Saturday, August 11, 2012

So you want to be in a band, lessons from reading, etc

Some lessons from Past Cornerstone's and a few books I read.

I was out on a "rap music" tour with a local performer and we ended up at a famous Christian Rap band concert event. All the rappers knew each other and they were doing some outreach events in a small weekend tour. Some comments about signing with a label were made by the more experienced in the "signed bands" to the less experienced "unsigned artists". This was some years back.

Also I attended some Cornerstone seminar sessions for "musicians" and question and answer sessions with artists on the Christian music scene and questions to artists in particular about being in a band or starting a band.

Also I've read a book called "The Business of Music" which was about the music business in general.

Here's a few things I learned from all three.

Keep in mind that this was from over a decade ago, so some things may have changed, with self published labels and do it yourself records. But some things are still the same.

Think about it from a business perspective. You are a studio and you have a lot of equipment and technicians and engineers working for you. And you're goal is to create a nice product. It's to produce good music or at least commercially viable music with talent and a lot of expensive equipment. Yes everyone wants a record deal, but they have to pay for that studio expense somehow. This is a business, a kind of business machine. So they need to recoup the costs of the album/CD production. How do they do that. With the most popular bands, not the average band.
1. (Business of Music) Most of the profits are from the superstars and the top 5% of the bands. The big sellers, not the majority of the artists or acts that are signed. 90% of the bands and acts will not sell enough music to cover the cost of production. The real profits are from the bigger acts that hit it big.

What does this mean? It means they are gambling that you might hit it big. If they cover costs of production, then they are happy. You as a band might see a small signing fee to sign to a label, but that will be deducted from record sales. The average artist gets $1 a record sale, through normal channels, but this is deducted from their advance and promotional costs often. So the average artist will see nothing from the sales of their albums. They make profit from "retail markup sales" from CD and music that they sell at their concerts and that's about it. They make money from T-Shirt sales and sometimes more money from the markup and profit from T-Shirt sales than from music sales. They may make profit from the concert. That is what keeps them going.

2. (Cornerstone comment from an artist, I believe it was Jimmy Abeg). Question: What would you say to the average Christian artist that wants to go out and perform? Jimmy A: I'd say don't do it. It's not worth the trouble (I'm paraphrasing it.) There is not enough money in it and you will be older and living in an apartment while your friends live in their own houses. Because you can't make enough money to be successful. But he added, if you are really into performing and must perform, you'll do it anyway and I can't tell you not to and expect you to listen. (Note this comment is paraphrased a bit from memory of that interview, I haven't looked at video footage of that recently.)

3. Comment to artists from a past Cornerstone festival on the business. You have to understand that running a band is a lot more like running or owning a Pizza Hut than the glamour you think will be involved. You will have a lot of money spent on making phone calls, paying the band members and support staff and for the cost of a vehicle to travel from concert to concert. Even a small buss can cost a ton of money to fuel up to travel around during a tour. You could easily be needing $300,000 a year for expenses to tour, and this is for a smaller band that isn't using a ton of equipment.

4. Comment from rappers to others. The record labels in Nashville will treat you like royalty when they are trying to get you to sign with them. They will pick you up perhaps in a limo and hang out with you and will seem to be your best friend. Then once you are signed they will not want to talk to band members and you will feel like your a stranger. What happened? You were signed and now the label only wants to talk to your manager. There is a reason for this. The reason is the record label wants to give honest advice to the manager of a band and they don't want to deal with the band and hurt their feelings directly if they are giving criticism. They want to tell the manager and the manager can break the bad news of some critical comment to the band. The manager can say, "yeah the label doesn't know what they are talking about, etc" and be on the side of the band. This helps insulate the band from criticism and still allows the label to have some control over the final product.

This is some of the lessons I learned in reading about bands and labels. This is not meant as a criticism, but merely as statements of facts of the way things work. You have to be ready for this. The band is also giving up some creative control to their music of course, because they sign record deals giving power over their music to publishers and the record labels. This limits what they can do legally with their own music. I'm not saying this to say labels are bad or this is a bad deal and there should be an alternative. This is just the way things work and the nature of the music business. I'm just stating this as the way things are.

It may sound like I'm going to make some kind of sales pitch and offer some kind of alternative to the typical label route. I'm not really doing that here and that is not the intent of this post. I'm just posting this as some knowledge you may want to study and think about so you realize how things work in the music business if you're looking for that big chance and record deal.

Now for a few photos from the Kye Kye edit.

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