I have been debating with people the record label route that artists take. Lets get one thing out-of-the-way pretty fast, the chances of an artist actually getting a record deal are extremely low. Then once they actually get a record deal, the chances of an artist actually making money from the deal is extremely low.
You see, in the record label good old days, when the CD ruled and big advances were the norm, the percentage of bands that actually succeeded in the music business was already low. So even back then in the heyday of the CD, if the main aim was to purely chase a record deal as a means of succeeding then the artists were already doomed for failure.
Let’s put it into context.
By the time Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora got together to write the “Slippery When Wet” album, they were still living in their parents’ house and they had a half million debt to their record label.
Now how can that be?
They had two albums out that had sold over 500,000 copies each in the U.S alone and they had toured Europe, the US and Japan for both album cycles. Surely having sales over a million units in the U.S would have earned the band members some coin. But it didn’t because the record labels creatively ripped of the artists.
Lucky for Bon Jovi, “Slippery When Wet” went into the stratosphere. So imagine if “Slippery When Wet” didn’t blow up and cross over like it did. The band then would have been in further debt and most probably no longer in the recording business as a band. The record label at the time hoped that the album would at least move 500,000 units in the U.S again. That there is proof alone that the record labels are clueless. That there is proof alone that there is no such thing as a sure bet in music.
Let’s look at Twisted Sister.
By the time Dee Snider wrote the “Stay Hungry” album which was during the recording of the “You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll” in 1983, he was living in a one bedroom apartment with his wife and kid. By then he had been in the music business for over 10 years. He didn’t rely on sales of recorded music to provide him with a living. He earned his coin by delivering the goods on stage.
Twisted Sister was a consistent crowd puller on the live circuit. You would think that would be enough to get them signed, however it didn’t. All the U.S labels rejected them, until an independent label in the U.K called “Secret” signed them. To simplify the story, this eventually led to Atlantic’s European division signing them for the “You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll” album which in turn led to the U.S arm of Atlantic picking them up, once the imported versions of the “You Can’t Stop Rock N Roll” LP started selling in the U.S.
“Stay Hungry” went global. That was 1984. Three years later and two more albums, the band was finished. Some creative legal maneuvering and accounting got Snider out of his Atlantic contract and into a contact that would prove to be a career death sentence with “Neglektra”.
And if you want to hear about record label mistreatment look no further than Dee Snider.
Metallica went the independent route initially because no label wanted to sign them. Same with Motley Crue.
Artists are faced with so many challenges in the music business.
I have been in bands, where we had to pay to play at venues who used their legendary name to con us into paying. To be honest, we didn’t need much conning as we all blindly believed that we were the ones destined for success. We saw it all as a small sacrifice in order to be “discovered”. I remember having the band meeting where we agreed to go ahead with the pay-to-play gig because that mythical record label rep could be there.
But pay to play doesn’t stop just there.
Even when an artist gets a record deal, their opening support slot on an established bands tour is paid for.
Their song on the radio station is paid for.
Their appearance and interview in a magazine is paid for.
Their album review in a magazine or a website is paid for. Don’t believe me. Tell me that last bad review that you have read. We all know that “Lulu” was pure garbage and it got good reviews.
Is that the world you want to be in as an artist?