It is most musicians’ dream to get their music on Radio 1, have it top charts digitally and sell-out arenas, but the key to this is becoming involved in the record industry. There are obvious examples of rags to riches tales, where someone saw a lonely singer busking in the street and sent them on to superstardom. But the reality is, these tales are often as much part of the hype machine as an artist’s new single, or what they were filmed doing on a night out in Soho!
So, how easy is it to get a recording deal in the music industry?
There is no straight answer to this question, as the industry is ever evolving and there are different approaches with differing levels of success. It is broadly true that the majority of musicians are not going to be signed to a major label for a multi-million pound advance, and indeed, many seasoned artists would actually seek to avoid this, as it often stifles creativity, and can lead to all kinds of problems from the pressures and temptations of the limelight. Sometimes using a not so well known recording studio is perfect for this type of artist.
Over a decade ago, there were many independent record labels that nurtured musicians and released music they believed in. These all but disappeared or were bought up by major labels such as Sony or Warner Bros, becoming only nominally independent. In recent years, the industry has started to shift back into the realms of small independent labels that may not be able to buy you a new house, but can certainly put out your record and get it heard. These tend to be the ones that are more interested in what you create than manipulating your sound, but for some, the latter may be desirable. Below are a few pointers as to what you can do to bring you a step closer to getting a record deal.
Create a buzz
It is a constant truth that image helps to sell things. Although a label does occasionally pluck someone from obscurity, it can be years before these artists are heard by anyone beyond label executives. Make sure that you are creating a presence. Name and branding can be important, but you should also consider what your sound is and try and nurture that. Gigging is important, as is letting people know what creative things you are doing. With social media such as Facebook, Twitter and especially important, YouTube, it is possible to excite the interest of people thousands of miles from where you are performing or writing, and this can be invaluable; what isn’t popular in your town could be the best thing in another country. Consider guerrilla tactics – pop-up performances in unlikely places can be huge hits!
Find some help
The record deal is the goal, but there are people you can approach to help you beforehand. Management companies are there to help you get to the right audiences, and often have links within the record industry. Just beware that you are not being taken advantage of, and that you are still happy with your image. Gigging is key to reaching an audience, and once you have built a credible gigging calendar, you can approach a booking agent to help get those bigger supports and festivals. It is the case however that most will want to see that you have gone a long way to doing this yourself first. If you write strong songs, but do not know where to take them, finding a producer who has success and industry contacts in your genre can be a great way to create an authentic sounding record to take to market. This may be a paid-for undertaking, or, and this is more common than you may imagine, producers will work with you in return for a cut of your record sales; this shows they believe in your music.
Have ready product and start small
Many smaller labels do not have a big enough budget to fund an album, let alone offer an advance as duplication and promotion are expensive. An album which has been well recorded and presented is a more attractive prospect, because it is quicker and easier to market. You may find that, if labels do show an interest, that they may wish to release a single to test the market. Do not be afraid of this, most will stick by you for a further release. If you find you are consistently selling records for a small label but your deal has not changed, you may find you have more leverage to move on to a larger label due to your track record; just make sure you always employ a lawyer to look at contracts.