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« The Best in the World | Main | The Music Biz Weekly Podcast Episode 3 – ReverbNation Survey, Do You Want to be Signed »

75% Want a Record Deal

On the back of the Reverbnation survey of over 1,800 artists, 75% of whom would like to sign a record deal, it has to be asked: what’s happened to the DIY digital pop revolution?

What amazed me, in particular, about the survey was the record companies listed as Most Wanted: the majors…  Sony, Universal, Warner etc

Is it the innate stupidity of hundreds of music artists?  Or are they recognising the basic flaw in the DIY argument: to promote a group successfully you need money and resources beyond those possessed by most bands and soloists?

Is the seismic shift caused by the interweb in the music business just going to result in a leaner, meaner recording industry, with several new, huge online players replacing the traditional distribution arm and shops and artists even further in thrall to big business through tighter contracts that will list bodily fluid as product in a 1000 degree deal?

Take a look around you.  Who is selling?  who’s on TV?  Who’s setting up own-brand, multi-million dollar merch companies?  Who’s giving up the day job?

When you answer those questions honestly, you might be…

…depressed?  You should be…

Reader Comments (14)


"the basic flaw in the DIY argument: to promote a group successfully you need money and resources beyond those possessed by most bands and soloists"

I couldn't have said it better. The DIY revolution has proven that there is no DIY revolution. Instead of a thriving middle class of musicians, we are getting a churning underclass.

The delivery methods of music changed to allow for more democratization, but this was not followed by an equal amount of democratization in the promotional realm. Or, more specifically, the democratization of promo was small potatoes, and happened largely outside and unconnected to the corridors of the larger music industry. So what if there are 10,000 music blogs reviewing 100,000 new amazing artists? One rolling stones covershot will blow 100 small blog reviews out of the water, in terms of exposure.

This could still change, but it isn't keeping pace with the rate of change in the rest of the industry.

April 7 | Unregistered CommenterJustin

Agreed, everyone should be depressed, everyone should give ASAP. It's crowded in here.

April 7 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

Until musicians understand that they have a business, the DIY thing will never work. Starting a band is no different than starting a small business because they are actually one and the same.

You don't really need a lot of money to get things off the ground. Yes you need some to cover things like recording, merch, web site hosting, and a few other incidentals, the start up capital is actually much lower than most businesses.

Signing with a label, major or not, is NOT a wise business decision. Making music is no different than making software. Where would Microsoft be today had they signed their rights away to someone? Dead, that's where. Where are most bands these days that have signed with labels? Dead.

The old music model is dying because the people in charge don't get it, and refuse to give the fans what they want (digital music at affordable prices). They don't like innovation, they don't like losing control, so their only model is status quo until we die.

I was really dismayed when I read this story a few days ago. I thought musicians were starting to get it, but sadly it appears that it's not the case at all.

I don't usually plug my own stuff in comments, but this may be of help to some out there who are on the fence, or are confused and want some facts- a blog post and page about being indie...

Independent Fortune Cookies:

April 7 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Bowyer

Our observation at TAXI has been that the older the musicians are, the less they are interested in a record deal and the more interested they are in Film, TV and Advertising placements. Age, physical appearance and lack of a fan base don't matter in those worlds.

I have also personally noticed that the number/percentage of bands or artists who succeed as Indies is very much in line with the numbers of artists who do all the things that attract a label to sign them—write remarkable songs, deliver incredible performances, build a fanbase through self-marketing, etc. The reason a small percentage of artists succeed as Indies is they concentrate virtually all their efforts on recording and producing their music and have little or no plan or funds to market their music.

When queried in a TAXI survey a few years ago, an overwhelming number of respondents said their number one priority was to "get their music out there." That vague description/desire shows that most artists want some form of validation (and who can blame them?) for their music, but they don't have a plan to GET their music "out there."

The relatively small percentage who DO have a plan and ACT on it, are typically the artists who tend to succeed either as an Indie who hits our radar or an artist who is attractive to one or more of the majors. Often, they are one in the same.

