How to find music industry people and gain access to them (part 1)……….


I realize, or maybe remember, that when you are starting out in the great adventure of being in a band that the music business is a great mystery. It seems to be this magic city on a distant hill and the road to go there is nowhere to be found. Gee ain’t I poetic?

This is reality for most musicians and it can be intimidating and disheartening. How the hell do you break into the music business? These people fly overhead in gold plated jets while you slog away gigging in the mud. Right?

Well, not exactly. Let me pull away the curtain and correct many misconceptions. This should help you understand the music business and gain access to people.

First major misconception; the record labels and agents and producers are in the music business and you are not in the music business. This is utter crap. If you play in a band you are in the music business. If you play a show, anywhere, you are in the music business. If you write songs, you are in the music business. The fact that you don’t make money at it doesn’t mean you are excluded. The vast majority of musicians make little or no money from playing at different points in the life. The people that are commonly thought of as being the music business people are PARASITES that attach themselves to bands and music. They don’t play, they don’t write, they don’t perform or tour or practice or anything. They only exist to attach themselves to other people that make music. The people that make music are called MUSICIANS and they are truly the heart of the music business.

This may seem like a minor point but it’s not. If you play in a band; you and your bandmates are the real deal not the turd sitting at a desk in the record labels southeast distribution division. Keep that in mind at all times. Don’t let them intimidate you.

Now, those that know me, know that I actually like and even admire some of the characters that inhabit the music business. It’s true there are a few good people but they are rare. When you meet the good guys in the music business you will know them. They will stand out from all the turds. Always remember that you can’t polish a turd.

Next, I’ll give you a tip. You have access to a huge library of reference material that contains the names and some of the contact info of the people in the music business that you are trying to reach. You may be stunned to discover that your main research library is not the web. It is the stack of CDs piled next to your bong.
I remember being 15 and reading the back of the Yes album “Close to the Edge”. They listed the band members and there was a listing for a guy named Eddie Offord. He was called the producer. I thought ‘what the hell is a producer?’. I was pretty stupid when I was 15. (I haven’t blossomed with genius in the past 38 yrs). Then I noticed that he was named on an ELP record as well. There was even a song about him called “Are you ready Eddy?”. I slowly dawned on my clouded teenage brain that this was the guy that recorded the band’s records. This revelation passed for genius when I was 15.
Your CD and vinyl collection is a treasure trove of info for you. If you take you ten favorite records and read all the little notes in the CD booklets you will end up with a list of music industry names that are involved with your favorite bands. Often you’ll see references to managers and booking agents. You’ll see the names of roadies and girlfriends. You see the names of other bands that the band pals around with. These kind of notes are most common on a bands earliest CDs. When a band finally gets a record deal they feel like they have to thank everyone that helped them get to the top. So they list all their names on their first release.
Gee, let’s think about this for a minute. You have a list of people that helped Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks climb their way from a basement in Joplin Missouri to a deal on Crackhead Records. You love Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks. You even sound a little bit like Joe Schmoo and the Dickfucks. You are a young band that is part of the new Dumbfuck Rock movement that Joe Schmoo started. Wait a minute… I feel a flash of teenage brilliance coming on….I’ve got it! Maybe a few of these people could help your band climb out of the swamp and become a star! They did it once they could do it again.
The dirty little music business secret is that people in the business are always looking for the next great band.
Over the past three decades I have seen scores of “Guide to the Music Business” scams. You give some ass $400 and they send you a poorly printed list of all the major record labels and all the major agents. These guides are worth about $4. This blog is worth a hell of a lot more if you actually want to find your way into the music business. You can make a much more current and useful guide by digging through the notes of your CD collection. (for those of you that have a collection that consists of 50,000 ripped songs with no art, or CDs you are shit out of luck. You can ask your buddy that buys the music of the bands he loves if he will let you look through his collection)
In the old days most records had almost no names of music business people on them. This has changed. Since we now live in a culture that seems to be “all about me” the people at labels push hard to have their names included in the CD booklet. The bands usually hate this. Any band would rather put their cat’s name in the CD booklet than second assistant asshole from the label.
If you want to take this to the next level find copies of your favorite bands indy releases. These always have tons of info on them. Sometimes they will even put their manager and booking agents phone number in the booklet.
Once you start this list it can quickly become the heart of your black book that contains the contact info of everyone that could possibly help you in any way. Every bit of info helps. For example you may see a reference to another band in the thank you section of the booklet. That band may very well still be hunting for a deal and as a result they may play small clubs. It will be easy to figure out a way to bump into that bands road crew or manager and they may become fans after you give them the gift of your music.
In the next blog I will explain how you can use this info to open a few doors…….
© Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2013

The ultimate prize a recording contract..II….


The last section covered how a recording deal is structured.  Please read it before reading this blog. If you don’t I guarantee that you’ll be confused.

As I mentioned in the last blog the deal is structured as a series of options. These lock the band into a consecutive series of time periods when they are bound to the label and are working on creating a set of recordings that meet their obligations laid out in their contract. I realize that sentence is pretty complex and may not make much sense without a great deal of head scratching. Let me put it another way.

A recording contract says that the band can only record for the label and no one else. This is absolute and final. There is no scenario where the label will allow the band to record tracks without the label being in absolute control of those masters. I have run into these kind of conflicts while managing bands. For example the band Miracle Legion was on tour with the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes. As is natural on a tour the bands became good friends. Soon they started to join each other on stage. The logical next step? I get a call saying that they would like to record together.

I immediately knew the problems that would come once the labels got wind of this plan. Miracle Legion was signed to Rough Trade at this time and that label, perhaps the only one in existence at the time that would allow it, I knew would work out a compromise. The Sugarcubes on the other hand, were signed to Electra. Electra, like all majors, had no capacity to compromise.

As soon as the bands brought it up I booked the time and rearranged the tour to free up a recording block. I then set about doing my best to cover up what we were doing. I started some false rumors. “Miracle Legion was leaving the tour” “There was tension based upon who was sleeping with whom” etc. All the rumors were untrue of course, but I tried to make them as plausible as possible knowing that any potentially harmful rumor would grab the label’s attention. If they were concerned about who Bjork was sleeping with they might not spend the time to notice exactly why a hole had appeared in the band’s schedule and it conveniently left both bands in New York for three days. I knew that the key was to get the bands into the studio and get the tracks cut before the label could stop them. That’s exactly what we did.

The end result was 4 wonderful songs and years of war with electra. We put the tracks out under Rough Trade and said “Sue us”. So they did. At least the fans got to hear it. The point to this little tale is that once you sign with a label they own you. What I did with the Sugarcubes was basically unheard of… no one signs with a major and then records without their approval.( well Hendrix did and Miles Davis, and a few others…) They never, ever, ever give their approval unless it is their idea.

So if you sign with a label you are their possession, their slave. If this doesn’t sit well with you then DON’T SIGN WITH A MAJOR LABEL! I am sure some of you are imagining that your stubborn son of a bitch personality will allow you to manipulate them into allowing whatever you want. This is extremely naive. They have enslaved bigger egos than yours, bet on it.

