As an entertainment attorney my job is simple – help musicians. Sometimes helping involves revealing the bitter truth. Some bands want to gauge their industry success based on label partnerships. This is unrealistic. If you’re not signed with a label it means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but unfortunately many musicians equate a lack of label backing as failure. Instead of harping on the disappointment, groups need to understand the harsh realty at hand – labels pass for a reason. It’s these reasons which bands must understand, analyze, and apply towards their career advancement. The worst thing to do, yet the most common, is to begin blaming the surrounding cast. “Had our manager only done this……. Had our booking agent only booked us larger shows, etc…” Wrong. Listen to what the label executives tell you. Love labels or hate the labels, rejected or signed, label executives leak telling information. They are businessmen, they understand the market, and whether you want to progress as an indie or side with the label giants, regardless you are indeed your own “business.” Businesses must make money to survive. Listen to the criticism. For those musicians who haven’t grappled with the label executives, no worries, pay attention to the 5 reasons why you’re not signed to a label. Use the material to progress your own career or even bypass the labels altogether.
1. There’s Nothing Unique About Your Group
At this point everyone knows music alone doesn’t get you signed. Music is indeed the lowest topic on the totem poll. Labels are looking for a unique hook, a hook which enhances the groups musical element. More so, labels are looking for something which they currently don’t have. Bands need to show they’ve penetrated a niche in the market which labels don’t have access to. Show you’ve got a niche, and labels will recognize you’re the vehicle to take them there. Don’t show a niche and you’ve placed yourself in the same category as the other thousand bands standing outside the label’s office looking to take your head off.
Never under estimate the power of a good attitude. Labels are essentially entering into a business relationship with artists and the last thing they want to do is enter into a relationship with a group who feels entitled to being signed or someone who’s arrogant. You won’t find a person in any industry who wants to do business with an asshole. More often than not, bands enter negotiations with this attitude of “what could you possible do for me.” Wrong. In their defense they think this is the way business is done. Hard nose negotiations tactics are for the insecure and entertainment wannabes. Rather, have your entertainment attorney negotiate. They negotiate for a living, understand subtle negotiation tactics and know which buttons to hit.
3. Funds Aren’t Flowing
Contrary to any preconceived notion, labels don’t have money. There is a small percentage of labels who are in the financial position to take on new acts. On top of this daunting nibble of information, there is even a fewer number of legitimate labels. Record labels are everywhere but the numbers means nothing. Musicians should only sign with labels who (a) are legitimate, (b) have money for development, (c) have strong non-traditional and traditional marketing, and (d) have distribution in place. Today this is the equivalent to finding a unicorn wearing a diamond saddle sitting in a pot of gold.
4. Timing Is Everything
Simply put, some bands don’t get signed based on timing. You may have the right package, the right deliver system, unique music, and a solid niche market but the label says “no”. If the label tells you the timing isn’t right, they are telling you the truth. Cycles in the music business make and break sales. If you aren’t falling in the right cycle in terms of market demand and genre success, hold tight, the cycle will more than likely rotate back in your favor. At this point, stay ahead of the curve and approach the label when the timing is rights.
5. The Delivery’s Wrong
Bands rarely get themselves signed by labels and A&R departments are shrinking each day. Unless a label approaches you, which is a rarity, labels hear about musicians from manager, producers and entertainment attorneys. Entertainment attorneys know how to structure label proposals and better yet, work with label executives on a personal and daily basis. They know which labels have money, which labels are signing, and which ones will bite on particular clients. Like it or not, attorneys can navigate past the gatekeepers and get straight to the decision makers. Rejections are common when bands pitch their products inappropriately. You get one shot. Pitch incorrectly, the door closes. Attorneys know how to pitch, when to pitch it, and where to pitch it. Use them and maximize your chances of getting signed. Not to mention your attorney should be the consistent figurehead who helps you navigate all levels, indie or major. Use them on the front end and allow them to grow with you throughout your career.
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