As a recap on my previous three articles on how I secured 3 different deals with 3 different labels, I want to look at the essential elements that came into play to make those deals happen. No matter what people tell you, record deals are still obtainable, whether they are desirable though, is an altogether different matter.
Lesson #1 Want to get a deal – don’t try to get a deal.
So first and foremost, in each instance of getting a record deal, it was the last thing on my mind. The acts I was part of were not tailoring the songs to fit what we felt was the most enticing thing for a label. We were not designing the direction of the band, or the way we looked to catch the eyes and ears of any snooping A&R men. Though we were conscious of writing the best songs we could, and looking cool, and performing well, it was always for our own enjoyment and fulfillment, and to connect with the fan base we were building.
I know I get a slew of rants and raves in the comments section when I criticize management, but I will highlight the above point as something that can often go awry when management gets involved. If they are looking to tailor you for a market, or a label, or radio plugger, then maybe you are doing yourself a disservice by being represented by them. In each instance my record deals where obtained without a manager in place. We then aligned ourselves with the appropriate representation after we signed the deal. Labels are very happy for you to join forces with a manager they have already had success with, and very wary of management they do not know.
Make great music, find an audience and people will want a piece of the action, if you can find a forward thinking new school manager then great, but if not, don't be afraid to steer the ship for the time being.
Lesson #2 Be Self Sufficient.
When approaching this subject it also gets shouted down, and I have been blasted in the past for suggesting that an artist should concentrate on more than just making the music. I will call out that mind set right now for what it is - utter bullshit. If you want to be successful today, you have to be a master at more than just being in a band.
It is really hard to make it in music, but the ones who are being successful do everything. They make the videos, they design their websites, they produce their own albums, they even sometimes, SHOCK HORROR - manage themselves.
When you have created a charging juggernaut of a career you can bolster your team around you to help. You will hopefully be too busy doing press, and making more videos, and touring to do everything. But until that point you and your band mates are perfectly capable of handling it, but only if you are dedicated. And if you can’t handle it, then this business is not for you.
Do you know how to work Photoshop, Logic, and Pro-tools? Do you know the ins-and-outs of Final Cut? Do you know how to create 3d layers in After Effects? If not, you better get studying, because the ones who are getting ahead do. It is an extension of your creativity - we live in a multimedia world and competition is tough, those with the tools and skills to create will have the edge.
If your manager thinks that you shouldn’t be doing that stuff because you need to be concentrating on being all poetic and deep and meaningful, that’s fine, but then he sure as hell should be doing it. You need to be a self-sufficient unit capable of churning out whatever you career calls of you. Any member of that team needs to bring a vital element, if you have to go outside of that team to make a video, do your CD artwork, or manage your online presence, then you are not running efficiently.
This ties into point one of not looking for a deal. Because if you don’t look for a deal, but instead simply look to make a success out of your business, then you realize that to be successful, you gotta keep overheads down and productivity up.
When you are making a shit load of money you can go get whomever you want to do whatever you want, but first you have to ask yourself - is my business paying my rent this month? And if it isn’t why would anyone else want to invest in it.
Lesson #3 Be Great Live, Be Great Socially, Be Great Individually.
Each member of your band needs to be a shit hot musician. You each need to put in your 10,000 hours on your own instrument, and be able to step out and shine in a live situation. This helps make your band stand out amongst the others. I am not talking Bonhamesque three-sticks-in-each-hand drum solos, or 80’s style-slap-bass-pyrotechniques. Just have the versatility to take the show to new places every night, and not be constrained by the in-studio performance of the record. This will make people want to come and see you again and again, and also bring their friends.
Engaging your social audience is like engaging a live audience; if you can make it feel like you are talking directly to someone, they will respond favorably. If you are unclear in your message, too over the top, or too understated for your audience, you will not connect. The better your live show is, and the quality and scope of your social show (your videos, photos, interactions) undoubtedly increases your chances of rapid growth for your band. It also increases your chances of being noticed by those in the business.
People want to love you, they want to think your band is the best thing ever. Record execs want to see you and think "I’ve got to sign this band". But you have to give them every reason to love you and no reason to doubt you. You have to cover every base and leave everybody wanting more. If you are not already doing this, then simply put, you are not yet ready for a deal.