So now lets look at the second half of a recording contract the section that covers royalties and payments. This is the heart of the agreement and this is the section where the band gets screwed. Yes the first section that controls everything you do is bad but the second section where the deal outlines how the band is paid is the part that really guts the band and controls them.

The way that royalties are paid and accounted for is based upon the way records were sold long, long ago. As a result the language used and the system used can be confusing. The first thing to understand is that everything is based upon MSRP. Manufacture’s Suggested Retail Price. This is a price, agreed by the major labels and representatives of retail music chains. It is a fictional price that is somewhere near the real average price that CDs sell for on a daily basis. I have been in the business for twenty-five years and I am unsure exactly how they decide this number. I expect that I could find out more about the process but I just don’t care to. The only thing that matters is knowing what the number is. For the balance of this blog let’s just assume that the MSRP is currently $14.98. I have no idea if this is current but it doesn’t matter. The number is a basis for calculating what a band is paid.

A typical contract my say that the band will be paid 12% of MSRP. This works out to $1.80. So it appears that for each CD sold the band, the artist, you will be paid $1.80. Sounds great doesn’t it. So you sell a 100,000 CDs and get paid $180,000. Fantastic. Well it would be. It’s just that the balance of the of the language in the contract takes this simple formula and starts to alter it. So what is the real formula? Well it goes something like this……. The first thing they take off is called a “packaging deduction”. This is a fictional discount that the artist pays for to “package the CD”. ???? What the hell does that mean? Well, quite simply they are charging you for putting the CD in a jewel case and putting a booklet in the case. The standard seems to be 25% currently. So now we add this to the formula and it looks like this $14.98 x 75% =$11.24 $11.24 x 12% royalty = $1.35. So that little trick cost you $.50 of your royalty.

So now you sell those 100,000 CDs and you get paid $135,000 right? No, not so fast. It seems that the sales figures and not just a simple count of CDs sold. The first 50,000 CDs get half the normal royalty rate….What???!!! what the fuck???!! Oh yeah, don’t worry about that you’re gonna sell millions right?

So let’s look at the formula again….100,000 sales now pays $106,000. Ok still seems like you can get by on this kind of money. BUt that, of course, is not what the band is paid. The band paid the producer, 40,000 and the studio 90,000 so that money is still owed. Yes, that’s right, the fees for production and recording come out of the band’s share. Doesn’t sound fair does it? (Let’s not get all trapped in the whole “fair” thing…it’s just too complex) This little fact looks even more outrageous when you consider that the band pays for the recording sessions and producer, engineers etc but the label owns the recording. In fact even though the band is paying the producer the producer answers directly to the label. Any band that thinks otherwise will learn a quick lesson.  It might be workable if this is where the band’s debts ended but, of course, it doesn’t.  The band also pays for promotions costs. Yup, that’s the costs that the label incurs to promote the record. The band pays for radio bribes. The band pays for print advertising. The band pays for the generation of artwork. Let’s just cut to the chase—- the band pays FOR EVERYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH THE ALBUM!!!. Yes that’s correct. I didn’t just make it up. 

So the A & R guy flies out from LA to visit the studio while the band is cutting tracks. He stays a few days a goes back to tell the label how brilliant the band’s new tracks are….. and sure enough 18 months later the costs of the flight, the hotel he stayed out, the car he rented (and boy was it a nice one), the meals he ate and yes, that nice meal he treated the band to… they are all deducted from the band’s cut.

Here’s another possibility. The record starts to get some college airplay in the Northwest on a half-dozen college stations. The head of College promotions jumps right on this trend. He jets out to Seattle, rents a car, gets a pocketful of cash and starts to make the rounds of the radio stations. he hires as many of the music directors and program directors for these radio stations.  He pays them to put up flyers for the band on campus and more importantly on other campuses and to talk to other DJs and staff at other college stations about how they too could have this cool, lucrative job putting up flyers. As a result the band’s record climbs from 36 on the Northwest college charts to #11.  This whole little exercise costs $43,000 over the course of two months. two years later the band discovers they must pay back $43,000 before they earn any money.

Here’s another angle.  The band hears about the scheme to promote the record in the Northwest and says “hey we got a better idea. Why don’t we play in Seattle and Tacoma and Portland and Vancouver!!”  So you rent a bus and gear and travel around and play all these towns and your record goes from #36 on the college charts to #1 on the college charts. The label, orgasmic over this cosmic stroke of luck decides to celebrate. They fly a third of the staff out to Seattle for a rocking celebratory show. Here it comes… you guessed it kiddies…two years later the band discovers that their tour support, the chartered plane, the hotels, the bribes they still insisted on handing out to DJs etc. are all being paid back out of the bands cut of the royalties. It all comes to a whopping $211,000. Are you starting to see the picture here?

Let me be extremely clear about this blog and this particular topic. IF A BAND SIGNS A MAJOR LABEL CONTRACT EVERY SINGLE DIME SPENT TOWARDS MAKING THE RECORD OR PROMOTING THE RECORD OR PAYING ANYONE COMES OUT OF THE BAND’S CUT!!! As a result, unless you become Bruce Springsteen you will make nothing from recording for a major label. There is only one exception to this rule. Whoever writes the songs and controls the publishing of the songs on the record may very well make some money. Since the law demands that labels pay for the use of the songs the songwriter is the only one that gets paid consistently when a record sells.

Well that’s enough for the moment. I realize that I haven’t been posting lately so I am now back in the swing of it……….

©Brad Morrison/ Billiken Media 2010

The ultimate prize, a record deal!


Well I’ve been dancing around this topic since I started the blog 5 months ago. I haven’t written this blog for some unknown reason. It is certainly not due to lack of interest from you all. The emails and votes for a blog on a record deal have been relentless.  So now I will give in and outline the inner details of doing a deal with the devil.

