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

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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

lesson #15 Godzilla Magpops VS THE PROMOTER….


So we’re gonna play a game. You get to be the band, hmmm let’s say your band name is Godzilla Magpops. I play the promoter. Then I’ll play the label. I play the kid that’s making movie and wants you to be in it. Then I get to be the big time manager with a tour.

I get to offer you deals and you get one response. If you respond correctly you move on.
Promoter: “Hey, I think you guys suck but my girlfriend really wants you to be on a bill. I got that fucked up Prog Rock band Mists of Avalon playing on the 23rd. You guys can play the bill, and I’ll give you $100 for the first set.”

Tick, tick, tick (this is the part where the fashion model points at the clock thingy)

“Ah..Ah…..Can We play second for $50 vs 20% of the door?”

“You’re kidding right? 20% of the door!? You think you’re Metallica? No way. 10%”
Tick, tick….
“OK we’ll take it.” Ding, ding, ding… you move on to the next level.

[When you do a VS. deal or what is called a versus deal you are agreeing to receive one of two possible outcomes, in this case…either $50 or 20% of what the door totals for the night. So if the door comes to $250 you get $50. If it is more than  $250 then you get 20%of the larger number . Since you agreed to 10% the door has to go above $500 for you to make more than $50.]

Next round….It’s the Record Label Round…. it’s worth half of a hill of beans and the fashion model spokesperson in this round is way hotter but would never date a person like you unless of course you get a record deal.
Label Dude calls….”Heya buddy boy, this is Slick Tawilliger from Turd Polisher Records. We love your band. We saw you guys at the Sunshine Superman festival and also on Chainsaw Rock night at The Turnstile. We think you’re the bees knees. We’d like to offer you a recording contract. We’ll sign you for 5 records, with an advance of $35,000 against 10 points. If that’s cool with you I can pop out of the dumpster in the alley behind your practice space in about ten minutes.”
“Turd Polisher!! I don’t know what to say. I guess I’ll see you at the dumpster.”
BZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Wrong.

 But since you passed the first round you get one more reply.
“Hmm Turd Polisher huh? Didn’t you drop my favorite band? Nevermind, so you’re offering us 5 records guaranteed, that sounds cool but we wouldn’t take anything less than 75,000 against 15 points and we want full publishing payments….”
“Gee you drive a hard bargain. How about two records guaranteed, 50,000 to start against 12 points?”
“Hmm that sounds interesting but you forgot full publishing and Slick?
“Yeah?”
“Get a pencil and write down our lawyer’s number.”
Bingo….Lots of flashing lights…..
——————————
Now I realize that most of this is meaningless. What is the game about? Is it about getting a gig? No. A record deal? No. An appearance in a movie? No. It’s about the basic way to talk shit when you negotiate. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is all about. What matters is the way you respond to an offer.
Let me simplify it.
I say I will give you A
You say I want A +1 and B

I say I will give you A, B, C and some of Z
You say, thanks for A, B +2,C +1 and all of Z and some of Y.
—————————–
This blog is about basic negotiation skills. They are extremely important and whoever gets stuck being the mouthpiece for the band has to learn this system like the back of their hand. The philosophy behind this system is based upon some basic rules.

Rules of arguing out a deal…
1. They always offer something, anything, real and tangible first. They must go first.
Example – a promoter calls “Hey I got a slot open on the 12th what would you guys want? (he doesn’t make an offer) You reply with gibberish “I don’t know? What would we want?” ( you reply without saying anything of value) He says “Don’t be an asshole -how much do you guys want to play the opening set?” (now he has offered something real, the opening set, but he hasn’t mentioned money so you reply with more gibberish) “Gee, everyone knows I’m an asshole. I’m not sure I can act any other way. What’s the opening set pay?” This could go on for days since everyone has unlimited cell phone minutes. Eventually, right around the time he is considering choking his cat, he will give in and mention money. “Well I was thinking $150 to open.” Got him. He has offered something real.And he has offered something first. Now you move  on to rule two.

2. After your adversary offers something you reply by adding to it and then asking for something else.
“Gee $150? I was thinking that we should play second set, give the first set to The Baboons ( a band from outta town that you are trying to hook up with a gig so they will help you out in return) and we would have a $250 guarantee. You can keep adding to your demands but remember you are trying to better his initial offer. If you actually talk the guy into paying your rent for the balance of the decade and giving you his girlfriend you may just negotiate him into being your enemy.

