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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Why your goal ISN’T to get signed

Sunday, January 08, 2017

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Why your goal isn't to get signed title
By thecomeupshow (Macklemore- The Heist Tour Toronto Nov 28) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

(NOTE: The contents of this blog post are merely my opinion. Signing a record deal is still a valuable goal but in my opinion, not the be-all and end-all. Enjoy!)

One of the joys of being involved in the Music Industry is talking music careers with unsigned musicians, discussing their goals and giving my advice to them on what I believe they should be focusing on right now to progress. I’m all about lending my experience to help develop new talent for the good of the music scene.

While many musicians have started shifting their targets into the digital era of the Music Industry and understand how the shift has moved the goalposts, i’m still amazed by the amount of musicians who are still focusing on getting signed to a record label as their priority. But why?

Let’s start with a brief look back down memory lane before explaining why I think you should be changing your targets.

The Past

Signed Artists in Record Store
Prior to music streaming, album sales (cassette, CD and vinyl) were the most profitable income streams for the Music Industry and thus, signing a recording deal with a record label was considered to be the top target for artists and musicians. Not least the money involved, signing a multi-album recording deal would generally mean professional and financial security for a number of years for an artist.

When CD albums would set you back around £15 (here in the UK), album sales figures were high. A £1 million recording contract was common (at least compared to today’s standards) and whilst that would include the artist’s advance (the money they live on), recording costs (studio time, mixing and mastering), visuals (music videos), tour supports (tagging along with a larger act to promote the new release and build their fan base) and marketing / promotion (TV & Radio campaigns, photo shoots, etc), the money could commonly be recouped (paid off) on album sales*, turning into shared profit between artist and label once past the threshold.

The deals were generally bigger on average and in the ‘glory days’ of the Music Industry (prior to music streaming), there was more money available in the Industry. A gamble on a new artist could be taken because, even if it didn’t go to plan, profits would be made on another artist on the roster and would, more or less, balance the books. Risks, therefore, could be taken.

How the Industry has changed

Thanks to the development of technology and the shift in consumer behaviour, streaming music is now the preferred choice of consumption to a large proportion of the music community.

Friends at Music Business Worldwide recently stated:
“Streams accounted for over a quarter (27.3%) of the UK’s chart-eligible album ‘sales’ in 2015” with streaming “now the dominant format in the Official Singles Chart, claiming two-thirds (66.4%) of chart-eligible ‘sales’ last year.” (Source)

Music Streaming on Mobile
Photo credit: www.bluecoat.com/
So, while CD and vinyl sales will continue (albeit on a smaller scale), streaming is the future of music consumption, therefore, the whole financial process of record labels signing new acts must be scaled back to rectify the dip in revenue. It simply would not make sense for labels to offer large contracts with excessive advances when the Industry can no longer sustain the risk. Make no bones about it, labels are still signing acts, but fewer and fewer artists can live on the derisory advances offered.

Labels still hold importance but they are now a means to an end rather than the end in itself. Collaborative relationships can bring success for both the artist and the label but the financial blanket that once protected the artist is rarely seen anymore.

The rise in music streaming ‘unpacked’ the album (albums are no longer listened to in full from start to finish as much as pre-streaming) so there is now more of an emphasis on singles (or perhaps more appropriately, playlists).

So with all that in mind, what should artists set their targets on to become truly independent; artistically and financially?

Your REAL goals

Musician Tips - Musician Challenge 2017
I’ve recently discussed creative goals for unsigned artists by developing the ‘2017 Musician Challenge’. Artistically, there has NEVER been a better time to be an unsigned musician, with high quality technology at its cheapest. Music videos can now be shot, edited and uploaded to a good standard using a mobile phone; all you need is creativity and a storyline.

Ultimately, the more independent you can become, the more money you will earn (as you won’t have to share any royalties or income with third parties or managers) and the more creative freedom you will enjoy (no disagreements with labels over creative differences). I realise it’s not all about the money, it’s about the music, the art, I know, but a music career is like a business and bringing in additional money (from gigs, synch, merch, fundraising) allows you to invest back in your music.

Financially, unsigned artists should look to the potential of publishing and synch if they want a new focus to provide financial relief to their careers. You can submit your tracks directly to publishers as demos to enquire about working together (make sure you check their websites for submission rules first) or you can look at platforms such as Sentric, who make it easy to submit and will assist you in collecting any royalties available to you if your musical work is used.

I talk about it a lot, but community and engagement really is the foundations of any solid and successful career in the Music Industry. The fans enjoy the music; the fans discuss the music within the community. Engage with your fans (not selling, listening and communicating) and they will have a deeper connection to you as the creative of the music they like. They will help promote your music to likeminded individuals, growing your fan-base and allowing the cycle to perpetually expand (in theory).


I must stress that record labels still have an important part to play in the global Music Industry, but their significance has diminished with the shift to music streaming and options of true artistic independence available thanks to the likes of better, cheaper technology (to record audio and video), YouTube & Vimeo (to host music videos), subscription / fundraising services like Patreon & Kickstarter (nominal regular payments from fans), the rise of accessible blogs & online media (to help promote your releases) and social media engagement.

Labels still have significance when it comes to credibility from the reputation of their brand, contacts, in-house services (PR, marketing, distribution) but for those artists that want to fully control their music and would prefer not to share the spoils, you have all the power and potential to grow your own music community, devise your own creative content, merchandise and exploit your own works whilst keeping hold of the majority of the income.

Your goal isn’t to get signed; your goal is to become self-sustaining and independent. Your goal is to totally, completely understand your brand, what you are offering and whom you are offering it to. If you get that right, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t succeed.

How much do you want it?

Why your goal ISN’T to get signed - Sunny Stuart Winter


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