The Real Deal

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by ThePez, Oct 27, 2000.

  1. I was just thinking about some stuff and wondered how many of you have had a record deal. Has anyone here had their band picked up by a label? (if so what was it like)

    Does anybody really know how the commercial record business really works? I was wondering if there was a way to get a CD some national distribution without haveing to forsake my family for touring and marketing, etc. I know that those things are normally nessessary to have a successful product, but will a label distribute a CD without you having to sign your life away? I dunno, just curious. Any feed back would be greatly appreciated.

    Word to ya mutha!
  2. Those who've been signed, I would really like to hear about your experiances and what you've learned from them. Good and Bad. Thanks.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Well it was probably one of the best and the worse experiences I had in my life - all within a year. I passed an audition for a band that had a publishing deal and we all seemed to get on very well after that, although I should have been a bit suspicious about the fact that the singer and guitarist were married - to each other that is!

    Anyway, I was playing fretless bass at the time and they really liked the sound, a new keyboard player joined who was a very good musician, he had just finished piano exams at a music college in London - the band was playing original music and sounded really great. The publisher got us to do some demos and got EMI interested. They liked the demos and wanted to sign us up. We met up in a local pub (bar) with the guy from EMI and he dangled contracts in front of us,with a big advance, which signed us for Earth, the Solar System , Universe etc! ;)Seriously!

    We signed - each of us had to sign on every page - and I can remember thinking I had made it! We went into the studio to make a single and were booked onto a TV show which showcased new acts.

    The TV appearance went very well and miming to a backing track we made for the show, in front of an audience was great fun! But then things started to go wrong with the recording - we thought : they liked us, they chose us for the sound as they had only listened to the demos. But they had hired a production team - the main producer was a guitarist who we all took an instant dislike to and they also got Jon Moss - the drummer in Culture Club involved. Basically, they didn't like anything we played - and especially didn't like fretless bass. Whereas, we thought this was one of the things that contributed strongly to our sound. I eventually tried playing on a fretted bass they gave me, but hated it and couldn't do anything I liked.

    Eventually, the production team replaced everything except the vocals with programmed synth and drum machine. We all hated the sound, which had become bland and "poppy". What was worse was that we discovered that all of "our" advance had been blown on the recording. The single was released, but with no money for promotion and EMI dubious about the result, it naturally bombed. EMI didn't want to do any more recording, but we were still signed and couldn't do anything without their permission, The band argued and we split acrimoniously - the singer and guitarist thinking they could write a "hit single" and EMI would take them up again. The band got no money, apart from the TV appearance money and I was left with big debts, as I had bought a lot of new gear.

    I became disillusioned with the music business and determined that I wouldn't ever again be just a part of the band, but would only do my own songs, writing and playing everything. I did this for a while and got some favourable reviews, notices, but it never took off and I was getting more money out of the day job and concentrated on that - eventually giving up music for about 5 years.

    I think the moral is - make sure that you have control over any advance and that everything is shared equally between the band. Don't sign anything on first being presented with it -no matter how tempting. You probably need a manager of someone who can stand up tothe record company and producers and take your interests into account.
  4. Hey Pez,
    You can get pretty good distribution without being signed. My band got our CD distributed by a company called Redeye Distribution. We gave them 120 CDs, and they take half of the profits. It's like a consignment deal. But they got our CD into Tower Records, Wherehouse Music and a couple of other chain stores. A girl in Colorado e-mailed us, saying she had bought our CD at Wherehouse Music out there! And with the Internet, there's so much you can do yourself for free. Our CD is available through, several indie music websites, and the major record store websites (, etc.)
    I know some people that have been in bands that were signed, and the stories are uniformly nightmarish. I want no part of it.
  5. brewer9


    Jul 5, 2000
    First of all, this is an excellent topic. Secondly, your story Bruce, is very interesting. It's astounding how these record companies are so inept and unscrupulous. Any more stories?
  6. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Commercial User

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    Boom Bass Cabinets, DR strings
    Brewer, they're not inept...they know exactly what they're doing:D
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    It's the "music bidness"...

    Sad, but true-
    Execs would rather sell 20 million copies of the Brittney Spear-types/Spice Girl wannabes than 100,000 copies of the "next" Coltrane.

    I like the classic Catch-22: pitch your stuff & get the cabash 'cause
    1)"Your music is too different from what's on the radio" OR
    2)"Your music is too similiar to what's on the radio".
  8. Wow, Bruce...what a wild story.