Through the decades I have managed quite a few bands. Every one of them has lusted after a recording contract. After the first few contracts I developed the habit of telling all of these starry-eyed children that getting signed to a recording contract was the worst possible fate. All of them laughed. All of them ignored me. Did this bother me? No, it was just me covering my moral ass. If I hadn’t warnedthem, with what I know about recording contracts, then I would have been guilty indeed. All of the musicians I represented got what they wished for. All of them regretted it in one way or another.  In some cases it destroyed them and ruined the band. Oh well, I warned them. Now I will warn you.. [Bad Brains -Pay to cum]

Listen carefully -You do not need a record deal. You do not want a recording contract. You will be making a big mistake if you sign a recording contract. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, of course. If by some strange twist of the time space continuum you, the reader are a guy named Elvis and the guy giving you advice goes by the name of Col. Parker then ignore me. If your name is Jimi, you play a lefty strat, and the most important fact it is June 1966 in your world then go right ahead and sign anything anyone offers as long as it comes with a cash advance that is available now.  For all of the rest of you….DO NOT SIGN A MAJOR LABEL RECORDING CONTRACT!!! Is that clear?  [The Who -Dr. Jimmy]

Now I know you will all ignore me. So be it.  If you are being offered a major label deal then it is extremely important to keep in mind that any major label deal is ridiculously complex. YOU MUST HAVE A REAL LAWYER INVOLVED! That means that your uncle Taco is out of the deal. Further you should have a professional manager involved and you should be taking his advice. If you do not have a manger then contact me and I will pass along some contacts or tell you what my consulting fee would be. (I can hear the wheels turning in the minds of many of my readers. Do not attempt to fake a deal in order to get an email full of names from me. It won’t work. The first thing I will do is contact the label and confirm the basic situation. Sorry, I applaud your creative thinking though) The advice I just offered is deadly serious. If you sign a contract without the advice of a real, experienced lawyer then you will get fucked. If you don’t believe me then think about it this way. If you are offered a deal and it is negotiated by a real lawyer and a real manager you will get fucked. With this is mind what will happen to you without their advice? You will get screwed so bad that someone else will end up owning everything including the band dog, the band groupies and that beat up piece of shit guitar that you keep around because you learned to play on it.  Enough said.

Now I am not going to explain how to negotiate a recording contract, that will take a few blogs and I hope to get to that soon. Before we approach that topic I must explain how a recording contract works. For those of you taking prescription antidepressants now would be a good time to check that you have dosed yourself.

OK let’s go.  Let’s assume that a major label wants to sign you. How does something like this happen, in real terms, how does it go down?         [Bowie TVC15]

To reach this stage you will have done all the preliminaries, showcases, meetings, presspacks sent and read, managers and label dudes (and dudettes) making endless calls, rumors, fistfights, depression, elation…so now what happens?

Generally the label starts by issuing a “deal memo”. This is a letter that they send to your lawyer and manager. It is one page and it is a summary of the deal that they are about to offer. IT IS NOT A CONTRACT. It outlines the basics of the deal. That is to say it outlines the basics of the deal they would love you to sign since you haven’t negotiated with them yet. It will tell you how big the advance they will give you for the first few records. It will tell you the total length of the contract and it will outline their offer for your publishing. If they are not attempting to buy your songs then it will address how they plan to pay for the use of your songs on the records.

Your lawyer will turn this offer down and  begin to negotiate with the label.  Every young band will panic at this point and attempt to override their lawyer management team and sign the deal as first offered.  They don’t want the label to change its mind. The band has been hoping and fighting for a deal for so long they talk themselves into believing that negotiating the deal is risky and may drive off the label. Actually the opposite is true. The label expects to negotiate. It is their favorite part of the process. If the band doesn’t try to sell itself high then the label can become doubtful. If the band doesn’t know in its heart that it is the greatest band on earth then how will the fans believe it? Taking a label’s first offer is a sure-fire way to speed up the process of the label losing faith in the band.

So you negotiate with the label and finally come to an agreement. At this point the label sends multiple copies of the 60 page contract. The band sits down and signs them all in multiple places. NOW YOU ARE SIGNED. What does a deal like this say? [Velvet Underground “White Light, White Heat”]

Every record company contract is different. Every deal is different but there are many things that are common to all the deals. These are the things that count. So I will explain them in as basic a fashion as I can.  If you understand the basics of how deals like this work then you will be prepared to open your mouth in a meeting and maybe get what you want or need in a deal. This applies to both big label deals and small label deals.

Every recording contract is designed to lock the band into only recording for the label.  As a result the deal will be split into two halves, the first covering what the band must do, can do and cannot do when it comes to recording. The second half will cover how the band gets paid for its services as recording artists. In addition there may be a third section covering specific commitments to promote the records and to provide tour support.  Finally the contract may cover song publishing and include a complete publishing contract. I will not cover the details of publishing in tonight’s blog. You can check out some of what is involved in my two blogs about publishing royalties. [Yes -Close to the Edge]

Part one the section that covers how long the band is bound to the contract is always structured as a series of options.  What the hell does that mean? Well it isn’t like choosing one item from column A and two from Column B at the chinese take out. (if you have no experience with chinese take out then you are either  an underage hippie kid living at a remote commune, playing a hemp guitar, or not a musician)

The options in a recording contract work like this – the band must make the first record for the label. The label can take a god awful long time putting it out. You must wait. Once they release the recordings the clock starts to tick on the band’s option. Let’s say that it’s a one year option. This means that within one year of the album’s release the label must tell you if they would like another record from you. It is the label’s option not the band’s. It is NEVER the band’s option. [Jackson Five -I want you back] If they say that they would like to “excercise the next option” then the band makes another album.  Most major label record deals have TEN options. In practical terms this means the band is committed to the record label for up to 15 years. (California has restrictions on deals that are this burdensome so most labels use NY law to get around this anti-slavery law. Think carefully about this sentence….yes….a recording contract is a form of slavery…remember I warned you….)

Often bands will talk about getting “three records guaranteed”. This means that the label commits to exercising the first two options after the first release. In practical terms this is never true. The label can usually get out of the options by paying off a penalty. [Iggy Pop- The Passenger] If the label decides it doesn’t want to release any more records from a band, any band, they will stubbornly stick to their guns.  Even though the band may have language in their deal that states that the label must do it in practical terms this will not make them release the record. They will pay the penalties, no matter how large, and move on. Even a sizable non-release penalty payment is cheaper than releasing a full-scale release. When you add in the fact that an unwanted release would require lots of staff time, time that could be spent on a record the label is excited about, then you can start to see why they do this.

So a contract that guarantees three albums will be released doesn’t mean three albums will be released. What does it mean? Well it shows that the label was enthusiastic enough when they signed the deal to commit serious money to the project of developing the band.  So deals like this primarily measure how committed and excited the label was about the band during the negotiation process and little more. All bands and all labels rise and fall in their enthusiasm and this affects the way albums are promoted.

Now we’ve established that the contract revolves around options and that options are set to certain time periods and all of this is nailed down to the concept of  a “record”. This concept is certainly being tested in the modern market. Bands no longer go into the studio and put together a 10 song, 34 minute vinyl LP (the standard from 1967 ’til 1987) nor do bands go into the studio and put together a 12-14 song , 45 minute Compact disc (the standard from 1987 ’til 2003). I think we can also rule out the old school idea that bands go into a studio and cut two tracks which are turned into a single.

 [Mission of Burma “Academy Fight Song”]

The current environment is one of changing standards where bands are releasing individual tracks as downloads, collections of varying lengths in every format they can concoct and in the near future streaming the live creation of recorded music through peer to peer networks. [Bad Brains “Banned in DC”]

Despite the state of chaos and the coming changes labels seem to be sticking to locking a band’s output into the concept of albums and collections of songs. [Deep Purple “Pictures of Home”]. No matter how a contract is structured all of the band’s recorded output will be controlled by the label for the duration of the contract. If a contract did not accomplish this there would be no reason for the label to enter into the deal.  In short the band will only record for the label and every single note put to tape during the contract will be owned by the label.

