Certain words have a mysterious power over musicians. If you’re a scam artist, you can have a field day enticing artists to run to the ATM to empty out their bank accounts. “Getting Signed” – “Worldwide Distribution” – “Being Shopped”…ooh those words can seduce musicians into signing their lives away. There doesn’t have to be anything behind the words, no real meaning at all is necessary. Just throw those words around and you can keep a musician on the hook for years dishing out hard-earned cash. So why all the hype around these simple words and phrases? Everybody wants to be an ass kicker. It just doesn’t sound cool at all to say, “I’m an unknown DIY artist slugging it out in the trenches every day.” But in reality, twelve million musicians are doing exactly that day in and day out.
So what exactly does “Getting Signed” mean? Signed to WHAT and how exactly will it help you? Do you even know anything about the major labels that are still in the game? What research have you done on each label to find out what their yearly revenue is, how they promote 95% of their artists and what percentage they take of everything you own? If you had a contract in front of you with a Major Label name on it and YOUR name below it, would you sign? Would you take it to an attorney to find out what you were being signed to? Maybe you are being signed to a worldwide distribution deal that is costing you thousands of dollars not knowing that CD Baby does the exact same thing for roughly $60.00. Quick, name the major labels, what their yearly revenue is, how many independent artists they have signed in the last two years and how that signing has changed those artists careers? No cheating running to Google right now. Did the artists already have the business in place before they were signed? Did they give away 40% of everything after they already had the fans, radio play, national gigs and tons of press?
So a “manager” approaches you and promises to “shop you” to a Major.” Huh? What the hell does that really mean? What are the manager’s credentials, what exactly is “shopping” and a major what…money pit? It’s so easy to dupe musicians with a few sexy phrases that sound like a brilliant shortcut to fame. Laughable how many artists fall for this game and have no idea what the details are around the way labels operate, distribution happens or a talent scout “shops” you for some type of Industry Professional to help you. You can write-up a contact with nothing but buzz words and get 95 % of Independent artists to sign with literally no questions asked. Man, what a sweet deal for many unscrupulous snakes just waiting to take advantage of musicians who have no interest in hearing about reality. It’s become a multi-million dollar Industry taking advantage of people who do little or no research into the inner workings of The Music Industry.
Worldwide distribution is beautifully done through CD Baby. They are excellent and aggregate to all the major terrestrial platforms out there today. Their customer service is also stellar. That does NOT mean they are promoting you. Your music is available on hundreds of platforms but so are millions of other artists’ music. And if someone tells you they will distribute and promote you, exactly how will they do that? Promote you how, where, for how long, and for how much? Do they really have the power to make anything happen? Do you know and do you really care? Musicians line up like lambs to a slaughter for “promotion.” Big deal, so someone is throwing your name on a website that no one will ever see, or posting about you on Facebook and Twitter. You can do that yourself for free! Have you peppered the person with a million questions about the details of promotion and asked to see their past artists success rate? Who is the person who approached you anyway? Have you researched them, their company, everyone associated with them, and sent them a list of questions asking for details and a contract? No, huh?
What are you doing?
Would you buy a used car taking the salesperson’s word for fact that the car is in excellent condition, without taking it for a drive and having your mechanic look at it? If you have any brains, no way would that ever happen.
So why in the world does the word MUSIC suddenly make intelligent people lose all common sense? It’s baffling.
“Being Shopped” is a personal favorite term of mine. No one can ever really tell what it means. It just sounds so impressive. You can pay someone in the Industry for years to “shop” you and they may be hanging out in the Bahamas doing nothing while you are bragging to all of your friends that the big time is right around the corner. Are you getting weekly detailed reports about where they are pitching your music, how and for what purpose? Do you know what you will receive if they do get someone interested in you? What would that mean, exactly? Would it mean another person is watching you for several more years to see if you can build up your business yourself, make a bunch of money, gig like crazy and then they can take a nice percentage of your years of hard work? Why do you even want that?
Has your buzz been stripped yet?
Well, don’t lose faith, there is good news. If you are smart and savvy about the business, there has never been a better time to be an independent artist. Because the Major Labels are gasping for air as they white knuckle it through all the changes in the music world, independent artists have more power than ever before. The Internet makes it possible to reach a global audience and energize and build a serious fan base that will support everything you do. You can develop a street team and bypass paying for promotion, management, booking, etc and get it done for free. It’s hard work, it takes time and it’s a long shot. But it is doable. You have to build it all anyway to get anybody in the Industry interested in you so why not do it yourself and keep all the money? Not sexy enough? Doesn’t impress your friends? Sounds like it will take too long? You might be right, but it’s infinitely better than wasting thousands of dollars on things that you sign up for and never really get. Are there good managers, promoters, large Indy Labels and companies out there doing great work? Absolutely! And when you have 50k+ fans, ½ million you tube views, endless high paying gigs, and a giant machine built, they can really hook you up! Until then, do the work, read the fine print, do your research and try, try, try a little dose of reality.
Having the power over your music career doesn’t have to be a buzz kill.