Now more than ever being independent in the music business is important. Its importance may be your band’s goal or, conversely, your independence is thrust unwillingly thrust upon you. The key is making that independence work for you in every possible way.
The typical music recording agreements today include a multiple album commitment from the artist with an option for additional albums. Unless you have clout, the form agreements coming out of New York, Memphis and Los Angeles will give ownership of all of your master recordings (your songs) to the label. Ownership transfers even in most 360 deals (the topic of my next post). The real whopper is that even though your band complies with the agreement and the label owns your music, the normal recording agreement will not include what is known as a release commitment.
A release commitment is something that every band should try to get from a label. It gives a date certain for the release of the music that you have turned in for your album. There are horror stories of artists that have turned in music to a label only to see the label sit on the album for months or even years. I believe the rapper Saigon waited over 5 years to release his debut album. Not much of a buzz left after waiting that long. Having language in your agreement which puts the burden on the label to actually release your language or forfeit their rights under the recording agreement is the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen to your band.
Just like every other industry in the U.S. right now, the music business is running on fumes. The Recession is hurting record sales (physical and digital), merchandise and concert tickets. So even if you have signed with a label, there is no guarantee that your label will (a) be able to fulfill its obligations under the agreement or (b) exist next month. What happens if you sign with a label and that label’s distribution company goes belly up? Unless you asked for a release and/or distribution commitment in your agreement, you may be stuck waiting for your label to work out a new deal with another distributor. Either way your music is delayed in getting out (if it does) or you are back to square one: a great album with no means to get a physical copy out to your fans.
So should you just give up? Like our friends from Galaxy Quest: Never Give up! Never Surrender
Do not despair. Remember the title of this post. Don’t rely on anyone else. Especially in these tough economic times, bands have to get creative to make a buck. If you are a band who has a buzz, can pack a 300 person venue, sells out of its merch at its show, etc., traditionally you would look to a label to swoop in and sign, wine and dine you. Like I said, those days are over and even if they, do you really want to sign a recording agreement?
It’s time to get creative. Do everything you can yourself first. Register your copyrights under your own band name. Register your band’s name and logo as a trademark yourself. Use every single contact you can to get your music to the next level . Look to sponsors (RED BULL LOVES TO MUSIC), like minded third party companies (Apple), concert promoters, party planners, management companies, anyone who has the ability to do what you cannot do yourself. Go strictly digital. Contact digital distribution companies (read below) to get your music to websites in other countries. Do what it takes to get your music out and build your band’s brand.
Its not an easy road. You definitely have to treat your band like a business. But just like other small business owners you will directly benefit from your hard work because you, not a label, own your band. You will be able to negotiate your own deals, collect 100% of the royalties, spend money when you think its appropriate and distribute income when you want to rather than waiting for someone else to pay you.
So whether you choose to go the independent route or you went with a label that dropped you or dropped off the face of the earth, you are in a pretty good position. Not easy, but definitely doable.
SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION OF THE WEEK
Seed is an awesome digital distribution company that works with labels and artists to get their music out to the public via websites and digital outlets all over the world. They work to license your music to places you definitely have heard of and others you didn’t even knew existed. Check them out: www.seed-ny.com and www.myspace.com/seedny. Tell them lawyer4musician sent you (but only if your music is good ;))