In this section of the deal the contract will also cover who controls the different aspects of creativity. Here’s a short list of things that will be covered.

1. Who’s songs are going to be recorded?  Are there going to be any Bob Dylan songs? Is a ghost songwriter going to be employed? Can the label force songs on the band? Often the label will require the band to submit demos and then the label will pick out the tracks to be recorded. Sometimes the selection will be by mutual agreement. When the deal is structured in this manner the band will discover that it is very hard to win an argument on song selection with the label.

[Bob Marley “Crisis”]

2. Who will produce the recordings? Here is another case where the label will demand complete control. For all bands without a hit the label will use the producer to control the band and micromanage the band’s recordings. Once again if the band gets the label to agree to a situation where the producer is agreed by both sides then the band will have a great deal of trouble over ruling the label. [Love “Live and Let Live”] In many cases a band will attempt to be self producing. That is to say they want to make their own records and do their own tracking, mixing and editing with the help of a buddy who is an engineer. This kind of provision is very hard to get from a label for the simple reason that all major labels know that this is an extremely bad idea for any new band. The label knows that the band has no experience creating a record that will compete sonically on the radio. If the band makes this point a do or die point of negotiation the label will act as if they are giving in and just demand more flexibility to remix. Then under the cover of darkness they will “remix” the record by tearing it to pieces and producing the product they wanted all along. [Rolliing Stones “Sympathy for the Devil”]

3. The budgets for recording of each optional record. The language that covers the recording budgets will name maximums that the label is willing to put up for recording. They will often include language that allows the label to exceed these numbers but only with the written permission of the label.

4. The budget for the total amount of money to be advanced to the band. This will be a large sum which will include many smaller sums like recording budget, tour support, personal advances to band members, allowances for gear purchases etc. [Santana “Black Magic Woman”]

5 Budgets and maximum allowances of money to pay producers. Once again these sums will be controlled solely by the label. In general the producer will be paid an advance payment which will be part of the money that he will earn when the record sells. THIS MONEY AND THE ROYALTY POINTS COMES OUT OF THE BAND’S SHARE!

6. Allowances and advances set aside for the band’s manager. This amount is usually negotiated by the manager as he works out the deal. This is a blatant conflict of interest on the part of the manager and is, as a result, standard practice in the music business.

There are other items that are often included in the first section of a recording contract. I’m certain I am forgetting a few but it doesn’t really matter. What is extremely important to understand is that the number of options, the guarantee of options, the total contract length will all determine how long you may be locked into a label.

When a label is courting a band they will be the most charming, supportive, understanding, coolest people who you have ever met. This view will change once you begin to work with the label to create your first album. I promise that any label will be much less attractive once the deal is over. Always keep this in mind.

 Without exception the area of the contract that covers options and budgets is the part that gets a band licking their greasy chops. It is very easy for these numbers to add up to over a million dollars for the first option.  This is what lures the band in and gets them to sign.[Beatles- 8 days a week]

Now here is the fact that puts all of this in the proper perspective. Everything that is done to create, manufacture and promote the record, everything that is done to pay off the business, all of the advertising, all of the advances , all of the tour support, all of the gear allowances, all of the catered food and press events, all of the plane tickets given to writers, all of the cash put up to print up t shirts, everything in every possible way that is paid for by the label ultimately comes out of the band’s cut of money. Go back and read that again. What does this mean? EVERYTHING DONE TO MAKE THE RECORD AND PROMOTE IT IS PAID FOR BY THE BAND OUT OF THEIR ROYALTIES!!!

Think about this fact. It the fundamental truth about record deals. The band pays for everything out of the royalties that the band MIGHT receive.  As a result of this the way a recording contract is structured the average musician in a successful band will not only make no money from making records they will spend years OWING THE LABEL MONEY!!!

[Grand Funk “I’m your captain”]

I will explain how this works in the next installment when I cover royalty payments.  Let me close by saying that it often works out like this :

Producer $50,000

Recording Studio $200,000

Engineers $75,000

Manager  $140,000

Each crew member $12,000

remix engineer $40,000

Mastering studio $20,000

Band member $7500 and a new guitar, amp and a few pedals

Ask yourself do you want to give the best you’ve got to give, perhaps the best you will ever give since you are in your prime, in return for $7500, a new guitar and amp and a year’s worth of crappy catered food as you make an album?

[Gang of Four “Anthrax]

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Demos and the fine art of getting it down on tape………


About a month ago I ran a posting asking people to send in their demos. As I mentioned in that posting the idea was for me to criticize the demos in an effort to teach you, the reader, something about songwriting and recording. I got quite few submissions and, in general, there was some good stuff. Nonetheless I intend to kick the stuffing out of the songs I have picked. I am not doin’ this to discourage the musicians that were brave enough to go through this process. Instead I am going to give you an idea of how tapes are torn up by label people and producers.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs almost everyone in the music business can come up with one solid criticism of anything they hear and that is that whatever it is, no matter how good or bad, it would have benefited greatly if the person doing the talking had been involved in its creation.  The music business is full of people who are firmly convinced that they know everything there is to know about writing songs, recording music and turning that music into a mega popular world-wide hit.  In the few cases were I have seen this actually happen it usually results in something like “The Witch Doctor Song” as sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks or the Macarena. It is useful to remember that very few of these people actually have any talent. If they did they would be musicians. During the Golden Age of record companies there were A & R people who really knew their stuff. There are even a few of them alive now. ( I’ll mention Joe McEwan and leave it at that…Hi Joe..How’s the wife?)( I should also admit that this whole blog is based on the premise that I know something about writing songs, recording songs and creating hits. At least I have succeeded in all three activities so there is a chance I am qualified)

Sadly, if you are determined to be involved with a large label then you will end up dealing with dullards, power mad gay hobbits, Human version of Jabba the Hut and slimey limey Simon Cowell types. You may even get lucky and find yourself attached to one of the people in the business that understand that it is a business but at its heart it’s about music. Good luck.

Tonight’s blog is not going to actually get around to presenting some music and then pulling it apart. In order to reach that point I must talk about what demos do and don’t do for a band. I must also address some of the stupid misconceptions about demos.

The first grand misconception..”In order for a demo to be effective you’ve gotta break the bank and spend as much as you can on recording and producing it”. This is completely untrue. I suspect that this fallacy is kept alive by studio owners and indy producers that make serious coin when they run into a band with a rich daddy that will pay the bills. The truth is that the value of a demo is determined by the quality of the songwriting and the fire in the belly of the band that cuts the track. It’s that simple. Good recording, bad recording, 24 track digital, two-track kids cassette deck it doesn’t matter.  If you can’t hear the song, if you can’t really hear the band then that’s a lousy demo. If the band spends lots of money and time recording a demo they will get nothing other than a lesson. The lesson will end up being that it was a waste of time and money.