Yes, the Internet levels the playing field, but it doesn't eliminate the need for a plan, a budget, a huge time commitment, and years of hard work. If those things weren't necessary, we'd be hearing a lot of less than great music and the people making it would be flying around in private jets.

Old school work ethics still apply on today's level playing field.

Michael, well said! I couldn't agree more.

April 8 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Bowyer

@Phil - you sum up the problem for artists very well. Great artists will never, no, never, understand that they are running a 'small business'. Why should they? They're creating great art!

By the way, there isn't, actually, anything wrong with the music business. It's doing very well, with its new players, its new model, making lots of money, exploiting the natural resources (us, if you're a musician) which/who never stop giving.

We are the non-unionised workforce to which the big earners outsource (apologies to those who are members of the MU etc, hope that's working out OK for you).

April 8 | Registered CommenterTim London

Thanks Phil :-) I think the reason so many people still want a record deal is that the "promise" of success as an Indie has proved to be too costly and too much work so they'd be very happy to have a major record label do it for them. I certainly understand that, but if they didn't cultivate some modicum of success on their own, it's unlikely the majors would want to sign them—not impossible, but very unlikely.

Frankly, that's why TAXI has done so well for our members in the Film/TV area for the last 19 years. People used to laugh at me for that. Not so much these days... TONS of folks trying to copy us, but we've kept expanding the envelope. Lately, we've been working more directly with top music supervisors and ad agencies, so when our members DO get placements, they keep 100% of the income. There are cases in the ad agency world that pay six-figures. Getting pretty hard to make that kind of money as an Indie OR with a major.

Michael Laskow

I don't think the response to this is all that surprising when you consider the question. Do you want to sign a record deal? I'm currently making a living doing my music but if you asked me if I want a sign a record deal, what I'm hearing is this, do you want more money and a team of experienced people behind you to do what you're doing on your own with a just a little money? Well sure, why is it so weird to want that? Yes, there's a lot things about being on a label, particularly a major, that are pretty messed up, but there are also a lot of resources at your disposal should you sign a deal. If you're going to apply what you've learned while you were DIY, and do that with a larger labels resources, then put me with the 75% in the 'yes' column.

April 10 | Unregistered CommenterTodd Dunnigan

@Todd - Where is this experience and money that the labels possess? Yes they have "experience" but that experience is no longer relevant. What worked in 1990 doesn't work today. It's like saying I'm a gaming expert because I can kick ass on the Atari. Sure that meant something way back when, but now - not so much. Things have changed in a big way.

Look at the record sales from the big boys. It seems if these guys sell 1500 copies, their in the billboard 100. And, really what music is getting the big push these days? It's the auto tune crap that little girls listen to "because he's so cute". Labels don't care about the music, why should they? Most of them are owned by banks or non-music corporations. They look at the bottom line, thats it. They don't look at the fan - what they want and how they want it. They still think fans want CD's.

So who is really making the money?? How much of that isn't being paid. It's all over the place that labels owe artists all this money ($2 Billion).

You really want THAT running your business?

Like Tim said, the music industry is doing very well - it's just not the usual cast of characters. It's the true Indies that understand business and are making it happen.

You aren't going to get looked at by a label these days until you've already done the hard work. If you've already built a fan base, why hand that over to a label (including copyrights)? What are they really going to do for you that you haven't already done for yourself?

April 11 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Bowyer

As I said in my earlier post, they want YOU to start the fire, then they pour gas on that fire. We still have the Lady Gaga level successes, that are clearly on a larger scale than if they had not had a major behind them, but there are FAR fewer of them. Also, the units sold that get you a #1 slot slot on the Billboard charts PALE in comparison to sales numbers from just 5 years ago.

But even in today's scaled down version of major label success, it does open doors to large-scale exposure on shows like Oprah, Ellen, etc., that can drive music sales and concert sales, albeit at lower volumes than in the past. The smart artists sell their concert tix at affordable prices and get larger audiences, rather than gouging their fans and playing to empty halls.

