Vol 2, Issue 4: The REAL Deal on Record Deals

I remember the day that my band ANTI-HERO announced that we signed a distribution deal and how much it got blown out of proportion. Friends of ours began writing us letters wondering when we’d buy them each a hot new sports car or generously donate money to their cause? My response to them and anyone else who seems to be under the misconception that we are throwing parties just to roll around in our billows of cash is this: just because you sign a record deal doesn’t mean that all of your prayers have been answered.

For one thing, there are different kinds of deals a band can sign which may or may not include thousands of dollars being paid upfront to the artist. However, even in this "best" case scenario, what the music industry doesn’t tell you is that if your act flops, you will now owe that money back to your label. Don’t think that this is an uncommon dilemma in which bands find themselves. You just never hear about it because it would ruin our idealistic view of what "being signed" really means, thereby encouraging more artists to go at it independently further crippling the major labels and their stronghold on the industry.Now, not to get into semantics, but let me clarify one thing.

The word "independent" and/or "indie" is commonly used incorrectly when referring to artists. Contrary to popular belief, "indie" is NOT a genre, but rather it refers to the independent status of a band meaning that they are self-managed/published artist, and that they embrace the punk slogan D.I.Y. as their mandate. Even if an act is signed to an indie label, what one needs to understand is that all indie labels have an major label affiliate for distribution purposes, and usually a booking/publicity company affiliate, so further, the lines between major and indie become blurred. In my opinion, a true indie band is one that provides its own booking, management, publicity, distribution, and struggles its way to the top without any label support.Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

Let’s now go back to the types of deals a band may be offered, so that you can establish which type of agreement would best suit your act’s needs.

1) Distribution: A distribution deal will make your album(s) available in retail stores, downloadable on sites such as iTunes, and/or online for purchase. The availability of your album in stores in various territories will highly depend upon your act’s touring history. With a distro deal, no upfront money is offered to the artist. For that matter, your act may be required to take money out of its own pockets to pay for the re-pressing of your cds with the distributor’s logo and copyright information. In addition, your distributing label will receive a substantial cut of the profits from all of your cd sales including your off-stage sales (the cds you sell at shows). If your cd is recalled or returned, again you will owe your distributor money for the inconvenience you have caused them. So, be sure that your cd is gonna sell.

Pros: Having a major distributor affiliated with your band may assist with publicity and bookings. Having your music worldwide will assist your act in widening its fanbase.

Cons: In-store cd sales are at an all-time low (in fact, many major labels are switching to cataloging only), and with illegal downloading programs such as Limewire, it’s difficult to make any money from online sales. In addition, you will now be sharing your profits providing your act with less money to spend on other areas that need development.

2) Indie Label Representation: Signing to an indie label will provide you with distribution (though it may be limited to the areas in which your act tours), and likely booking and publicity services. However, booking and publicity services may be charged as extra expenses to your act. In addition, you will likely be required to continue to perform several of your own management functions to assist with the label’s efforts. There may or may not be an offering of upfront money, however, funds are limited so likely, it would not be a large amount. Indie labels often book tours and do promotions in which all of their artists are grouped together.

Pros: Less pressure to conform to current music trends. Higher likelihood of getting approved for grant programs.

Cons: Less funding for booking, and publicity than what a major label could provide you. You could get stuck in the stigma of only being successful when in conjunction with the other artists on your label. Competition is steep.

3) Major Label Representation: With major label representation, you get to focus on just being a musician. Your booking, management, and publicity is all taken care of. Your albums are available worldwide, and you will be provided with great opening and festival opportunities. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to get signed to a major label as their funds have diminished significantly due to illegal downloading. They are becoming more choosy with the artists that they represent, and are more likely to sign acts that mimic what’s currently popular on the airwaves producing short-lived careers for their artists. If music is your livelihood, becoming a one-hit wonder would be devastating.

Pros: Unlimited opportunities in terms of marketing, and promotions. Worldwide touring opportunities, and distribution.

Cons: Loss of control over the marketing of your act’s image and sound. Due to the extensive rosters of major labels, your act may be shelved for anywhere from a few months to a year. If your act flops, you will be required to pay the label back all of the funds with which it provided you for marketing, recording, and promotion etc.

4) Strictly Booking or Publicity Deals: If an act wishes to continue to be independent, but requires additional booking or publicity services, they can sign agreements with independent firms that will assist with booking or publicity for a monetary fee and/or percentage of your earnings. Most bookers and/or publicists are unlikely to work with bands that are unestablished and do not already have record deals or at least distribution.

Pros: Several venues, festivals, and/or media outlets do not accept unsolicited materials from artists, and therefore having an agent work on your behalf may open up some doors.

Cons: This is often an expensive endeavour and firms cannot provide a guarantee that their services will assist you. Just because your act is offered a show and/or press through one of these firms, it does not mean that it is guaranteed to be favourable.With any opportunity, there will always be upsides and downfalls, but knowing what risks your act is willing to take, and what services best suit your needs will assist you greatly in choosing an appropriate career path.

Irrespective of what any record deal promises to deliver, remember this: just because they say they will provide you with all these wonderful services doesn’t necessarily mean they will. Most acts are so overwhelmed at the very proposition of being signed that they put themselves in a scenario in which they can easily be taken advantage of. As most artists do not have the funding behind them to go through legal proceedings in the event that their label screws them over, labels are aware of the fact that they can away with making empty promises.

Although the workload of self-management is overwhelming at times, I find myself satisfied in knowing that what my band has accomplished is entirely in thanks to all of our hard work. Being a true indie band is something that has worked for us, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s been an easy road.

However, on the other side of things, I hope that you all now understand that just because an act is signed, it doesn’t mean that a) they no longer have to work hard and/or b) that their career will be well taken care of. Perhaps I’ve become jaded from my experiences in the music biz, but I personally would never put my life into the hands of another to sit back and watch it run its course. My life = my music, and I don’t feel that anyone is capable of truly understanding what that means to me except for me.

About the Author:

Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.

Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.

Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase.

Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/