3. Learn the value of silence. DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH YOURSELF. Any good businessman will try to use silence when working a deal. If you are not careful, and you are not on your game they will use silence to bring out your doubts. Then you will be negotiating with yourself. When this happens you will discover that negotiating with yourself is a downhill game. This is the way it usually goes.
You are bargaining. He says how much? You say $1250, or blue or I want to produce or whatever. His response is total silence. The clock ticks, the world turns and still no reply. Now you start to wonder if you overplayed your hand. “did I ask too much?” You open your mouth and start to prop up your demand.”You know we are really worth it. We have two new singles out and blah, blah, blah…”  You are now cheerfully negotiating with yourself. He will then add fuel to the fire by egging you on. Pretty soon you’ll be painting his Yacht on weekends and playing the gig for free. Here’s a story to illustrate this point.
———————–
I was negotiating the Figgs recording contract with Imago BMG. I had flown out to LA and hammered out a deal with the label’s lawyers.It was a typical situation, my lawyer, the band’s lawyer and a couple of label lawyers locked in a room for 10 hours. As usual I chainsmoked which pissed off everyone and as a result I got what I wanted -Three records guaranteed, $350,000 for the first record, full publishing, 90,000 tour support in the first six months, a war chest to bribe radio, all the fun stuff. What we did not work out was creative control. I was told I would have to negotiate all of those deal points with Terry Ellis the label President. I mentioned Terry in my first blog entry. He used to manage Jethro Tull and Billy Idol and founded Chrysalis Records.

After I returned from LA Terry’s assistant called to say he would be phoning me that evening to work out the final details of the deal. The music business has lots of assistants that do all the work and then call people to announce the fact that So and So would be calling at some future time.

So that evening the phone rings and I answer.
“Hold please for Terry Ellis.”

“Brad, how are you? Were all the arrangements in LA acceptable?”

Terry is slick. We talk about his wine collection and his race horse collection.  I tell him some gossip about one of his ex employees.  Then we get down to business.

“So, Terry let’s talk about creative issues. ”

“Certainly. What did you have in mind”

“Come now Terry, you don’t get off that easy. You go first. What’s the label’s position.”

Terry decides to throw me a bone of no value.

“Well we would like to pick the producer, pick all the songs, and get to remix with anyone we like.”

This is him basically saying that the label will control everything and the band gets no say.

“Gee that’s unfortunate Terry since I’m certain that the label the Figgs sign with will allow the band to pick all the songs, pick their producer and there will be absolutely no remixing of the album.”

This is standard banter with each side saying they want it all.  Soon he starts to narrow it down.

“So why don’t we talk about just one thing and try to get that issue settled. What percentage of the songs would the band be willing to let the label pick?”

This is a clever opening. It assumes that we are going to let the label choose any of the songs. So if I carry on talking about the percentages I have already given them some control. Now this brings us to rule number 4 (always have your position- that is to say what you are willing to take – worked out ahead of time) I will cover rule #4 after I finish this story.  The band had already decided that they would allow the label to pick up to three songs on each album.

“Well, Terry we would be willing to let the label pick two songs for each album.”

There is no reply. After about ten seconds it starts to get a little uncomfortable. After twenty seconds the urge to speak becomes a powerful incentive. The normal reaction is to want to fill in the vacuum. To say something, anything. What could I possibly say that would help us?

“Well the band really understand their music and they are the best judge of their strongest material…” Gee that’s kinda lame. I don’t need to sell him on the band’s talent. He is already giving them a deal.  A more normal reaction would be to backpedal

“Hmmm,….well… we might be willing to consider another arrangement…”    The cold hard reality is that ANYTHING I say will make me lose ground and appear weak to MYSELF.  So what did I do? I just waited. I waited four and a half minutes. Try it. Pick up the phone. Look at the clock, then stare in the mirror for four and a half minutes. It’s a really long time.

Finally Terry said…”Ok Brad. You win. You can have what you want.”

“What exactly do you mean Terry?”

“You can control the record. Pick the producer, pick the songs and do the mixes. I’ll trust you. Let’s get together to pick the single. ” I was stunned. A couple of years later I asked him about that conversation. The Figgs contract was long gone and we were just hanging out as friends. He explained that he had never had anyone nail that particular  negotiating trick right off the bat and he was impressed so he let me run the show.  A rare win but it proves the point.

Try it. Pick out the weakest member of your band. Ask them where they want to go for dinner. When they tell you just remain silent and stare at them. Watch what happens. They will start to do the talking and they will start to negotiate with themselves. When you work out a deal don’t be the weak guy that negotiates with himself.

———————————————————————————-

So this brings me to the last point of my rules for negotiation.

4. Always work out your deal before you start to negotiate.  If you are going to negotiate a recording contract get your shit together, find out what the possibilities might be and discuss them with the band. If you are negotiating a gig fee have an idea what your band might be worth in that situation.  If someone tries to get you to bargain without doing your homework try to get out of it long enough to sort out your position. This is not always possible but if you spend some time working out a basic framework of what you want then you will always do better.  Be careful not to ask for the sky and the moon. The point of negotiation is to better a deal you are being offered. If you ask for too much you may end up with nothing which is a step backwards.

