Time for Desperation?

Desperation is unbecoming.
I have witnessed a disturbing trend in the music industry over the last two months or so. Musicians have asked me to review more unconventional “recording” agreements then ever before. The problem is that while they are unconventional in length or compensation packages, they are depressingly similar in the underlying theme of screwing the artist.
What is surprising to me is that the labels, both majors and indies, still haven’t learned. Perhaps it is the trickle down effect of the “form” contract. In the old days the major labels would give an artist an agreement and tell them take it or leave it. These one sided agreements have passed down to the newer “indie” labels. Whether the indie labels were spawned from former major label lawyers, execs, employees or janitorial staff, the new fangled recording agreements, save for a few weird changes, are strikingly similar to the old-school major label deals.
For example, one up and coming artist was recently presented with a one song recording deal. That’s right, an exclusive recording deal for one master recording. Sounds great, right? Problem is, there is no money for the artist unless the single sells at an astronomical rate. Furthermore, if the single happens to go bananas and hits the target numbers, the musician is tied into a 7 album deal with a minuscule advance, no ownership of his masters, no recording or video budget and no way out. Sweet deal!
Another label, calling itself artist friendly, dropped a doozy of an agreement on a band. The label, which had zero bands on its roster and even less experience promoting and distributing music, flashed $200,000 as an advance to the band. Problem was, the advance would only be paid if the label was able to find distribution and the distributor was willing to pay for half of the advance. Good luck with that.
My thoughts are that everyone is desperate. The economy is crappy. Gas prices and the housing market are not the only sectors of the economy that are being effected. Musicians and the music industry are definitely feeling the pinch. Big labels are dying. Small labels are trying new things but struggling mightily. Those artists who know how to work the system (self-promote, work their ass off and put out good music) are finding ways around labels but are not exactly rolling in the dough. Aritst waiting for a deal are, well, waiting.
So, to where does the desperation lead? Artists who are not hip to the DIY scene are more willing to enter into any type of deal that is offered from any type of label, regardless of the terms of the agreement and the experience of the label. Conversely, labels are more likely to offer deals that have very little risk and even less up-front money paid to the artist. Desperate times call for desperate matters.
If you have read any of my past rants you probably know my view of labels and “industry standard” agreements (I don’t like them, in case you are slow, no offense). Now is not the time for musicians to be desperate. There are numerous avenues for artists to get their music out to the public and to get paid while doing so. To sign an agreement just for the sake of saying that you or your band are signed is just not the right move. If one of the few remaining A&R guys show up talking about a deal, be weary and please make sure it is a deal worth signing.
On a private note, the world is missing a great guy and a great smile. This one goes out to Nick Dovolis.
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