Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

My 2 cents (was: Record Ind. & MP3)

Author:Jacob Savin
Posted:5/7/1999; 7:55:20 PM
Topic:Recording Industry and MP3s
Msg #:5823 (In response to 5681)
Prev/Next:5822 / 5824

I know this thread is getting a little stale at this point, but I wanted to put in my 2-cents... (And if you just want to hear some music here.)

I was a (full time) professional musician living in Europe for about four years starting in the end of 1992. My band was unsigned when we went there from Los Angeles, and though we did finally manage to land a recording contract after having showcased for at least thirty different companies, I felt then, and even more so now, that record companies do little for most artists aside from getting in their way.

We were a very serious and committed band. We rehearsed and/or recorded for at least 50 hours a week, and played over 300 live shows in the time I was there. As a result of signing a relatively standard set of contracts with our record company, we were no longer allowed to sell CDs, T-Shirts, posters, or any other "merchandise" at our shows without a representative of the company being there. Of course, they never were, because we weren't famous enough for it to justify their costs. They supplied no technical personnel. They gave no money for touring support, even though that was one of the things they promised verbally when we were first signed. They did provide some artwork, but even so, we had to do most of that ourselves as well. They did get us into contact with some local promoters in different areas of western Europe, but they did nothing to push them to book shows for us, aside from the token that we were now signed, and people could buy our albums in stores... in theory... In reality, and with only a few exceptions, I only saw our CD in stores in Holland (mainly Amsterdam) where we were based. We continually heard from interviewers and our independant promoters and booking agents, "What's your record company doing? I can't even find the CDs in the shops!" This was their broken record...

The one thing they did do for us, was to get some interviews in some of the larger trade magazines, and a few radio stations. Oor Magazine (ear in Dutch), in particular was one we never were able to hit by ourselves before being signed... But all in all, we did better on our own.

One more thing. Don't think that this is a "man who" case where we didn't know what we were doing, and were taken advantage of by one bad apple. The contracts we signed were quite close to the "standard" stock contracts that all new bands are given when they approach, or are approached by a record company, and most bands don't have the advantage that we had of having a good lawyer. (Our lawyer had done previous work with Perry Ferrell of Jane's Addiction.) The language is all perfectly legal.

After all was said and done, the company was not aquired, and we're not famous millionaires. Yet we were dropped after one album and two singles anyway. We never saw a dime from CD sales, because we never recouped our quite modest advances of about $75,000. The only money we made from the CDs was from selling them at our shows, in violation of our contract, under the company's nose because: nobody could find them in the stores, and we were dirt poor.

It's my opinion that record companies are able to continue doing this to artists because the entire industry is based on perpetuating the myth that there are four easy steps to becomming a famous rock-star:

  1. Wake up one morning and buy a guitar.
  2. Play in your bedroom until you are good enough to write a few songs.
  3. Start a band and get a free gig at the local coffee house.
  4. Joe-producer waltzes in the front door just as you finish your slammin' last song, slaps down a contract, which you sign, and tomorrow you're in A-rotation on (e)M(p)T(y)-V.

In fact, what it takes is this:

  1. A huge amount of work and dedication,
  2. A group of people who are able to keep themselves from strangling each other when placed in very close quarters for weeks at a time,
  3. At least a little talent, and...
  4. An inordinate amount of luck.

The first two my band had, the third we had in spades (see here - in Real Audio), but the forth... well, I'm a software engineer now, so you probably can figure out just how much luck we had.

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