Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reasons Not To Sign With The Major Labels

By Bob Lefsetz

1. They tell you what to do.

Are you following this Kelly Clarkson flap? She made an album from the heart, that she wrote. What did the label do? They shelved it for months, hoping she'd come to her senses and record some more upbeat hit tracks just like the ones she recorded before, positive not NEGATIVE! Who wants to hear about Kelly's love losses, no one in the audience ever broke up with their boyfriend!

Now you might think Kelly is a mindless twit, with a voice only. But she'll tell you she wrote hit records for others. And, she's sold a FUCK OF A LOT OF RECORDS!

Used to be selling records gave you leverage... If KELLY CLARKSON has no leverage, what hope is there for you, someone selling ONE TENTH the number of discs!

2. They're only in the disc business.

Well, we'll call it recorded music. If they ever figure out how to monetize Net acquisition, maybe their fortunes will change. But for now, the label only makes money if they sell your music. They'll do whatever it takes to sell your music, TODAY, to run up the value of the company so it can be sold to someone else. They'll whore you out to corporations (say this to yourself, "Verizon is not my friend."), release multiple singles (if they get any traction at all), do whatever's best for THEM, not YOU! Your career...they might pay lip service to it, but they don't really give a shit, the employees are probably not going to be IN this business by the time your next album comes out.

As for labels getting a piece of your touring income, other revenue sources, do you want to marry someone DESPERATE?

3. They don't pay you.

Oh, they'll give you an ever-shrinking advance. But royalties? No one sells enough albums to go into royalties anymore. And they own the rights to the recording. Terry McBride's got it right, you want to control all the rights, so you can license INSTANTLY! So you don't have to get someone on the phone to say YES to YOU about YOUR music!

Oh, they'll give you money to get started, but it's like making a deal with the Mafia, they own you, forever.

4. There's no one working there.

Most analysts believe Warner cut its workforce to make its balance sheet look better, to stanch losses, hopefully report profits. In other words, it's got nothing to do with whether these people were NEEDED, whether they had jobs integral to the company, just what their salaries and benefits were. Oh, the company can outsource these jobs, but when you go for a meeting at the label do you really want to sit in an empty boardroom with a speaker phone on a conference call with a zillion temporary workers? Whose allegiance is not to this company, hell, why should it be, they've got to make their nut every month, they've got OTHER CUSTOMERS!

So, going to the building to work the label...that's a passe concept.

And, what if they don't outsource/get independent contractors to do the work? Will it be done at all? And, how well, by the overworked, multitasking employees still left?

5. They just care SOMETHING hits.

The label doesn't give a shit about you hitting, they just care that SOMETHING breaks through. And as soon as it does, your work project goes to the bottom of the pile. If you own your own copyrights, own the label, you're ALWAYS the priority!

6. They control physical distribution, not online distribution.

They can get your disc in stores. Then again, CAN THEY?

Online, distribution is close to flat. Make a deal with CDBaby, they can get you on all the online services, can get you paid. You don't need to be with a major to get into the online store.

As for albums... Do you really think albums will be the definitive format in the future?

7. Tour support is a thing of the past.

Not completely. But it's just about gone. And more than ever you need to break on the road. If you're doing all the work, why shouldn't you get all the profit?

8. They only want you once you've proven yourself independently.

If you've created the base, why give up control now?

9. MTV is dead.

You don't need a big budget video which won't be aired anywhere anyway. You just need a digital camera and Final Cut Pro, maybe even iMovie, and you can create a video for almost nothing and put it up on YouTube where it's got as much presence, as much priority, as the majors' efforts. And, you control the budget. Zillions aren't spent, and they're not charged back to you.

10. Terrestrial music radio is dying.

If Pink can go to number one at Top Forty and languish at the bottom of the SoundScan Top Fifty, selling 15k a week, how important is that airplay ANYWAY? As for other formats... Hot AC doesn't sell many records, and AOR is an oldies format and the Alternative panel has shrunk to almost nothing and Active Rock...that's not selling tonnage either.

11. They specialize in saying no.

Music is now about inspiration, made by the seat of one's pants. You have to do business the same way. In this fast, ever-changing world, you need to take risks, you've got to make snap decisions, you've got to be able to say yes, QUICKLY! The major is against innovation, it's hard to get an answer AT ALL, never mind YES!

You want to give your new track away for free? No! They won't even let you SELL IT if it competes with the track they're working at radio/in the marketplace. It's not about artistry, but commerce.

But, if all you care about is commerce, if you want all your money up front, if you want to whore yourself out to corporations, do whatever it takes to sell your lame, paint by numbers built by committee music, then sign with the major label. I hope you achieve your goal and get instantly rich, because after this instant, you'll be done.

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