So I just saw a pretty major band that I used to manage broke up. And they broke up because the singer decided to be whiny and was upset that even though his band had only really been touring for two years and was getting cool record deals he still felt he wasn’t where he wanted to be. This leads to an interesting conundrum. This is a guy who had it all – endorsements with the companies he wanted, the label of his dreams, a good agent, all that stuff. He should have been set. He had what most of the bands I work with long for and which many bands never get. He chose to end things the week of his record release and he has since screwed over both his current label and the previous one. As far as I can tell, without getting into personal attacks he faced the same issues a lot of groups in that position face – an inability to define expectations and a lack of understanding of contracts.
Defining expectations is key in any industry but especially in the world of music. The issue so many bands seem to find after they first get signed to a label is that people aren’t going to suddenly care more about your band. Sure there might be more advertising dollars behind you and sure you might have a few more connections that can help you out – but when it comes right down to it, most of these people don’t give a shit and this isn’t going to do anything for you if you’re not still grinding out. No band gets signed to a tastemaker label in their genre and suddenly start playing for thousands of people. No band selling a few hundred copies of their records finds themselves suddenly moving thousands of units because they signed to a bigger label. There are a lot of steps that happen in between those two things. Some of that involves swallowing your pride and doing opening slots, and other times it involves just being willing to do the hard work. But realize that’s a part of it.
Beyond that is the simple understanding that contracts are contracts for a reason and a lot of what defines the industry comes from understanding these contracts and having realistic expectations out of them. If you’re signing something, it doesn’t matter how smart you think you are- you need to take the time to pay a goddamn lawyer, or at least a competent manager to tell you what you’re getting into and then you also need to fill your end of the bargain. This is sort of the fuck of it for a lot of these bands who claim that industry people screwed them over. They just didn’t understand that the piece of paper they signed meant that they got rid of a lot of their rights. Sure it might mean that you don’t get everything you want – but you need to play the game if you want to get anywhere. It’s amazing to me how many bands try to drag labels through the mud when they screwed themselves over. You wonder why there’s anonymity.
These two things alone seem to hurt so many bands who people feel have made it. When you get right down to it – most groups think that they have made it because they got what the guy I used to manage have, and that sucks. Because there is so much more to it than that and it’s a lifestyle that isn’t going to be kind to you but instead leave you suffering, hoping for something better and realizing it isn’t going to improve. It’s a learning curve to be sure. What people might say and what’s on paper can be totally different. This isn’t even always malicious. If someone says their contract is fairly standard with all the normal bells and whistles that can mean totally different things coming from totally different people. Furthermore – there is a marked difference in how major labels handle contracts and smaller ones do. It’s totally fine – that’s to be expected even. But that’s also part of graduating in the industry, it gets more cutthroat.
As a general rule – if you have a shitty time on your first tour not just because you’re not making money but just because the lifestyle isn’t for you, then maybe it’s the time to sit down and realize maybe your mission wasn’t to be a musician. If you have a shitty time dealing with labels and managers in general because you don’t get the business maybe realize it’s not because they screw over everyone they work with but it’s because you’re just not a good fit or need to figure out more about your career path. This is a hard life, I am not trying to knock anyone who wants out, because you’re going to realize real quick it sucks if you keep trying to grind it out with the misguided dream that labels will constantly bend over backwards for you and that soon you will be playing to 500 people a night.
This is a rough article to write and I do legitimately feel bad for the band and the people who were hurt by their breakup, as well as the people they ended up screwing over. It’s a rough thing to have to see any time that happens. It should stand as a lesson though. Don’t think that everything is going to be handed to you and don’t believe the buzz on the internet. Realize that things take time and that things are going to suck for a long time, and if they do suck for you don’t feel bad, just appreciate that you got a chance to do it. Music doesn’t have to be everyones full time – it’s better that way. This isn’t a great life. Suck it up.