Lately we’ve noticed a growing trend in the independent music scene. Specifically in the businesses that work with independent musicians. Many companies and individuals who used to have a job or a business that covered one specific element of the music scene are now presenting themselves as the “one stop shop” for musicians. As you know, we like to dissect things around here, especially when catch phrases or “industry” speak is thrown around as if it has one universal meaning.
To me, a one stop shop conjures up images of a major highway gas station where you can get gas for your car, a slim jim, bait for your fishing trip, a slice of pie and possibly take a shower (I would not recommend the last one). Basically a one stop shop should give a consumer an option to purchase all that he or she needs in one location. Transfer the phrase to the music industry and it is not quite as clear what a one stop shop is or should be.
We know that in the past a label was supposed to be a one stop shop, with a massive amount of employees handling everything from A&R to press to accounting for its signed musicians. With the decline of the label system the number of employees at labels feel as dramatically as the number of records sold at Tower Records. Thus, the services once offered by a label were no longer present. The displaced label personnel did not simply bury their heads in the sand. Rather, they started showing up as specialty boutiques offering the specific services they once provided to labels direct to the musicians or independent labels. Because the music industry is still based on who you knew, these boutiques served a pretty powerful purpose for quite some time. For example a boutique full of ex-Warner Brothers PR experts could utilize all of the same contacts it once had at a label directly to musicians for a discounted price (lower overhead).
Still, as the economy worsened, the boutiques had a difficult road ahead of them. Boutique employees were cast off too. So now you have a bunch of skilled and connected music industry folks milling about and looking for a new way of doing what they used to get paid to do by the labels and the speciality boutiques. A PR executive befriends a merchandising expert who then befriends a music web designer and so on and so on. The displaced experts then form a “one stop shop” for musicians. Essentially becoming a lean-mean label which, ideally, avoids the red-tape and bureaucracy of the traditional label system.
However, each one of these self-proclaimed one stop shops must be examined a bit more closely prior to agreeing to work with them. Here are some questions you should ask: Do you have distribution (usually digital is enough, but physical, think vinyl, is still important)? Do you have press contacts and the ability to do an actual push to garner the attention you need (in the markets that make sense) for the release of your music? Do they have connections with booking agents? Do they have connections to a legal team that understands music and corporate law? Have they managed a band before or do they have a management team in place? What type of connections do they have to other musicians, producers and studios?
All of these questions are important when choosing to work with any business out there purporting to be a one stop shop. Oh yes, there is also that little issue of money. All the connections in the world don’t matter if you don’t have the money to fund the project. Typically, a one stop shop is not going to operate with the budgets of the labels or the indie boutiques. The shop will be more of a facilitator, a connector of the dots, rather than a bank roll. As a musician, you will want to make sure you have your music production ready to roll (whether it’s an EP or an album) before agreeing to work with a one stop shop. Otherwise, you may be stuck at their shop without the cash to buy the goods.
The model for these shops is similar to the license arrangements indie labels used to enter into (some still do) back in the day. You bring your finished product to the shop, they market it and sell it to the masses. But the shops go one step farther by attempting to manage your band, book you shows, protect you legally and sometimes keep your corporate books and records. That is why it is so important to know what you are getting into before signing anything.
The one stop shop idea can work. Due your diligence, ask the right questions, demand everything in writing (and have it reviewed in writing) and continue to do your own job as a musician: make great music.