Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A QUESTION FROM THE MAIL BIN -- From time to time we get E-mails from industry folks regarding the artists we write about - sometimes we get tips, sometimes we get comments about the acts we've featured - and sometimes we get general questions about the state of the biz. A note we received tonight we feel deserves a prompt response, so here it is along with our answer!

Hey TALENTfilter,

I've really enjoyed your blog, and appreciated the support that you've been giving independent artists.

I currently work with a small artists' collective based out of Portland, Oregon.
We believe that creative marketing in a digital age is enabling more and more artists to become what we like to think of as "middle class musicians" (something much harder to imagine ten years ago). But reading your blog, I've come to wonder if perhaps the day of record companies will never end (and if such myopic independence, as in avoiding all record companies, might be counterproductive).

Considering the fact that many of your featured artists go on and accept contracts from record companies (be them small or large ones) I would like to know what your opinion is on the issue. Or even what those artists have reported since about their experience.
Do you think it's really still worthwhile to sign with a label?

Honestly, reflecting over the success of our bands this past year, I've come to appreciate the flexibility and freedom that comes with being unsigned... but I've also come to wonder how much more meaningful their musical experience might be if supported by more financial capital and greater industry networking (the two things that labels seem to offer).

Sorry for my ramblings... but such esoteric debate no longer seems confined to the field of academia, but rather towards artists who struggle on for the sake of music and for the sake of community. So your thoughts would be appreciated.

Thanks for all you do!

Carl Hoiland
Canoe Music:
An Artists Collective

Hi Carl - thanks for reaching out - and thanks for checking out the blog.

The "day of record companies" isn't going to end any time soon, but those record companies won't be structured in their current form for much longer.

Record companies are in the business of selling, as we heard one label President say, "shiny round things that nobody wants to buy anymore." That's their business. Selling something that people either don't want, or can get for free.

Obviously they won't be able to keep the lights on with that model much longer.

The labels are realizing (ridiculously slowly) that they have to participate in other sources of an artist's revenue in order to make money. Problem is, they're still staffed up the way they've always been staffed, so when they try to justify participating in, say, an artist's publishing revenue, they can't, since they're unable to contribute anything of value in that area. They're simply not set up as a publishing company! Same with merch. Same with touring.

Once record companies staff up to provide service in all the areas they're looking to participate in revenue-wise, those pesky 360 deals will look a bit more fair (Side note: Don't believe everything you read - you can still get a fair-ish deal from a label - they're not all 'required' to do 360 deals - if they want you badly enough, they'll play ball).

Anyway, if an artist is currently trying to figure out whether to partner with a record label, they first need to think about what they're looking for the label to do for them. What is the end-game?

If it's simply to get their music into as many earholes as possible, then working with a major label is still certainly a great way (possibly still the best way) to go. They've still got the best
relationships at radio, video, traditional retail and traditional press. They've still got their higher-profile acts to use as leverage. They've still got checkbooks.

A smart artist (or manager) knows that while the artist might never see a dime from record sales, all of the exposure and awareness-building that's happening as a result of the label's efforts IS, actually, increasing the artist's profile. So their tour guarantees go up. More people come see them live. More people buy their T-shirts. More music supervisors and ad agencies want to license their music. More earholes are filled with the music.

Yes, the artist may have to give up their precious masters, but as recorded music becomes less and less valuable, honestly? Let 'em have the stinkin' masters - they're not gonna be worth anything anyway!


Team TALENTfilter

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