Getting a record deal gets
harder every year. The days of record impresarios like Phil Spector
discovering a group, taking them into the studio and making them famous
overnight are long gone.
These days, the music business
is sometimes more about the business than it is about the music. While
record companies and music publishers still rely on hit songs falling
from the lips of superstars to make their profits, the way they find
their talent has changed a lot from the past.
There actually was a time
that an artist, band or songwriter could send their demo tape in to
a record company as "unsolicited" materialmeaning that nobody from
the record company had requested the material. It was somebody's job
to open the tapes and give them a spin with the hope they would find
As more and more people
began making demos, the task of listening to unsolicited tapes became
too formidable for the average label. The labels also became aware of
the legal ramifications involved in listening to tapes that came in
from the general public because of copyright infringement suits that
often landed them in court.
Eventually, labels and publishers
would only accept tapes from music attorneys who were well-connected
or managers who had a reputation in the business for aligning themselves
with "hit makers."
While it may seem like a
daunting task for someone in middle America to find themselves an "Angel"
who can get them through the pearly gates, it's not impossible.
One sure way to get your
band noticed is to become more businesslike yourself. Everybody loves
a winnerespecially a record company. Take Hootie and The Blowfish
for example. Hootie couldn't get arrested by any of the major labels.
They had all heard the demo, and passed on the group. It took a 22 year-old
researcher at Atlantic Records in New York to get the band a deal. How?
Simple. His weapon of choice was a telephone.
The researcher made it
his business to call small town record stores to see if any local groups
were selling any product in their own "backyard." When the diligent
young man found out that Hootie had sold a whopping number of CD's in
Columbia, SC, he immediately went to Atlantic's vice-president of A&R.
The V.P. told the kid to take a hike.
That didn't stop him. He
went to the chairman of the board of Atlantic, who, as the story is
told, went to the V.P. of A&R and mandated that Hootie and the Blowfish
be signed immediately. The moral of the story is that if you can't find
a heavy-weight lawyer or manager to stand in your corner, you can still
get the big guns to come to you by doing the right kind of self-promotion.
But don't let me mislead
you. It takes serious planning and execution to sell enough CD's to
get the labels crawling to you. Rumor has it that our finned friends
from Columbia, S.C. sold between 50,000 and 100,000 units. That's a
lot of CD's for a group to sell on their own.
To perform such a feat,
you need a few tools. The first of course is an incredibly good record.
"As good as" isn't really good enough. You need to sound unique and
have incredibly catchy tunes. Great timing doesn't hurt either, and
letting the public know who you are on a regular basis is crucial. By
that I mean touring.
Touring can start out small
and grow. I recommend playing gigs within your general area and once
you begin to reach saturation in those clubs, start widening your circle.
Play clubs within a hundred mile radius. Then 200 miles, then 300 and
so on. If you get press in those towns, send an advance person to hang
posters in every conceivable place and work with local radio stations
to promote your shows, you might get lucky enough to draw some serious
crowds which will in turn allow you to sell a lot of CDs.
One mistake I definitely
don't recommend making is to press up a thousand CD's without having
a marketing plan firmly in place which outlines how and to whom you
will sell them.
When planning your tour,
remember to start out small and grow. Keep your day job and just do
as many gigs as you can find that are within a three hour drive of your
home base. Once you hit the saturation point with those weekend gigs,
start thinking of creative ways to take Fridays off of work so you can
plan longer trips.
When you start making enough
money from your gigs (which is pretty hard considering most clubs pay
peanuts for original music), you can start to think about quitting your
day job. But don't act too hastily. First do the math. Total up the
cost of gas, van maintenance, road food and flea bag motels before you
take the leap. You may even want to think about sleeping in your van.
Ahhh, the glamour of rock and roll. Oh yeah, don't forget, you'll need
to pay the rent back home. And the phone bill. And the cable bill. And
your Mastercard monthly payment... you get the idea.
My point: It's still a
business. It takes a good business head to make enough noise for a major
label to find you instead of you getting frustrated trying to get to
them. Hey, if it was easy, everybody would be a rock star.
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