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Click to email ChrisWill Your Music Be a "Priority" With a Record Label (Assuming They Sign You?)
by Christopher Knab - Fourfront Media & Music -
April, 2010

Back to Music Business 101

Are You Obsessed?
Since so many of you are still obsessed with the idea that signing a recording contract with a Major Label is the be-all and end-all, I am going to let you in on some facts about what can make a record a priority at a Label or NOT.

Ready, set, go....

Major labels often find that they over-extend themselves by signing too many acts within a short period of time, and scheduling too many releases to come out at the same time.

So, when the label honchos discuss which scheduled records have the best chance of success in the marketplace, they may simply push a release back six months to a year.

There's No Guarantee
Unfortunately, depending on an act’s actual contract, there may be no guarantees that a label has to ever release a record they recorded by one of their acts.

Another situation is this. If a label signs an act because they play a genre of music that is currently hot on the charts, but the negotiations for signing the deal or the recording process took too much time, they may have missed their opportunity to cash in on a current popular music trend. Realizing that, they may decide not to make the record a priority release but to sit on it and wait to see if another time of year would be more opportune for releasing the record.

To complicate matters even more, a label executive may sign an act only to stop a competing record label executive from signing them. When the record is released, any interest in promoting it takes second place to the executive’s personal satisfaction of having one-upped a competitor—and the act is left out in the cold.

But the ego issue can also work positively for a recording artist. An artist may have a manager who also manages another act that is currently hot. The label executive may sign the lesser known artist with hopes of getting the manager to sign the other band to their label some day.

So, when the record of the lesser-known artist comes out, the label executive may pull out all the stops, to show the manager what a great job the label can do. If the label shows it can do a good job with a newer artist on that manager’s roster, perhaps the manager will send one of his established stars over to the label when the existing recording contract with the established artist runs out.

And Then There Were Four (Check That, Three?)
Here’s another reason why a record might become a priority at a label. We’re constantly hearing about labels reducing their staff with every new merger or corporate buyout. Many major labels are merging with other large labels and increasing the workload for the remaining staff.

A decade ago there were six major labels, and today we’re down to four. Recently it looks like EMI is in big financial trouble (again) and that may mean that sometime in 2010 we will be down to only 3 Major Labels.

Another issue is this: it can be important for a label executive to demonstrate to the shareholders of their corporation and the staff at the label that the downsizing issue isn’t a concern. A particular act’s new release is given a stronger push to impress all concerned parties. There’s a flip side, however. When downsizing occurs, an artist’s record may be shifted to a different priority level.

Key personnel who were excited about and instrumental in "breaking” a new label act may be fired or asked to take early retirement. When it comes time to release the new record, a different person may be assigned to work the act; someone who may not care much about or even like the music of the artist they supposedly should be working hard for. Will that record remain a priority? There are no guarantees that the new employee will be excited about the act’s music. They may have their own pet projects to put ahead of any previous arrangements.

"Bidding Wars?"
“Bidding wars” also affect priority status. Bidding wars occur when a new band is the hot topic of the industry grapevine. One label makes an offer to sign the artist or band, another label hears about it and ups the bid, a third label offers even more money. The winner of this bidding war will probably be forced to make that act’s initial release a priority. The label will need a sizable return in sales-dollars from the new band’s recording to recoup their large investment.

Interestingly, as of this writing, no band or act signed from any bidding war has ever gone on to major stardom.

Music Trends
Music trends come and go. In the early and mid ’90s grunge came and went. What followed in the late ’90s were young boy vocal-groups, and blond ingenue solo-artists. Today R&B, hip-hop, and rap acts have become more mainstream than ever, as have some high-end solo acts.

When a hot new music style comes on the scene, any act that’s signed to take advantage of a new popular music trend will usually become a priority at the record label that signed them.

By the way, new releases by superstar acts are usually automatic priority records because of their star status, and the simple fact that they potentially sell a lot of product consistently. But this issue has changed considerably in the last decade, where we see FAR FEWER major hit records than anytime within my memory.

So, take heed.

Many people think signing a recording contract with a record label means automatic stardom. That’s not the case.

You’d do well to research a label’s track record and reputation for making their releases priorities before signing a recording contract with any label.

These issues I have gone through have come up often enough to contribute to a change in the attitude many musicians have toward working with record labels.

This is why you hear me harping over and over that in the last three decades more and more musicians have taken charge of their own business careers. The list of artists and bands releasing their own records and marketing them themselves grows longer every day.

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