How To Get A Record Deal
For most aspiring artists, getting a record deal with a major label is their ultimate goal in music. And who can blame them - major labels have the money and influence to give an artists music NATIONAL exposure. It seems like the obvious way to get BIG money and celebrity status, which (of course) everyone wants.
But what are labels and management companies looking for in an artist these days? Good music and a go-getter attitude? No, unfortunately you need A LOT more than that. The music industry (as of writing this: May 2014) is SATURATED with good music. Labels want artists who are the complete package - they MUST have a following / fanbase, they must provide value beyond their music, and they must have mitigated downside risk.
Not sure what any of this means? No worries, let me explain.
You Need FANS!
Gone are the days where a label would sign an artist based on talent alone. This DOES NOT happen (or rarely happens) in 2014. Labels don't want to spend money on promoting an artist only to find out that the general public doesn't like them enough to make it a cash-flow positive investment. Why not put money behind an artist with an existing fanbase instead?
When artists like Soulja Boy, Trinidad James, etc get a record deal, you KNOW major labels don't give a sh!t about talent. These guys built a cult-like following through their swag, music and online hustle - and THAT is what gets label executives to open their checkbooks.
With the rise of the internet, people have gotten LAZY when it comes to promoting their music. Fake "followers", push-button submissions to major labels. People just toss shit online and hope it somehow catches fire and goes viral. With the odds you're looking at, you might as well play the lottery.
Excelling in your local scene is the best way to get yourself noticed. When a song blows up locally and starts getting regular airplay, major labels DEFINITELY take notice. If they think your song can be played in other cities/markets with similar results, expect a phone call and an offer.
What Can You Do Besides Write And Record Music?
Record labels aren't a charity, they are a business. Do you think they're cutting big advance checks to every artist who can rap bars or sing a catchy hook? Of course not. They want mutually-beneficial partnerships with artists that extend beyond music.
Much of an artists income now comes from sources other than their recorded music, such as live performance payments and merchandise sales. The so-called "360 Deal" is what most artists are being offered by record labels these days, where the label gets a percentage of ALL your income, not just your music royalties. Are you willing to go on tour 6 months of the year, with big chunk of your gross earnings going into your labels pocket? Because that is what a lot of labels will expect of you.
Label executives aren't gamblers, they are prudent investors who take calculated risks. When they consider signing an artist, they look to minimize downside risk and maximize upside risk (benefit).
Consider the following - you're a label executive looking over a press-kit of a rapper. He's got great music, a strong local fanbase, and a growing online presence. He's got an e-store selling merchandise and he's touring around his state. However, he frequently raps about illegal activity, has been involved in altercations at shows and has a criminal record. Do you invest $150K into this guy?
Most people would say "probably not". This guy is riding a fine line and could be put in jail at any time. If he gets caught doing something illegal and gets locked up, what happens to the money you just invested? It goes to zero with a bullet. The upside benefit must be HUGE for a label to want to sign this guy - we're talking millions of dollars.
This is an extreme example, but it exemplifies my point that labels don't want to lose the money they're investing in you. You've got to somehow prove to them that you've got limited downside risk. And this doesn't just mean staying on the right side of the law. It means that you'll be healthy and able to perform. It means you're not just a one-trick pony, that you can adapt with the trends and put out current, likable music over the course of your career.
The pros and cons of getting a record deal in 2014 are debatable. Technology has opened the doors for independent artists and labels to thrive without the need for major label backing. But if getting a record deal is your goal, one thing is for certain - you will need more than just 'good music' to get the attention of today's label executives. Money is the straw that stirs the drink, and if labels can't see you being a "cash-flow positive" investment, they will pass you over and not think twice about it.