Part 1 by Jeffrey Weber
Welcome to the first of a four part series on the poison contained in a major label record deal and how you can level the playing field once you understand what’s really going on.
A lot of what happens in the music business occurs behind closed doors, and this series is dedicated to young performers (like you!) who want to know just what they are dealing with.
First, a bit about me for anyone who is already skeptical. I have been producing music for over forty three years. More than 200 records during that time. Multiple Grammys. Multiple Grammy nominations. I produce large multi-day music festivals. I have a law degree. I have written four books on our industry.
What follows are my opinions, based on first hand dealings with major labels.
Ok, I’m not angry. Disappointed? Yes. Disillusioned. Yes. But once I figured out what was really happening, I stopped being angry.
Believe it or not, being signed to a major label was never meant to be a career move for any of you. No matter what you hear about the advantages of being on a major label, it’s all bogus, and the purpose of this series is for me to prove it to you.
Ok, let’s jump in to the deep end.
Let’s review some basics – a major label is owned by many people. A public company. Each of the owners, or shareholders, has a stake in the success of the label. Therefore, the job of a label, or any corporation for that matter, is to increase the value of the company to the benefit of the shareholders. The more money the label makes, the more money each shareholder makes. Increased shareholder value provides job security for those working at any corporation or record label.
Signing you to a major label is a strategy on their part. Some might say it’s a gamble. But, like all gambling, the house always wins. The label has to win. You must remember that a major label’s business is their business, not your business – if that makes any sense. A recording contract was never designed to be fair or equitable to you. It was never created with your success in mind.
That would be bad for business – their business. Should you receive a bit of success, the label would be forced to provide you with better and better terms, and once the tipping point is
achieved, the label cannot afford to lose you. Then, the label becomes your playtoy! Everything changes.
For those unfamiliar with the industry, should a major label sign an artist, it’s usually cause for a celebration. Not anymore! While the label may shower you with praise and adulation, feeding your ego, there’s a much bigger play, at play. You, as an artist, are but a small, temporary cog in a much larger machine. Let me repeat – temporary.
Why are you being signed?
Outside of the surface reasons why a major label is signing you, did you ever pause to think why are you really being signed?
Do you really know what’s going on with your career? Maybe you believe you are on your way since you are finally being signed. Truthfully, this is not the case.
Could it be that you’re being signed because the label needs a tax write-off? Ever think of that? It happens constantly!
Perhaps, let’s say, that you are really talented and a major is bending over backwards to sign you. What if you sound and look like someone they have already signed and are heavily invested in that artist’s recordings, their videos, and their marketing and promotion. They’re all in on this artist and you come around and they know that once your record drops, attention will fall away quickly from the artist they spent a ton of money on. What better way to eliminate the competition than to sign you to the label, record your project, and simply put it on the shelf, never to be released. Wait….can that really happen??? Yup. Happens all the time!
What just happened? Well, the house wins. Here’s how it works – Number 1 – you are signed exclusively to the label. Number 2 – Exclusivity means that you are not allowed to record for another label. Number 3 – The label gave you a ton of money for your project, and you cannot hope to buy your masters back to go elsewhere. You’re stuck. The result? Your career is over…!
But, can they really do that?
Did you not see the clause in your contract that specifically states that the label is under no obligation to release your project? The label has total discretion as to when or if they will release your project. Sounds crazy – right? They know that if they don’t release your record, you can sue them and obtain a release from your contract so you can go elsewhere. So, they insert this particular clause.
They spent a fortune to make your recording in the first place, so why wouldn’t they want to release your record in the hopes it will sell and make a return on their investment. See – you’re thinking logically. Big mistake…! Major labels are gamblers, and the sure bet, in their minds, is to stay with what’s been working for them. Part of that thinking is to eliminate the competition, and that means you! It’s a business decision that happens all the time – not just in the music business, but in all businesses.
Ok, but what if the label decides to release your record. Surely, your career wouldn’t be over then, right? Not so fast…! There is nothing – absolutely nothing in a recording contract that indicates that the label is obligated to market and promote your record. What if they don’t? So, with 100,000 tracks being released every day, if your record is released but no one knows about it, isn’t the result the same?
Coming up in part 2 of the series – True stories of nonsense , tragedy and triumph.
©2022 Jeffrey Weber, Stark Raving Group. Contact Jeff at: firstname.lastname@example.org