There are certain fundamental truths in the music industry that I can guarantee will really free up your thinking. One of these truths that changed my entire strategy for developing bands is this: Every big independent label is trying to be bought by a major. I mean maybe not every one. I’m sure there is a significant label or two our there who just like being indie till death, but I’m referring to your run of the mill big record label. The kind of label that generates a seven or eight figure income but seems to be sort of stuck. These are the sorts of labels that a lot of bands out there want to get signed to. They view them as a sort of nice intermediary between the tiny basement labels and majors, and rightly so. Getting signed to a label that has a dozen employees is a great thing for any band. Even some truly gigantic acts prefer to go this route, simply because it makes more sense for them. I get it, I do. That being said – don’t get too pie in the sky about it, at the end of the day the dollar still reigns supreme.
Here’s the thing – and it’s the same thing that I’ve been remind you guys of time and time again for months now – the music industry is still an industry. As much as we might want some sort of magical capitalist fun system to drop into place there are still going to be people who want money and a quick payout. The thing is, I don’t really blame those people. A lot of these labels that are trying to sell right now where started by huge fans back in the 80s or whatever and the people running them have been doing it for their entire lives. They want to be able to retire at least somewhat comfortably and as much as you might think labels are getting away with screwing over bands the odds are the label CEO hasn’t made a ton of money doing this. So think about it – do you really think that there is a reason for 95% of labels to not want to get bought up? This is what is going to drive their signing strategy for years to come.
Now – what does this mean for independent bands like yours? Well shockingly enough – what the suits get up to could have a pretty devastating impact on your band. When looking at labels you need to figure out if they are in a position where they are trying to get bought up and analyze if they would want to sign you from that perspective. Do you really add value to the label or are you trying to suckle at the teat of their vastly superior resources in order to drive your own work forward? Many of these labels are still willing to sign smaller bands but you also have to realize where there signing strategy is headed. I mean it follows sui generis that if a label is trying to get a higher sale value then they are going to dump the vast majority of their resources into already established bands that an investor might recognize based off of name brand alone. This is why some of the bigger indies act as wholesalers for other labels merch – it makes them look bigger and better than ever.
In other words – there was jack shit for smaller bands back in the day – but now there is truly diddly squat, at least from the more established labels. They need to be bale to create a higher value so that they can be bought up in the next few years. This means consequently that you need to focus your energies on labels that are up and coming and still making a conscious effort to pick up new bands. Remember that when it comes down to it most labels are trying to build up their catalog for merchandising and licensing. That’s a huge part of why so many stoner rock bands have been signed in recent years – that stuff is treasure for licensing experts. If you want a label that is going to want to work with you and not just treat you as catalog then you need to look at their general signing strategy and see what makes the most sense. You want a label who is signing bands that fit in relative to where your band is at, not one that is constantly going to be trying to figure out how to best cater to your band since you are so far outside of their wheelhouse.
This is why big labels are constantly signing dinosaur acts whose popularity everyone knows is only going to decrease. The dinosaur acts know that they don’t need to sell a ton of unit and can get a huge advance because their name brings a lot of monetary value to the company. The label isn’t signing them in order to make money off of them directly from sales. They are signing them to raise their profile for potential buyers. At the end of the day the big bands are the ones that make label CEO’s and A&R guys look like badasses and what is going to generate them all a little bit of income. At a certain point the world of big name labels and smaller ones starts to blend together and the corporate game becomes a bit of a nightmare – especially when you realize that your indie band is unfortunately caught right in the middle.
I know a lot of this seems self evident but realizing that labels are trying to get bought is going to clarify many of their signing strategies for you. Sure you will still probably get passed over time and time again but you will be starting to be thinking in the way that you need to be in order to properly comprehend what this absolute motherfucker of an industry is all about. The more you can understand the industry from other peoples perspectives the more success that you are going to have in the long term. Far too many artists think that just because they are giving it all up for their craft they shuld get the most benefits, hardly thinking about all the people down the chain who are working hard at low wages in order to help ensure that their art gets the most exposure possible. Realize that this is still an industry and watch your personal stock soar. Or don’t and just feel put upon. Why the fuck should I care?