Why are you still trying to get signed?

Why are you still trying to get signed?!The music industry landscape has changed drastically over the past 10-15 years.  It’s pretty much unrecognizable from the music industry that I grew up with through high school.  So why hasn’t the mindset of the musicians changed as fast?  For those seeking a musical path to stardom, it sounds to me that the majority of bands still see getting signed as Nirvana (the point of enlightenment, not Kurt Cobain’s band).

The Music Industry Then: Get Signed

This is how it used to go: you would find some friends, start a band, practice, have a lineup change after the drummer decided to leave, find a new drummer, practice, play shows at your local establishments, hone your skills, increase your fan base, sell some CDs, get a press kit into the hands of a label or connection to a label, and pray to the stars that they would find you awesome enough to sign that contract.

However, it’s worth noting that bands and artists who get signed have always gotten the short end of the stick, whether you’re just starting out or Metallica.  The music and content you create is really more beneficial to your label or management than it is your act.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the record labels, not the artists, own those big Malibu beach homes.  Those artists may not be all that much better off than you right now.

The Music Industry Now: Get Entrepreneurial

These days, more and more people are wondering: why would you get signed and tie yourself to a sinking ship?  It’s the equivalent of trying to board the Titanic while it’s sinking.  Where’s the fun in that?!  (unless you’re into that sort of thing)

The band members of today now play more roles than just their instruments (yes, even the drummer).  Instead of seeing yourself as just a band who would eventually become a product of a record label, think of yourself as a small business.  Each of your band’s members is an employee of your small enterprise.  Each of you needs to take a minimum of two roles: your instrument role and your business role.

Let’s say we have one band, let’s call them Band A and the Alphabets.  BAA is made up of the following members:

  • Tom Smith – Vocals
  • Bob Anderson – Guitars
  • Steve Johnson – Bass
  • Dingo Carr – Drums

Here we’ve defined the instrument roles for the band.  So far so good. I also realized I paired three basic country music dudes with one indie rock hipster. Don’t judge.

Next let’s throw some business roles on these awesome meaty musicians:

  • Tom Smith – Vocals & Event Management (tour booking, venue relationships)
  • Bob Anderson – Guitars & Finances (luckily Bob was a CPA in his former life)
  • Steve Johnson – Bass & Legal (law, royalties, licensing)
  • Dingo Carr – Drums & Marketing (promotions, websites, social media, pretty face for the group)

Pretty nifty, eh? I know those 4 roles may not necessarily cover all the bases for your business, but the idea is that you are more self-sufficient as an organization. As a band you are now able to go out and seek advice in those additional areas yourself. Take control. Learn a thing or two. Be business savvy and still go home and lay those new chords or beats down. You deserve to be corporately creative. You also deserve to maintain your independence from the Titanic (which is now halfway to the bottom of the ocean).

DRUMMER DISCLAIMER: Being a drummer myself, I believe I am within my safe zone to poke fun of the guy behind the skins.  If you are a fellow drummer, love me, don’t loathe me.  I’m on your side!  Now, let’s go write some songs!

Matt is one of the co-founders behind Local Sounds, a non-profit organization that helps promote, preserve and develop Madison's local music scene. He has played drums for several bands and was formerly on the MAMAs board.

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