All of these rules are techniques that can be learned. If you learn them so they become second nature then you are on your way to Succeeding at Rock……………………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 2)


[ Ray Charles “Lonely Avenue”]
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

So now I’ve looked at some anecdotes of how some bands came to be the proud owners of a manager. I’ll look at it a little differently now.By management I mean a whipping boy, designated asshole, dreamer of crazy schemes, loser that gets to hang around with the stars, parasite that sucks the band dry and the glad handing salesman that a band has to tolerate. Managers, good and bad are all of these things. The description is based solely on whether the band is going up, down or sideways.

Yes, a band can manage itself. It’s rare that it’s done correctly and usually a band managing itself translates to one of the girlfriends doing all the work and getting shit for it.

[Jimi Hendrix”Crosstown Traffic”]

Managers may very well be parasites but they do not kill off their host. Bands that have managers on the whole do better than bands that do not have one. Someone has to do the business and promotions end and a pro, in my opinion, is always the best.

[Thelonious Monk”Ugly Beauty”]

So how does a band get a manager?

1. Look around the SCENE that you are part of, if you’re not part of one then you should correct that error. Look at small time promoters, big fans that are also accountants (that’s how The Pixies met Ken), College station DJs, fanzine writers, bouncers (Zeppelin’s Manager was rumored to be a small time collector of cash for jukebox companies), bartenders etc. Look for two things. A head for business and honesty. That’s it. A Manager doesn’t need much more. Being a hard worker will come automatically or he’ll wash out. The job is always busy, busy, busy.  They must also love your band.

I will be outlining manager tricks, techniques and methods in later blogs. The bottom line is that some of the best managers start out as a buddy of the band and then grow into the position. Make sure if you go this route to give the person plenty of time to sort out their job – six months to a year. You got to let him make some mistakes that’s part of learning. After a predetermined time period then look hard at what’s gone down. Has the band moved up? Talk about moving up means nothing. Be brutal. If they can’t cut it fire them. Make sure that you have a contract and it allows the band a way out after six months to a year.
[The Clash “Brand New Caddillac”]

A good trick is to talk two people into being a management team. Sometimes these work beautifully. The usual outcome is one of the two eats the other one alive. This is a good thing. It shows which shark to employ. If you hire an amateur make sure that he agrees that you will be his only act for at least the first year. After that time if he doesn’t pick up someone else then he may not be a good manager. Any manager worth twelve cents is being constantly to manage new bands.
(I’ve had over a dozen requests since I started this blog)

2. If you have any kind of label deal have the label solicit pro managers. This will make more headway than a band trying to contact them directly. Remember all managers ARE NOT LOOKING FOR NEW ARTISTS EVER. Their roster is always full. Yet, miraculously, they will find a slot for your band if you convince them that your rocket is about to leave orbit.

If you speak/write/fax/contact via talking drum a real manager YOU MUST TALK ABOUT HOW POPULAR YOU ARE AND THAT YOU ARE THRILLED WITH THE PROSPECT OF SOMEONE TAKING 15% OF YOUR ASS. A band that is defensive and cagey about money makes a manager very nervous. This is why managers always work out deals where they get paid as the band gets its cash.

Here’s a story to back this up. I saw a band open for the Figgs. They were called Super 400. They sounded like an updated version of the 60’s supergroup Cream. To make it better they were decked out sixties outfits that were way over the top. The bass player was a hot woman with ass length blue black hair that played the bass like James Jamerson. I was hooked.

I started to talk to them about a deal. They immediately got evasive and get bringing up the fact that the drummer’s brother was Lenny Kravitz’s bass player. According to their version of reality he just had to ask for a major label deal and they would have it. I told them to have the brother manage them. Well, of course, he was so busy…. I went round and round. Finally they agreed. Then they started to fight about my cut. I’m a manager and I’m thinking I’m gonna make you a huge pile of cash and you’re gonna weasel me out of my share?!

[The Clash “Hateful”]

In a moment of Adult Onset Stupidity I continued to talk to them. They very cleverly maneuvered me into setting up a showcase for a label before they had actually signed the deal. I very cleverly knew that this is what they were doing and had my own plan. I figured that a showcase cost me nothing other than a few calls and an invite to an A & R guy. They, feeling that their pants had grown awful tight, DEMANDED to have a list of the people were going to attend. I, of course, refused. If they wanted me to prove that I “knew some guy in the music business” I would go through with the charade.