    That's the stuff I'm trying to find out. Alot of (young) musicians are under the impression that once they sign a record deal(their lives, profit, royalties, merchandising), that life is gonna be wine and roses. That's why I wanna take the same approach as Dave Siff and get some distribution deal, but maintain control of the creative process (writing, producing) and promote on my schedual. Those Behind the Music shows are awsome. And you get some of the real horror stories of the "business" side of the music scene. I wanna do same thing M.C. Hammer did (not bankrole a mansion and 50 friends), but before he got his deal he had sold some 50,000 or so copys of his "album" out of his car! So when the record companies came a-callin' he was able to basicly write his own deal and get a royalty rate unheard of for a "rookie". Because he had proven that he could sell records. The way he lost his money was his own stupidity and had nothing to do with getting screwed by his record company.

    Dave, how did you hook up with that distribution company, that's awsome. And by the way, you gotta give me a taste of that Wonderlust. Let me know how to get a disk.

  9. We hooked up with Redeye through a guy we know who runs a small label. Pretty much anyone can do it, you don't have to be signed or anything. It worked out well. Unfortunately, they haven't asked us for any more CDs!
    As for getting one yourself.. e-mail me your snail mail address and I'll be glad to send you one for free.
  10. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    I have never been signed to a major label. But I have recorded and performed with musicians who are now signed with major labels, so can give you a little insight.

    1. Labels want you to tour. Touring provides exposure that sells CDs. Some friends of mine started touring the east coast after releasing their first CD and the record company reports sales heaviest in the cities where they have had well attended gigs. If you really, really don't want to tour to support your CDs a major label is not going to be interested in you.

    2. Labels like to have contracts that protect them and maximize their return. They will ask you to assign your publishing to them as a prerequisite for signing. They will charge recording costs, cost of making promo videos, etc. against your royalties. Nowadays many labels even want to get a piece of merchandising (T-shirts, etc.) just in case you become a super star selling $35 T-shirts at your arena shows.

    3. Unless you go #1 out of the box like Godsmack, you will have to constantly be in touch with the label about support (esp. advertising and promotion). If the people you work with at the label get fired, you better hope someone else there likes you or they may stop promoting you.

    4. Major labels will want to own your masters. Some really big artists do retain ownership of their masters. But newcomers usually don't have the clout to demand this. If the label goes bankrupt, you're screwed, the recordings are just another asset to be sold off to pay debts. I have a good friend who sells bootleg CD copies of his two Warner Bros. LPs at his gigs because Warners refuses to reissue them but also wants huge $$$$ to sell him the masters back. He also recorded albums for two other companies that went belly up and he has no idea who even has those master tapes now.

  11. Oh, you mean become a televangelist when your career washes up? ;) (It's true. That's what he does now. He's MC Hammer the Televangelist!)

    My band is signed. Were on Magna Carta. And yes, Brad is absolutely correct that they know exactly what they're doing! And Pez, you're right (IMHO) to take Dave's approach. You can at least make a little money that way because working with a label is anything but wine and roses.

    I won't go into too much detail because I did once before during some healthy debates with JT in the old Napster threads. ;) You can find my bitching and moaning about the whole experience there! :D

    The only satisfying thing about it is that we do get a small amount of recognition in the Prog world and I get to say I'm on the same label as Tony Levin and Kansas :D, and of course the music is satisfying, but like Jim said, it's the old catch-22; the style isn't popular enough to warrant $$$ being spent on promotion, so the label puts out the album and the rest is up to you. And if you don't have the resources (time, money) to hop in a van and tour rigorously for a year straight, it'll never amount to much.

    We do have one album out now, called "The Great Divide", and we just finished mixing the second one, to be called "Liberation". It's due to be released at the end of January. I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I listen back, but I think it's going to be time to retire from the lineup after this album comes out. (shhh... they don't know that yet! ;)) Because if we continue to have the same rate of success, it will contine to be a money pit that I cannot afford, and if it ever actually took off, well, I'm a family man now!

    Catch-22 indeed!

    PS Here's our website. It's a little outdated but you can check out the album there:
  12. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    hey stingray, any luck dealing with the label re: your album sales statements? i'm interested in hearing more about that.
  13. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    These are all the things I didn't know before signing for EMI and which I am only too aware of now. I couldn't get a copy of the recordings with that band now - and as Stingray says - it is a money pit. We could have made more demos at our own expense, only for EMI to spend any royalties as they saw fit, without us seeing any more money!