Second misconception “The formula for a demo is ____________. ” I’ve heard many things used to fill in the blank. “It’s gotta be just three songs” “It should be two upbeat songs and a ballad” “It needs to have a hundred-dollar bill and a gram of coke tucked into the CD sleeve” . This last one might actually get you the attention of the kind of record executive that will spend your whole recording budget on coke.  Truth is there is no formula. Demos shouldn’t be really long since it will never get listened to all the way through.  Demos should consist of a few great songs with enough material to show exactly what a band sounds like.

Third Misconception – ” A great demo will start a bidding war and land a deal overnight” I’ve heard this one ever since I entered the music business in 1978. That’s …hmm let me think…32 years ago. In all of that time I have never met a band signed as a result of a demo. I think that ends that rumor.  The way that a band gets signed is a result of many factors adding up. This has to be matched by having contacts and interested people working for you. When you put great shows, great songs, great demos, popularity (the most important factor), buzz, press attention together with a network of people who know about you , you end up with a recording contract.

In short your demo can have things about it that sucks but if the band is great that should shine through. If, as is usually the case, the band is just OK, perhaps good in some ways and not so good in others, then you will not get a deal due to those factors and the demo will just show other people the band’s weaknesses.

So now we reach the question “What do record companies do with demos? Who listens to them? How do I get them listened to?” These are all part of the same subject.

All of the major record labels do not accept unsolicited demos. Why do they do this? Why are they so mean? It’s simple really. They believe that any band that is worth listening to will have people promoting them. They will have a manager or a lawyer or they will have devoted fan that IS IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS. They believe this because it is true.  Promoters, agents, managers, producers, lawyers, road managers, film makers, DJs, studio engineers etc. all have their ears open for a great band. These people insulate the major labels from the mountain of demos that are not worth listening to. All of these characters have their ears open in an effort to find the band first and get onboard to make some money as the band succeeds.  Many musicians have a problem with this concept. They view all of these people as parasites. This is a stupid, self-destructive attitude. These people are not parasites they are symbiotes. What does that mean? It means that they do not feed off of the band and bleed the band and weaken the band, no, instead they work alongside the band and help them succeed. They teach the band the craft of being rock stars and the tricks of the trade. They produce and promote records. In general the further a person is from the major labels the greater the native talent they need to survive. An independent producer must search out and discover band after band and then convince them to let him produce a record. Then promote this recording. These are all valuable services for the band.

Now I can hear a certain number of you out there saying “Not me, I’m the next demigod of rock and no one knows it. All I need to do is walk on stage and the world will crawl to my feet.” Gee I hope that is true, for your sake. Even if you are Loki, the god of the underworld, you need to learn how to put on a great show and how to arrange your songs. You need to learn how to record. You need to learn how to talk to a writer and how to do a radio interview without sounding like Bozo the Clown.

So now that you know that you can’t just send in your demo – why should you make a demo? Well, you need the demo to get the other characters interested. You need to make a cheap, dirty beginners demo to turn on a producer or engineer. This allows you to make a better demo that ends up getting you a lawyer and catches the ear of a booking agent that will pick you up as your audience starts to grow.  This gets you to a label that finances some development demos that lands you a publishing deal….Are you starting to see the sequence?

So let’s go back to demos and the major labels. I will take the time to answer a few basic questions just to get them out of the way.

“How do I get them listened to?” Demos that make it to an A & R department of a major label get there by being passed on by an established manager, lawyer, producer or booking agent.  They are the gatekeepers. The status of the person that submits the demo determines who will listen to it.  For example I managed three different acts on Columbia records at one time. The PResident of Columbia was (and I think still is) Don Ienner. Don and I have met professionally many times. We’ve met to discuss promoting my acts, releasing various items from these acts, coordinating tours of these acts etc. If I were to call him he would pick up the phone. He would do this for two reasons. First he knows me professionally and respects the fact that I manage bands that have enough clout and status to be signed to Columbia. Second he knows from his experience with me that I only call people when I have something concrete to talk to them about. He also knows that whatever I want to talk to him about WILL LIKELY BE ADVANTAGEOUS TO HIM AND COLUMBIA. This is an important point. Always call people with something that might help them. This will make your phone calls wanted rather than an annoyance.

If I were to call Don Ienner and ask him to listen to a tape he would tell the VP of A & R to listen to the tape and give him his opinion. Then, if that opinion was favorable he would listen to it and call me up with a reaction.  If the music seemed like something Columbia might want he would suggest a showcase and ask questions like “Are you planning on managing or producing?” You might be surprised to know that, although I have known Don Ienner since 1988 I have only called him about a tape twice.  Why? Because I have only found two occasions where I was in the position to pitch him a tape that fit with Columbia’s interests and I had the job of pitching the band. In both cases Columbia did not offer the band a deal. Since one of the bands was the band Phish and they went on to be one of the biggest bands of the 1990’s I expect that the next time I call him he will listen to whatever I send him.

Let us compare that scenario with a different, fictional one to help explain how the system works. Let’s say that a junior lawyer at an Entertainment Law Firm in Minneapolis,MN calls Columbia to pitch a tape.  Columbia will take him seriously since he is a professional and is in the business. They will probably tell him that someone will call him back. This call will get routed to an A & R co-ordinator. This is a person in the A & R department that works out all kinds of things like flights for A & R staff, showcase arrangements and, as in this case, calls from unknown law firms and managers. They won’t ignore the call. What if this band turns out to be the next Phish? Every major label is haunted by stories of how they turned down an artist that went on to fame. As a result they try to at least chalk up a rejection for everything that someone in the business shops to them.

In this case the A & R co-ordinator will pass on the contact to a junior A & R guy. He will call the lawyer, listen to the pitch and tell the lawyer to send in the tape. He then lists the tape in the incoming demo log. He is supposed to listen to the tape shortly after it arrives. Unfortunately he may make ten calls like this every day. The stack of unlistened to tapes grows and grows. As it does he pushes his boss to let him hire a “listener”. This is a person, usually an intern that gets cheap wages to listen to mountains of tapes. For each tape he writes a little blurb and rates it. He may get to pick out three or four as his favorites which the Junior A & R guy will then listen to.

So, it’s obvious that your chances of getting a deal through the junior lawyer in Minneapolis are slim. Even if the tape does get someone interested this is just the beginning of a long process with showcases, various demos and finally the word that they are gonna pass.  During that time you can grow old and die. NEVER WAIT TO GET SIGNED!!! It’s fine to pursue getting a deal but  never put of making records and playing live while waiting to get signed. This is a common and deadly mistake.

Next blog I will post two demos, one from the band Spiral Jetty Club and the other from the ever-present reader Oliver from Australia. I will then pull them apart and tell you how a label would view them, how a manager might view them and how a producer would hear them so stay tuned…………………………………………….

What’s so great about a recording contract?


[If you like this post please “Digg it”]

We live in the age of the death of record companies. They may not know it. You may not know it but retailers do and many, many artist mangers are fully aware that the end has already come for the mega star record companies that ruled the music world from the 1920’s until 2001.

