Saturday, January 15, 2011

What In The World Do Labels Want?

 In 2004 after just finishing my first solo album, I had the opportunity to meet with a prominent entertainment attorney in the hopes of having his help in shopping my new CD to labels.  Our meeting quickly got started with him asking me a series of questions. “Do you have any more music besides what I've heard? Do you have a band? How many shows are you playing a year?” Wait! What! More music? Shows? A band? I had just spent everything I had on the recording. I didn’t have a band yet because I thought once I was signed that would all be taken care of by the label. Wasn’t my new album enough? Lunch ended and the interest that I had previously heard in his voice was gone and he didn’t even take one of the ten winter green folders I was trying to pass off as a press kit. I was crushed!  This brings us to the issue that keeps every artist up at night. What in the world do labels want?  
Rule #1: It ain’t what it used to be.
All of us have read countless articles on illegal downloading and of CD sales plummeting. This has forced labels to go back to a singles approach. Instead of signing a hundred bands and seeing which two or three stick, now an A&R persons’ artist that they have signed has to work out or they lose their job. Simple as that.  Freshly signed artists don’t have the chance of an album or even an EP. They have a single and if it doesn’t hit then they are history.
Rule #2: Labels want everything done for them.
Labels want to hear a record with “hits” ready for the shelves. They want to see you booking lots of shows. They want to see a fan base. They want to see local or regional radio play already in place. Simply put, a label wants to come in to something working, growing and launch it bigger. If you can sell ten thousand CD’s on your own then they feel confidant and comfortable that they can sell a hundred thousand nationally.
Rule #3: Do you really need a record label?
 For all the noise about the DIY movement, record labels still control the radio waves. This matters if your music falls into the popular music genres. Justin Timberlake needed a record label because of his style of music. However Widespread Panic does not. A jam band does not get huge radio play outside of college or independent stations. Where they make their money is playing live, so why should a label have a piece of their pie? Yes, there are some great independent artists who have chosen to go their own way and make a great living doing what they love. But remember, only you can decide what the right path is for you. Just know that labels still own the radio and if that’s something you want then you have to play the game by their rules.
Rule # 4: Just because someone works at a record label doesn’t mean they know what there talking about.
In the last few years of working at a label, working with prominent producers, managers and radio promoters, I’ve been amazed by how many people are just flying by the seat of their pants or, worse yet, don’t even like music. Nepotism, cliques and just good ole fashioned brown nosing are some major contributors to the problem. This will never change. Instead of fighting the system set your sights on what you can control.  After all you control the quality of your music, how many shows you play and most importantly how many fans you have.
Its worth mentioning that there are some incredibly knowledgeable, talented and passionate music lovers that still work in the music business. It’s also worth mentioning that the entertainment attorney I met with in Nashville four years later gave me my first major break in my music career. Don’t give up and don’t give in. Preparation will beat out luck every time!

Written by: Blake Easter

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