    As I said before, the only way I can see, to get round this is to have a manager who knows the Business well, but who you're confident has your best interests at heart - but this is probably a contradiction in terms! ;)
  14. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    For autodidacts, I highly recommend Donald Passman's "All You Need To Know About the Music Business." (Simon and Schuster). It's a great layman's resource; comprehensive, colloquial and not too dull. The October 2000 edition includes sections on how to cover your ass with respect to electronic distribution.
  15. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    Never made it that far, but my drummer joined a band called Ravage that put out an album in the early '80s. Here was advice that I gave him on that:
    1. Know your music, and the market it works in. They were a metal band, and the contract offered them decent percentage points on US sales, but almost nothing in Japan and Europe. Japan and Europe were prime commercial markets for them, so I told him that they were being given a less than favorable deal. When the album came out, it went to #8 in France.
    2. COPYRIGHT every song properly. Again, my old drummer called me and asked about copyrights. His guitarist wanted to go cheap and "protect" everything with a PA copyright, which ONLY copyrights the sound of the recording and NOT the material.
    3. Front money is a LOAN, not a gift. The more you take, the more you must sell in order to keep going. If you sell 300,000 copies of a release that loses $100,000 for the record company, they will think less of you than if you sell 25,000 copies, but net $25,000. Think of them what you will, but read about Kiss and The Police on business matters. They were VERY shrewd, and knew how to build a successful music business.

    For every plateau you reach, be prepared for a much harder climb to the next one. After leaving the bar scene, it's no longer fun and games.

    You know, I preach a lot for someone who never quite got there! ;)
  16. Funkster


    Apr 6, 2000
    Wormtown, MA
    Damm! Makes me glad I'm just a local yocal selling our stuff at gigs so there's still alot of fun in it.
  17. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    I agree - making enough money from other sources, means that you enjoy playing music much more. Having had some bad experiences in the past, I am no longer really interested in getting "signed up" for playing music and am rather looking to play things that I enjoy.

    People always say - wouldn't it be nice to get paid for doing what you enjoy. But I find that it's the "doing something as a job" that tends to kill your enjoyment - when it's really serious, you can't afford to only do what you want. Now I don't have to rely on music for money I can afford to do that.

    I believe that "making it" in the business is a totally random occurence, based on "being in the right place at the right time" - I've heard many bands who were amazing but just weren't right for the time/place and so didn't make it as such, whereas other bands with a lot less talent have been signed purely by accident. There are many stories of people meeting accidentally in a launderette -Seal meeting Adamski by chance, springs to mind - and then going on to a big career in the music business.

    I've also met people who have apparently "made it" but never saw any money and can't afford the price of a new set of strings.

    I suppose my point is that - is getting the "real deal" actually desirable or even something that you can work towards? And if not - then why not just play for enjoyment anway?
  18. gweimer


    Apr 6, 2000
    Columbus, OH
    I had a gig for about 4 years doing interviews for a large regional music rag out of Chicago. I got to interview a lot of people, and they all have some similar stories. The first one is on taking care of your own business, or at least minding the store. The one nice thing about VH-1 Behind the Music is that you can hear this story time and time again from some real legends. Believe them. Second is that chance is a bigger factor in success than talent. I interviewed The Outfield; their story was that they didn't have a name, and were on the verge of giving up, so they tossed out a demo under the name of 'The Baseball Boys', which ended up in a pile on the desk of a producer who loved baseball. Guess which tape he pulled out of the pile to listen to? I guess my point is that the road to failure is an easier one than the road to success. I know - I wound up on the easy road.
  19. Hey Pez!!! What's up?? I'm glad you started this thread.As you know,I'm still in a band that was signed to 2 independent labels.First of all ,labels will always be labels.Their main interest is the money they invest in you!! Labels are nothing more than a banking institution.If your band is already selling alot of albums without the help of a label,they can only enhance what you've done.If you haven't sold many units,they have to do more work and it will COST you!!! Your best bet is to DIY(do it yourself)no one will care about your band more than you!!!I highly suggest that any aspiring act should do as much homework as possible.The more you know, the less likely you'll get screwed.What you don't know will HURT you.