In 1999 I was retired from managing and owning a label and was living on my royalties. It wasn’t a huge income, I have never been rich but twenty-five years of managing and producing had set me up to retire. I had invested in musical copyrights. That means I owned lots of recordings, or parts of recordings.  Like most people I had worked hard and earned some time off. By 2002 my income from royalties had evaporated. The age of the file trader had come.  I am not relating this story to get sympathy. I am telling you this so that you can understand the magnitude of the changes that we are living through. People are  no longer willing to pay for recorded music. Let me rephrase that, people are no longer willing to pay Major label prices for music. Instead they will pay for music when convenance and connection with the band’s aura can be balanced against money. Let me rephrase that,  price your full length record at 5.99 with artwork or as a download, make the music amazing and you may just redefine the concept of the gold record.

This brings me to the general subject of recording contracts.  I have quite a bit of experience with these kinds of contracts and relationships. In 1993 I was managing The Figgs, an upstate New York band amongst other acts. They were extremely young and, of course, extremely ambitious. They wanted to be rock stars nothing less. In point of fact, they were rock stars, they had everything you wanted in a rock star and enough left over to produce other rock star’s records. Great band, nice guys, at least in the beginning.  They wanted to get signed to a major label. They wanted it bad. I warned them repeatedly that they didn’t have a clue what getting signed would do to them and it might very well destroy their music and destroy the band. Being young, wanna be rock stars they listened and didn’t hear a word.

I produced and released a single for them . We produced some indy sounding tracks and released them on lo fi cassettes. I booked them into places they only dreamed of playing. They learned faster than I could teach them. I filled out their musical knowledge, taught them a ton of studio tricks and got them lots of stage time so they could work up a show. (always remember you are putting on a show…if you’re not then stay home and play guitar hero on your couch..) In the late summer of ’93 (I think, it’s all a little hazy now) they moved into my house for a couple of months to record a real record. They spent their days smoking bongs, watching planet of the apes movies, playing under the covers with various female fans and eating my cooking.  Every night when the sun went down we went into my studio, Morrison Hotel, and cut tracks.  They were fuckin’ smokin’! I’ve recorded lots or sessions. thousands of hours of sessions and I gotta tell you these kids were burning it up.

We had a few rented pieces of nice gear, a couple of mics, a mic pre and a few compressors. I was recording everything to 16trk 1″ tape at 15ips. This may mean nothing to you but I’ll translate–we were laying down big, fat, rocking tracks. Whenever I hit playback the speakers almost melted. After we recorded about 25 tracks they cornered me and demanded to know when I was going to get them a record deal.  I repeated my warning about record labels. They basically told me to go fuck myself. Then I knew they were ready. If I hadn’t done it to them they would have dumped me and found some sleaze ball that didn’t give a damn about their music to do it. There was no doubt they would get a deal.

We were mixing the record down. It was tentatively called “Waiting for the Bugasaurus”. We had pared the tracks down to 15 and come up with a sequence. It was going to be a fantastic indy record. It would make them. I had tons of contacts in the indy record world and we could find a home with a cool, well-connected label. Maybe start with an English release then get the record played on every college station. Everything was in place.

I talked to the band about labels and tried, in vain, to warn them for the last time. They demanded a major label deal ignoring all of my warnings and logic. I made two calls and set up a showcase at SIR studios in Manhattan. The band played a set for a major label A & R guy. Halfway through the set he phoned the label owner and told him he found the label’s next big signing. For the story of how they met the label owner and got offered a deal see my first blog “It’s all about being famous”. This evenings blog is about what went wrong.

The Figgs signed with Imago Records. Now let’s pause for a moment and remember that the band has a great album done, it just needs to be mixed. Now the band has to deal with an imbecile A & R guy that knows nothing about music. He listens to the unmixed record and hears one major problem. Even though he listens very carefully, through an extremely expensive stereo at ear shattering volume he just can’t hear enough of HIS OPINION in the record. As a result it just sounds flat to him. So he immediately demands that the band rerecord the record. Then he demands that we use his sequence. When one of the band members points out that he sequenced the record with the first 5 songs in the key of D, one after the other, he looks at them like a dog watching a Fellini movie and says ” Tell the engineer to change the key of the songs in the mixes so that it’s not a problem anymore” . Now the band wants him dead.  

Of course the album is rerecorded and remixed. It does well but the label does not. The label folds in the middle of their second guaranteed album. So The Figgs move to Capitol Records, following the same A & R troglodyte. At the new, bigger label they are much smaller fish compared to the bands the label is making money off of.  Whole departments of Capitol Records listen to demos and rough tapes of the album that is in the works and come to the conclusion that the band is utterly lacking these departments opinions and should start over. The art department wants to change the name of the record. The radio promotions department wants to change the band’s idea for artwork. The distribution department wants the band to reschedule the release for 16 months from now when they are certain they will not be busy since they operate on a 15 month in the future calendar. The band gets stoned one night and decides that the most important thing to argue about with the label is what color the paper label of the band’s vinyl release will be even though vinyl is only 1% of the sales at this point in history. 9 Months later they release an album with the original title “Bando Macho” (an inside joke so it means nothing to the fans), Artwork that they never approved and makes no sense, a really cool rear cover photo which was the only thing the band did. They get their special colored label on the vinyl release and the label immediately drops them. The fact that they battled to a standstill with the label president over the color of the vinyl record’s label certainly contributed to his decision to drop them despite their guarantee of three records.

This illustrates many of the problems that come with every recording contract with a large label.  I can’t even claim that it only happens to smaller bands that have no clout with the labels. Phish signed with Electra when they were well on their way to being a stadium act. Electra treated them like crap.  For example, the band wanted to get some play for its videos. So their manager put pressure on the label to get them some attention at MTV.  Did the band get medium rotation? No. Did they get a few plays on the alternative video show? No. Instead they got an offer to be the house band for a pilot for a children’s show! The label even argued that they should be thankful since the show would pay each member a regular salary of $800 a week for the 13 week run if the show got picked up. Phish turned down the offer and were angry. The label was mystified. Perhaps the fact that the band was routinely selling out theaters and earning $100,000 a night had something to do with it.

Now let me touch on another point about recording contracts. It is a point that I will expand into a complete blog at a later date. Recording contracts are set up in a way that all the benefits go to the label while all the risk is the band’s. The band pays for everything but the label ends up owning it. The band pays for everything but the label decides everything that is important. Even with the advice of a talented knowledgable lawyer the band ends up signing a deal that largely is a massive con job. Why would any band do this? The labels control the gateway to fame. Once an artist becomes famous the relationship becomes a battle with the band winning sometimes and the label winning sometimes.  Fortunately for everyone reading this blog, the earth has opened up and swallowed the record labels. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.

