Derek is an MBA in entrepreneurship, painter, and bassist for Onward We March, a local progressive metal band. He teaches business skills to artists and writes weekly music business advice for his blog Derek Thinks Music. Got a business question about your art? Shoot him an email at email@example.com
6. Maximize Your Draw: Adding a band/company to your portfolio is risky. The larger an initial market you can show your investors, the easier it is for them to justify signing you up for a few albums.
Put yourself in the A&R rep’s shoes. Even if you loved this new band you saw, how would you defend your decision to sign the band if the only people in attendance at the show are the band’s significant others?
Same decision, now assume the band can regularly pull 60 people at regional shows.
Get your pull up. Don’t assume that a label will “discover” your no-name band at an open-mic night. Get a big enough fan base and buzz that the label hears about your music and have to check it out themselves.
7. Already Be Making Money: Less risk for investors. Same as above.
8. Take Any Contract to Your Lawyer Before Signing: Yes, lawyers are expensive. But so is being trapped in a crappy contract for five albums. If you’re not finished with or currently working on a law degree, you’ll save yourself years of heartache by having a professional review the contract to make sure you’re getting a fair deal.
Labels assume (correctly) that most musicians don’t know about or care to know about contracts. While there are benevolent labels out there, there’s also malevolent labels out there. Protect your band so you don’t become trapped in a terrible marriage.
9. Know Your Band Member’s Intentions: Have a serious, sit-down talk with everyone in the band to work out all the details you can think of before you sign anything.
-Does everyone want to get signed?
-Is everyone willing to relocate?
-What is the minimum offer we would accept?
-What is our goal for getting signed?
-Where does everyone want the creative direction of the band to go?
-What would make everyone happy?
-How much control will we give up?
-Will everyone be able to work around getting signed, or will some have to quit their jobs?
-Would the band member’s spouses approve?
-Would each band member be able to take care of their dependents?
-How much touring is everyone willing to tolerate?
-What would cause someone to want to quit the band?
-Are there any current issues with/between people that must be taken care of? (Skipping practice, not paying rent, fights, medical issues)
10. Be Respectful: You’ll get turned down.
The Beatles were turned down by Decca, HMV and Columbia because “Guitar groups are on the way out.” It happened to them, and odds are your band isn’t the next Beatles.
That’s perfectly ok.
Deal with rejections gracefully. Say thanks, and scurry off. Don’t get mad, don’t act crazy, and don’t bad mouth the label; the industry is all connected. If word spreads you’re jerks, it’ll be much harder to gain an audience with already-overloaded label professionals.
There’s millions of other considerations to make, but these are the red-flags you need to take care of before earnestly pursuing a label. Anything else you think should be added to the list?
P.S.: Are you noticing how improving your band in order to get signed sounds awfully similar to how you build a career as a DIY artist?
I thought so.