Some years ago (2005-ish), I was talked about the rise of the Musician Middle Class. I still believe that is going to happen, if not already happening. Here's a link to it.

April 11 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Laskow

Sorry, Phil, it's not the independents, it's Youtube, FB, Google, who all, either directly or indirectly via ad revenue, make millions from providing access to music, which they get for free.

And the free access makes the national USA radio network seem quaint. The big question used to be: how do you monetize online music? The answer is right there provided by those doing exactly that ...and it's not the musicians or songwriters.

We are left with the tighter-fisted remnants of the old industry who expect musicians to have already proved their financial worth before spending any money on them. The deal is worse all round.

There is definitely nothing to celebrate in this situation unless you are just happy that you, too, can drop your needles into the haystack.

April 11 | Registered CommenterTim London

the basic flaw in the DIY argument: to promote a group successfully you need money and resources beyond those possessed by most bands and soloists

I wouldn't consider that a flaw in the DIY approach so much as a flaw in execution.

Most artists will never do even the basic groundwork to even be considered "DIY." That bar is a lot higher than you'd think. The world is FULL of artists who push out an MP3 from Garageband twice a year and never leave the house -- and a lot of them are on ReverbNation. That most of them would like to be signed is neither surprising nor indicative of the viability of a DIY model.

Regarding money and resources, the one resource MOST squandered by independent artists is time. Time is wasted on things like getting a good Google Pagerank, begging people for attention on Twitter, and playing Portal 2. Better to use that time improving the live show, writing more and better songs, making actual phone calls and meeting people.

One of the artists I work with is on his way back from 2 weeks of gigs in Australia. While he was there, he and his songwriting partner got up early and wrote for 3 hours every day. I wonder how many of these ReverbNation artists in the survey do the same.

The reason we have so few examples of "DIY success" is because few are willing to do the work.

The DIY revolution is there, for the ones who are ready. Most of us aren't, not even close.

April 12 | Unregistered Commenterscottandrew

It floors me how many people sit back with their guitars and wait for the success to come to them.

One of the best quotes I've read recently is "the record labels do not want the musician, they want the fans".

Like was said in so many of the comments already, being a musician is a business. You start small, you grow with time and you work a lot of 15 hour or more days.

The smart ones learn to get creative with the money and time they have available to them. Free is my favorite price to pay for anything and the best news is, some of the best promotion and publicity you can get it free, with some legwork.

My day starts at 10 am when I get up, check my email, blog, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook while I eat breakfast. By 11 I am practicing guitar, rearranging my music and writing new songs.

I leave for work at 1:30 pm. While there, I talk about my latest music with customers and coworkers. On my breaks, I jot down phrases that come to me, come up with my to do lists and sometimes check my social networks. Or I will scour the newspaper for upcoming shows and see where other similar artists in my area are playing.

I get home at 10:30 and until 3 am, I am networking, promoting myself, editing video and writing blogs and songs.

The days that I don't work at the day job, I shoot video, write music and do paperwork. (Financials, merchandise ordering, research, etc.)

I look forward to being able to afford people to help me with this stuff, but I am not picky as to whether it comes from a label or not. I just want my music to be heard.

April 17 | Unregistered CommenterSarah LaCroix

When I hear an artist say "I want to be signed by a label" what I hear is "Please help me with my finances so I can do this music full time".

Bands are like all businesses in this way: cash is king. If you don't have the money to sustain you through the start-up phase of your journey then you end up having to say goodbye to your band being a full time career. Don't get me wrong, the art, the song, the music is the most important key for that connects you with your audience and builds your fan base. But without having proper financing it is almost impossible. That's why I wrote this article in Music Think Tank: "Why the Confusion? It Has Always Been About the Business" posted on June 27, 2011. Please read this article for more information and if you're inclined join the conversation with your posting comments there.

There are alternatives out there for musicians other than labels. They come in all shapes and sizes depending on the needs of the band.

I totally agree Tim, artists should look to other alternatives, become a business, and realize that labels are not the only solution to their problems.

June 28 | Registered CommenterDon Austin

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