In the post web world the labels no longer hold all the cards nor do they control the keys to fame. The only traditional system that the labels still control is commercial radio. There is even light at the end of that tunnel since radio is in a confused desperate period. They have no idea what to program and the cracks have appeared under their feet – satellite radio, web radio, podcasts and many more trends have begun to destabilize commercial radio.  So the last of the Major label strangleholds is on the way out.  Where does this leave the record labels?

It leaves them stripped down to what they have always been, marketing companies. For decades the labels have argued that they were powerhouse artist development machines, starmakers (not to be confused with star fuckers!), distribution geniuses and creators of musical trends. Little of this bragging has been true. Certainly a label like Blue Note helped popularize certain jazz trends and Rough Trade/4Ad rewrote the rise of post punk. Dischord defined hardcore and rap, hell the rap labels have tattooed numerous street trends on multiple generations of kids but in the end they are just marketing companies. They don’t make great records they promote great records.

Now, with the web you too can promote great records. This blog proves it. In the nineties, your access to the advice of an experienced manager/label owner would depend solely on your connections. Now it depends on your broadband connection. So in the 21st century learning to be a rock star on a web blog is one of the magical ways to succeed at rock………….

©Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010     Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.                     ZMVTCS8QHAVF

Volunteers? Not the Jefferson Airplane song….


Ok readers I am looking for volunteers to submit a track or two of their music. It will appear on the site in my blog. I will then dissect the track and criticise ( or praise) songwriting, performing, recording etc.  If you decide to do this you should be thick-skinned and brave since I will most likely beat the stuffing out of your music before I am finished.  In return for volunteering to be publically humiliated you will get seen (actually heard) by a few thousand readers and get valuable advice from an old pro. I will also solicit comments from readers to round things out.

As I have stated numerous times I will not listen to demos since I would be deluged with music and have no time to do the blog which is the most helpful thing I can do for you. If interested send an mp3 that is less than 5 minutes long. The limit is one song per band or writer. In the email please make some sort of statement that says you are willing to have your stuff posted on the site and that you will not cry like a baby when I beat up your music. Send the music to ciceroqpublic(at)yahoo.com. I will collect songs for a few weeks then pick out one or two to post on the site. This should be a good way to wrap up the first series of blogs about recording. So everyone put their best Riff forward and we’ll all learn something about succeeding at rock…….

Brad Morrison

Lesson #13 Label? What Label?


I’ve gotten quite a few requests to write about Labels. Record Labels that is. Most of the requests come from readers that would like me to discuss how you start a label. This is a topic I know a great deal about since I started a few along the way. In many ways the reasons I had for starting up a label had more to do with advancing the interests of a particular act rather than owning a powerhouse label that helped decide what played out of your radio. The last label I founded was called Absolute A Go Go Records (’87). It was far and away the most serious and successful of the labels I either helped start (Incas records ’83) or started on my own (precedent records ’81) For a good portion of my life owning a label was like being in a band or going on tour, it was just what you did. Everyone did it, didn’t they?

Looking back I now realize that starting up a record label had a long and honorable history and the era that I was a part of, the rise of that evil movement ALT ROCK, has more in common with the way bands become successful now in the internet age than the 40’/50’s R & B single jukebox era. That means that the promotions and distribution problems I encountered are essentially the same ones you’ll run into now.

So here we come to the question, how do you start a label? I am going to approach the question from the angle that you, the reader, would like me to explain, in detail, how to actually set a label up and run it.
It’s quite simple. Make up a name, like MegaMonsterHit Records and go to your county government office. There you fill out a form saying that you are starting a business. Hmm, now you gotta check those little government generated boxes, Sole proprietorship? (this means you’re the boss and the only boss. You’re the label and the label is you) Partnership? (You and your buddy(ies) are gonna own it which means you will eventually want to kill each other ) Corporation Sub Chap S? (this is like a baby corporation. Until you have a relationship with an ACCOUNTANT this is not the way you will go) or finally Corporation. (Yes, that evil giant octopus business that is part of the conspiracy to destroy the world. Once again you don’t want this until your ACCOUNTANT gives you a good reason why). Now that you’ve got that over you give the county people $25 bucks (about) and they give you a business certificate. This is just a piece of paper that lets you walk into a bank and open a checking account. So go do that and come back. I’ll wait. Ok, now you’re in business…let’s move on.

Soon you will need a bar code. That the little box with lines in it that you scan at check out. Without this item you can’t get your CD’s in any real store. The real name for this little baby is UPC code.

Here’s a link that covers that topic:
http://guides.wsj.com/small-business/starting-a-business/how-to-get-upc-codes-for-your-products-2/
It can cost you about $750 bucks to get your own bar code. So you put that off until you absolutely have to do it. Remember though that it takes about 6 weeks to get one. That can feel like an eternity when you are waiting to launch a record. There are also some businesses out there that will give you a bar code using there master bar code number. This means you can get one for $50. That’s ok for your first release but if you are really gonna sell records you will need a bar code for your label. if you’re a hyper christian and you believe that the bar code systems is the mark of the devil and that is all controlled by the anti-christ then I suggest you write a few hit singles that say exactly how upset you are about it and that should balance some of your bad karma.

So now you’ve got the tools to actually do business and create a product. As I write this, physically manufacturing CDs is still essential. Sixty percent of music that is sold is still on CDs rather than downloads so for the foreseeable future you will be in the business of making CDs.

Now we got to stop and ask some basic questions.

Why are you starting this label? Is it just to promote your own band? Is it to help you make a mark on the local scene? Are you aiming to work your way into the big labels as a career? Are you starting your label with the ambition to become the next Richard Branson and build a mega monster multinational business. All of these are good reasons and there are quite a few more.

To add to these questions you’ve got to ask yourself are you going to sign other bands? Are you going to produce? All of the answers to these questions are going to help determine what you do to make your label successful.  For this blog I’ll assume that you are starting the label to release your own band, release projects that you produce and with the ambition for the label to continue on after you’ve reached enlightenment and become a eerie ball of light that we all worship.  I won’t follow this through all the way to the part where Mr. Spock does the mind meld with you and you bugger Simon Cowell.

So now you’ve got a label, and I’ll make another assumption and say you’ve got an album mixed waiting to be released. This is going to be the big step up as you launch your label and rise to fame.  We’ll also assume that your band gigs regularly and that you can gig in a couple of cities within spitting distance of your home base.

So you’ve finished the record now you scratch together $750  and send the project to disc makers with a list of songs for them to put on the back and a picture of the band ROCKING THE WORLD for the cover.  WRONG. You are far from ready to put the record out.

There are numerous things that you gotta do before you release a record. Skipping any of them is a good way to insure that your small chance of selling lots of records becomes much smaller.  If you do follow these tips you will be set up for a decent shot at selling enough CD’s to get your money back, which is the key to running a label for longer than one month. If you just wish to blow $4000 on putting out a CD and you’re dying to have 2000 copies of the CD in your mom’s basement for the rest of eternity then you should just plow ahead.

Things to do to set up a release, either your own band or any band you sign to your label.

