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So you want to be in a rock band?: The new age of record deals

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Lifestyles | October 1st, 2007

In today's digital music age, signing a record deal is no longer the lifeblood of a band.

While the Internet continues to be a devastating pestilence to major labels and retail chains worldwide, for independent musicians, well, it's another story completely.

Think back for a second - 10, 15 years ago - before terms like the “World Wide Web” and “email” were part of your everyday lexicon. Without label support, rock bands could only get so far, they experienced something much like the “glass ceiling” effect, which many argue, women continue to experience in the workplace. For some reason or another, there was red tape everywhere preventing further penetration and rise in hierarchical status, irrespective of individual achievement, merit, marketability and professionalism. Essentially, it was all up to being in the right place at the right time: a “matter of luck,” really. Well my friends, I've got good news. The Internet, the labels' adversary, has leveled our playing field.

No longer do musicians need to sacrifice their dignity and artistic credibility by “selling their souls” to the so-called devil of the music world in order to gain notoriety. The Internet holds the solution to what once seemed completely out of reach: a music industry in which artists could be self-represented and successful. Whoever thought this day would come?

Obviously, as the system remains in its relative infancy, some kinks still need to be worked out, but think of all of the possibilities, moreover, “freedoms,” the Internet grants to independent artists. Uncensored radio and video play, self-distribution methods (including in-stores and at major digital download centres), international exposure, online portfolios/websites, ease in booking and managerial relations, all of which is free and/or can be purchased for a nominal cost? With the access of these “freedoms” (and the list continues to grow each day), the necessity of being signed is no longer a necessity at all.

So then, why do record labels continue to stay in business? Well for two reasons:

1) Many musicians have yet to master the merging of artistic inspiration with business know-how, and thus remain pawns in this unbalanced chess game.

2) Record labels can still offer some benefits in terms of exposure because of their ability to influence/control the market. While the latter factor is continuing to diminish with each dollar lost on new talent development through digital enterprises, the only way to alleviate the first dilemma, that is ignorant musicians, is through education and guess what? I'm here to help. To get you started, I'd like to begin with a personal anecdote.

I've been offered record deals, lost record deals, gained new record deals and terminated record deals on more than one occasion. From each of these experiences, I've concluded that the only way is the independent way. From broken promises to downright lies, I essentially got fed-up with people telling me what kind of music I should be playing, how often I should be playing (mind you, that I was still responsible for booking all of the shows on top of being a full-time student), how many cds I should be selling and how I should be marketing my band. Now, the worst part of all of this is the fact that while we fought to please and fulfill every demand on behalf of our label, they did absolutely nothing in return, and furthermore, received a hefty chunk of our profits (to which they deserve absolutely no credit) come accounting day. To make matters worse, somehow our affiliation with one label in particular managed to merit us more bad publicity than good (which of course we paid for, not them) diluting a buzz that we worked very diligently to create and still to this day we are in dispute trying to reclaim unsold merchandise and profits from them, despite the fact that this record deal ended in the spring!

From these stressful, and often upsetting experiences, I can positively content that we would've been much better on our own. But before we get started, let me clarify one thing from a semantics perspective.

The word “independent” and/or “indie” is commonly used incorrectly when referring to artists. Contrary to popular belief, “indie” is NOT a genre, but rather it refers to the independent status of a band meaning that they are self-managed/published artist, and that they embrace the punk slogan D.I.Y. as their mandate.

Even if an act is signed to an indie label, what one needs to understand is that all indie labels have an major label affiliate for distribution purposes, and usually a booking/publicity company affiliate, so further, the lines between major and indie become blurred. In my opinion, a true indie band, like my own, ANTI-HERO, is one that provides its own booking, management, publicity and struggles its way to the top without any label support....

For the inside scoop on record deals see next week's So you wanna be a rockstar?
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