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It's Not Over Just Because You Sign A Deal
By Chris Standring

There is a myth that has hung around unsigned artists that goes something like this:

"If only I could get a record deal, everything will be fine", or "We won't have to slog it out as hard when we sign our deal, our label will have all the connections we need!"

This may or may not ring true to many of you. Chances are ALL of you have something similar in the back of your minds. And why not I guess. It's a really good inspirational tool to help you plough forward. However, I would like to discuss briefly what WILL change and what most certainly will NOT when you eventually sign a record deal.

Much of what may change will be determined by whether you sign to a major label or an independent. At present there are two types of products that are getting signed, and this of course could change at any given point.
  • Young teen artists (solo female vocalists ALA Britney, Christina, Destiny's Child or young boy bands ALA Backstreet Boys, Nsync etc.) usually signed to a producer or production company where the producer has strong relationships with labels.
  • Adult oriented groups (ALA Dave Mathews band, Matchbox 20, Hootie) starting out as independent artists and selling in excess of 10,000 - 20,000 units on their own.

This is a vast generalization! Other artists of course are cutting through aside from the trends from time to time. (Eminem springs to mind). However, this current trend has been with us for sometime now and I predict will be with us for some time to come as (product a): Record labels like to trust that their producers will continue to bring them strong highly marketable product (and these young teen idols are certainly racking up millions of dollars for the labels) and (product b): there is less development needed from the label's point of view as tenacious indie artists are doing all the work!

So, needless to say record companies are not doing quite so much work these days whipping an artist in shape. They want everything on a plate with little development! (With this in mind, it will be important to determine where you fit into the business today to forge ahead.)

So what will change when you get signed?

Well firstly, as a young teen inexperienced artist, absolutely everything! A major label will set its machine in motion. It will issue a radio edit to its format, have you on a radio promo tour where you travel to each state and have dinner with record reps and do "liners" for radio stations and do in studio interviews and you will be so sick of smiling for these people you will be running for your hotel room at the first given opportunity! It will all seem new and exciting however and if you are successful you will be one in a million.

For the indie artist, very little may change. If you are out there selling your own CD's, widening your fanbase, you are essentially doing what a label would have you do anyway. When you get signed the company will insist that none of this stops anytime soon. They will no doubt hook you up with a national booking agent and of course start putting the radio and pr wheels in motion. The size of the label will determine what kind of tour support they can give you. (A very small label will give you none at all!) Now, if you are selling a good amount of units, you have incredible bargaining power to get a very nice deal and if I was selling in excess of 15 to 20,000 units on my own without a label, I would be extremely careful about the deal I signed as I had essentially done ALL the leg work.

What will not change?

Your income! A horrible reality but one to be very conscious of at this stage. Sure you may get a little advance, some publishing money perhaps. It'll last a while. I would be very careful with it as it may have to last a while! Think of it like this: When you sign a deal you are signing a partnership with a company. They are essentially giving you a little money because they want a piece of what they see as potential income. The financial reward happens when records are sold, and even then the way recoupment is set up it is not always favorable to the artist. The money as a new (successful) artist is, without a doubt, made from "mechanical" royalties. You will most likely never see "artist" royalties unless your first album is hugely successful (as your recoupable debt from unsuccessful albums increases as you continue to make albums with a label). Write as much of each album as you can and take care of administration. (For more info on taking care of your copyrights and publishing read Donald Passman's "All you need to know about the music business").

Certainly when a deal is signed, I think it is safe to assume that as an artist, it is still in your interest to stay well on top of opportunities (and keep the label on top of them too!). Record labels have large rosters and just because you are signed, does not mean that they will have every promotional angle greased on your behalf. The things that will change are the things that are out of your control. A lot of this will be media hype and radio/TV promo. As a new artist you will still want to play out and increase your fanbase, and sell CD's at shows (although now of course you will be purchasing these from your label for around 7 or 8 bucks a unit! Ahh the grim reality...)

I think it is good to assume that the work really begins when a deal goes through. This is not the time to exclusively rest on your laurels and wait for "ad day" to see where you are on the chart (although this is certainly a fun aspect!).

The more sensible artists reading this will have long since given up waiting to be "discovered", and quite rightly. It just 'aint gonna happen! It's much more about positioning now. More importantly it is about building a career and this can take 3, 4 or 5 albums before sales really start to kick in even if a label is on board. Be strategic, get a good sense of how you intend to build your career and when a label kicks in there will be very good reason. Most importantly, a career as an artist is very possible. However, It takes a lot of common sense and knowledge. The more you know the better off you will be.


Chris Standring is the CEO and founder of A&R Online (www.aandronline.com). He is also a contemporary jazz guitarist presently signed to Ultimate Vibe Recordings. For more info on Chris' recording career go to his personal website at www.chrisstandring.com


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