1. Have the finished, mixed down, album MASTERED.  This means that a MASTERING STUDIO will take the recordings and change the EQ and Compression. They will make sure all the songs are at the same level and are as LOUD AS POSSIBLE. (this is a modern mastering thing and for rock it’s a must) They will make sure that all of the mixes blend together from the standpoint of playback EQ. This is essential. It will make the difference between an OK sounding demo and a POLISHED ALBUM THAT WILL ROCK THE WORLD. I will probably cover what you should do during MASTERING and how, on a basic level, it is done on another night.  Great MASTERING STUDIOS are extremely expensive. You can’t afford them. Don’t worry about it. If you post a comment looking for a reasonable mastering studio I will email you a couple of names.  You should be able to get a project MASTERED on the cheap for about $500. If you know a really good, pro studio with nice pro gear you can ask the engineer to Fix your record. Take it from me, they always need fixing. DO NOT USE THE SAME STUDIO WHERE YOU MIXED. If you do it is generally a waste of your money.

2. Plan and Design the CD cover art. This must involve someone that understands graphic arts and printing. Creating a great CD cover takes as much talent as writing a great song. Your package should stand out when it is in the CD rack. It should look professional and IT SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR BAND IT SHOULD HELP GIVE YOU AN IMAGE AND MAKE THE BAND LOOK SUCCESSFUL. Look at the covers of bands that are in your style of music. Which ones are great? Why?  Imagine the CD cover as a T Shirt. Is it a smokin’ T Shirt that will make your girlfriend look like a million bucks?  Some labels have built up the label image by having every release for the label have a certain “look” to the CD art. 4AD in England and Dischord in the US are two labels that used this trick to make the label famous and help the artists sell.

 Part of the artwork process is working out credits and liner notes.  I personally believe that a CD package that has something to read, something that fills out the band’s aura and image is a great help in turning a casual listener into a hardcore fan. Lots of bands have done this kinda thing well, look at Beatles (after Revolver), Rolling Stones (69 -79, with Sticky Fingers perhaps being one of the greatest LP packages ever), Pink Floyd, Genesis (Lamb Lies down on Broadway) The Clash (Sandinista)…….

3. Prepare a promo list. What’s a promo list? It is a list of names and addresses of writers, promoters and radio stations. You must compile this list before you send the record out to be manufactured. You also need to set aside some money to pay for postage. If you don’t do these two things before you order the record they will not get done later and the record will do nothing to help you get famous or help your label survive and flourish. It’s ok to only set aside $200 bucks it doesn’t have to be 3 grand.  But you must spend some money promoting the record. It is better to order less copies at first, like 500 instead of a thousand in order to free up some money to promote the record.  Not having enough records to sell is NEVER A PROBLEM. If you put out a record that goes wild and starts selling like cookies at a fat farm you will order more and they will arrive and that will be that. Never worry about how many copies you ordered. Only worry about how you are going to sell them. My record label Absolute A Go Go Records would always give away at least 750 copies of every release, usually more.  You want to send copies to any writer that writes about bands like yours, any college station that plays any rock at all, any promoter that fits into the band’s current plans for expansion. Don’t send records to big commercial radio stations. Don’t send records to Rolling Stone. Don’t send records to promoters that are far outside the circuit that you have set up by following the instructions from my earlier blogs.

Ok so now you have done these things because you are crazy enough to believe me. (I did after all do this kinda thing for about fifteen years) There are a few things that you need to understand in order to run a record label. It doesn’t matter if the label is for your stuff or for band’s you find in the frozen food freezer at Wal Mart these are fundamental truths.

First, nine out of ten records will not sell. This applies to your band as well. Face up to it or you will never succeed at rock. Most of the records that you release will only serve as a very expensive but necessary calling card to help that particular band’s career. Get used to this idea before you spend your first nickel. If you don’t you are gonna end up depressed and walk away from something that you could have done successfully if you had the correct attitude.

Like I just said most records don’t sell. You should be trying hard to sell them but in the end if you sell enough to break even, lose a little cash or make a little cash then you are doing it right. That can’t be right!!! Well it’s true. Let me explain why. If you look at any label that survives and perhaps thrives they have operated in this manner. The secret here is that when you release ten records and nine of them flop you still have one that sells. The one that sells will make mountains of money and will pay for the other nine, plus a month in Rio, a new Mercedes and the legal fees from the lawsuit that the successful act’s drummer creates when he supplies Jack Daniels to his hometown middle school. Get used to this fact or don’t start a label. If the act that goes big is your band, great! Congratulations! But the odds are against it. If, on the other hand, your band releases 6 albums over five years and finally the last one sells well then the label served its purpose. The most likely way your band will make it big is to slowly, steadily become popular and grow to the point where a great song can become a hit record.

In a music market where downloads are rampant and will continue to be a fact of life it will be extremely hard to make money with a label.  Instead you need to view the label and the CD’s it releases as a machine that helps the bands get ahead. The real cash will come from concerts.

Since this is the new reality it is only a matter of time before labels will demand, and get, a cut of the band’s live money. Perhaps your label will be the one that rewrites that part of the Rock Book.

This brings me to another point. The price of your new releases WILL BE $4.99 or $5.99!!!! This is not negotiable. Each release that is over a year old will be priced at $3.99!!!! The days when CD’s sold for $15.00 or $20.00 are over. The major labels will realize this fact when they are dead and buried. You need to realize it now.

Two years ago a Blue Grass band called Fetish Lane ended up hanging out at my house after a concert. They hung around drinking heavily and playing old country songs on guitar, fiddle and banjo. Nice guys living the dream of being Hillbillies. (I’m not sure what planet this dream comes from) This band played lots of hippy festivals during the summer. They had a couple of CD’s out and they were bragging about the fact that their CD’s sold about 2000 each per year. In Hillbilly land 2000 records is almost a gold record. With the cost of recording and manufacturing the CD and paying the girlfriend that hauled the merchandise table around they figured that they were making about $5000 a year on CD sales.  Like everyone else they sold their CDs for $15.  I was in a preachy mood so I ended up arguing with them until the sun came up about the price of their CD.  Since they were living the Hillbilly Dream they did the idiotic thing and decided to listen to me. They lowered the price of their CD to $4.99.  In the next year they sold TEN TIMES THE CDs! They made four times the money and, most importantly,  they had TWENTY THOUSAND fans listening to the CD. Fans started buying extra copies for friends and relatives. If you are selling your CD for $3.99 you are doubling your money on each sale since even the most expensive CD pressing deal will cost a lot less than $2.00 per disc to manufacture and package. The idea that something you buy for a buck or two, must sell for $15 or $20 is insane. Most other businesses are happy if they can make 10 or 20 percent. The music business screams bloody murder if they don’t make 1500% or 2000% on their product. Smarten up. If you sell your CD for five bucks kids will buy it to support the band and not bother with the hassle of downloading it and ending up with a burnt disc with no art.

More on running a label in future blogs………………………………………………………………….

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Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010