theater is going to bring you onto a ticketed event. The only major source of revenue will be admissions. If you’re looking to be a $500 act for them, then you need to be able to bring in enough of a crowd to create ticket sales that cover your share of the production expense, plus $1000. ($1000 is 2X $500.)
Now, again, this isn’t some system of rules that everybody will recognize. However, I do think it will put you in the ballpark of what’s reasonable.
There are a couple of keys to using this idea effectively:
1) Remember that, for non-ticketed events, “real value” is something decided entirely by the venue or organizer. For some folks, it’s going to be all about how much food their restaurant can sell if you’re on hand. For other people, all they care about is that you’re really killer at playing tunes they like. It’s up to you to work with the booker in figuring out what “real value” means to them. If you don’t figure it out, there may be a large mismatch in terms of what you consider “real value,” and how the venue sees things…which can lead to real heartburn later.
2) Ticketed events can, on a regular basis, be run fairly lean. This is part of what creates the “push-pull” of the multiplier being lower, but expenses having to be taken into account. Bars and clubs often have high overhead, but they can factor in their overall expenses to the consumables they sell, and also carry a bit of momentum from sales not directly related to your appearance. At the same time, a certain level of “built in” draw can exist (due to the business model being something other than live music), which weakens the bargaining position of musicians. A theater or similar venue, on the other hand, doesn’t generate any income until a show plays in the room – and even then, it can be hard to predict how any particular performance will do. It’s not at all unreasonable for expenses to be a direct part of the payout equation. The flipside is, if you are very definitely THE reason that the patrons showed up, you have much more power and influence over the show’s success – and you should be paid as such!
At all points, a reasonable payout expectation comes from being able to figure out the scale of what you bring to the table.
I really don’t think you should get a record deal.
Wait – let me rephrase that.
I really don’t think you should spend time, effort, money, and emotional stamina to get a record deal. I played music myself, once, and hungered after a contract. I never got one, and I’m actually pretty okay with that. I had a non-realistic view of what a recording contract meant, and I’m betting that the same sort of reality distortion is in effect for quite a few other folks.
Of course, my opinion doesn’t amount to a hill of chili (super chunky or otherwise) without some reasoning behind it, so here are my bullet points, in no particular order:
1) A recording contract isn’t a career, or even a job. It’s a loan.
Carlos has said as much on social media, and I agree. I especially agree because I think I might have been the one who came up with the idea that a record company is just an unregulated bank. (I think. Actually, somebody else probably came up with it long before I did.)
The whole point of a recording contract is basically to say, “We’ll help finance the creation of a recording and other things, because we think we can sell those things for a TON more than the price of the financing.” If it works out, it’s a sweet deal for the record company, because they very likely have all the rights to the sound recording of your songs – and they can keep selling that sound recording to as many people as they can manage. If you’re not careful, or don’t have enough negotiating power, they will probably own those rights “in perpetuity.” (That means “forever.”)
Record companies don’t give you money for anything. They “front” funds to produce something with your name on it, hoping that your brand will be great for them. If you manage to carve a long-term career out of that situation, then that’s great for you (and the label, for whom it’s probably an even better deal), but the loan itself isn’t a guarantee that things will work out.
Plenty of artists have been dropped by their labels, by the way.
And no, if you get dropped, you won’t be likely to get the rights to all that hard work you did in the studio. That belongs to the people who paid for it, people who aren’t you.
Sidenote: KEEP. YOUR. PUBLISHING.
Actually, just forget about all the record deal hoo-hah and keep everything.
Musicians tend to think that a really snazzy recording, sold in all the big outlets, backed with a spendy video, and pushed with a fancy marketing campaign is what generates a career-powering phenomenon.
Well, no, what creates the phenomenon is people hanging on every note that you play.
Now, to be fair, all the fluff can help you get in front of more people. But you have to ask yourself if all the costs are actually necessary. Sure, it strokes your ego to have spent a whole year in a studio that makes a starship look dinky, and to have display ads in all the papers, plus a launch party featuring 100 white horses and an airdrop of 7000 popsicles over New York. Sure, that’s hard to ignore.
It’s also a frighteningly expensive way to reach a few folks who would have loved you for the music, glitz and glam or no. Yes, it takes more time and effort to find those people without all the hooplah, but if YOU find them, and YOU make the connection, then YOU are in control of your career.
And you might have an actual career, instead of just a big party that lots of people showed up to because of the free popsicles. Those folks are just there for the fun and spectacle, and will be gone in an hour. A career has to last longer than that. The shortcut isn’t a shortcut – it’s a conversion of money to time, and the conversion rate is lousy.
Oh, and of course that expenditure gets tacked onto the loan that the label made you.
Here’s another thing: Record companies look for products that are either selling themselves, or likely will be able to sell easily as the flavor of the month. If they see that you’re building a a real fanbase for yourself, they may come calling, dangling a juicy deal in front of you. Why? Because they want to make money off of what you’ve built.
Ask yourself: If you’re building it on your terms anyway, why should you sell it all off to somebody else for an advance that’s actually a lowball offer, plus the “opportunity” to do everything their way? That doesn’t make sense.
3) Recording contracts don’t do much that you can’t do for yourself anymore.
I’ve talked about this on other occasions. Back in the day of physical media, access to large-scale manufacturing was necessary to keep a large fanbase supplied. Back in the day of a few, tightly gated media outlets, money and clout were needed to dialogue with a significant number of people.
Now, it’s all digital. Making a copy of the entire, uncompressed contents of a full-length recording is trivial. Compression and transmission is only slightly less than trivial. Everybody can get on the Internet and say whatever they want to whoever they want, with the only real limit on audience size being the number of people who will listen. (Social media platforms ARE gated, yes, but not nearly as much as traditional media.)
You can do all of this yourself. You don’t need the label’s advertising machine to connect with your fans. They’re on your favorite social media platform already! Go talk to them. Be available. Answer and ask questions.
You don’t need the label’s production machine to have a music video. A half-decent phone-recording on YouTube can be a major attention grabber.
You don’t need the label’s recording machine to lay tracks. A few okay mics in an okay room can be connected to a $300 audio interface with basic software, and make a recording that sounds just fine. Maybe even great. Plus, you’ll own the rights to your music, and the recording, AND the means to make more.
You ARE the label. You ARE the contract. You ARE your fan-connection machine.
Why pay somebody else? You don’t need a record deal to make art and make connections. All the tools are readily available.
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