I set the showcase up in a small club in the East Village of New York. They acted as if they wouldn’t play the showcase and in general acted like horse’s asses. It’s interesting to note that it never occurred to them that I had set up a gig in the middle of the afternoon in one of NY’s hotspots. The owner had agreed to open early and BRING IN STAFF. Had they had any smarts they might have wondered how I had arranged with two days notice that a nightclub would open two horus early and would be waiting for the band with waitresses, bartenders, soundman and bouncers. Gee, what did Brad tell the owner of this nightclub?
[Traffic “Rainmaker”]

I had played the band’s demo to the VP OF A & R for Warner’s music. I had told him truthfully that I had come to him first. He loved it. He told me if they didn’t shit themselves on stage we had a deal. He trusted ME to know what was hot. He asked one thing. Give him first shot. Don’t turn it into a bidding war for the band’s contract. He’d pay big but he wanted to avoid some kind of sick payout on a band that had nothing other than a good manager that had a great track record. Of course the band didn’t know this. They didn’t wonder about the club. If they had they might have figured out something was up.

Now I knew that Warners were the band’s dream label. I also didn’t have a signed deal. This gave me one option, A private showcase. I told the band that they would be playing for a few writers and maybe a real A & R guy if we were lucky.
[The Band “The Weight” My current fav]
So I arrive in a chauffeured town car with the VP of A & R for Warners. We walk in the club and the bar is packed with the stoney faces of every A & R scout, wanna be scout, junior A & R rep and indy label A & R guy in New York. The VP of A & R glared at me. Three of the guys sitting at the bar worked for him and were so far down the food chain that they had only met him once or twice.
“What the fuck is this? Some kind of sick joke?” He turned on his heel and stormed out. None of the people left in the room had ever signed a band. None of them had the power to sign a band.

The band, being much smarter than me had told the drummer’s brother about the showcase. The drummer’s brother being much smarter and better connected than me had told the band that they shouldn’t sign with me and that he would get some real A & R guys to see the band. This would result in a deal. He, of course, had never signed a deal for himself or anyone else. The news that I had set up a daytime showcase in a hip club was enough to set the jungle drums throbbing.

I’m not sure if the VP of A & R has ever forgiven me. He has continued to answer my calls. Much more slowly than in the past. Since Adult Onset Stupidity is incurable I went on to sign the band to a management contract. I managed them for one calendar year. The whole time I represented them they continued to argue with me that the drummer’s brother’s advise was much better and he wouldn’t rip them off. In the first three months of my contract I produced a record for them and then signed them to Island Records. After a year of constant battles and efforts by the band to keep me from earning any money from them I dropped them. They were mystified by my actions.

[The Feelies “The Last Roundup”]
They hired the almost famous brother to manage and produce for them.   A short 7 years later they released a self released EP. They still sell out a little nightclub in Troy NY. They are the only band in the area that has ever been signed to a major label deal.

Ok more on techniques to attract and keep managers in the next section. I hope to have that online by Wednesday evening……stay tuned………….

Lesson #8 Some comments on A & R…………..


A & R. Artists and Repertoire. What the hell does that mean?

In the good old days record labels would sign performers to contracts.  They were exactly that, performers. The label didn’t care if they wrote songs, music, soundtracks etc. They only cared if they could perform. Then they would take this lucky person and tell them play this song…Add this musician to your band…Look at doing this style of music. In short the label would tell them what they were going to record. Their recordings would influence and define what they played live.

In order to guide these empty vessels the label would employ a person called and A & R guy. (sometimes a lady) This person had the magic touch of knowing the correct music to perform, the right producer to employ and, often, how the music should be arranged.  This was the system. Then along came Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan wrote his own material. They had seen that before upon occasion. Bob Dylan decided what he wanted to record. They hadn’t seen that before although there had been many arguments over it in the past. Bob Dylan did whatever the fuck he wanted and he had the talent to back it up.  I’m simplifying things here. It wasn’t just Dylan. It was the Beatles. It was Carl Perkins. It was a bunch of Country Music Greats. But Dylan is in many ways the beginning of the end of the old system of A & R. After him the A & R guy became an expert in finding artists that could do it all.  They knew just what scene to follow or just what town to hang out in. They were detectives.

When I entered the business that was the way it was but already things were beginning to change. A & R guys with the rare combo of talents- talent scout/producer/visionary became extremely powerful once they had a few hits. It was plain that they knew the new system and everyone else in the music business didn’t. Soon A & R guys started to demand their own labels like this guy. To make things worse for the major labels other talented visionary people like this guy decided they would begin their own labels. The punk and underground scene began.

Record labels still employed people that were called A & R people but they soon became disposable. They continued to be highly paid but if they released a few artists that flopped they were roadkill. For bands the changes in the business made life even tougher. If they got a major label deal they had one shot. If their record charted and the kids started to riot every time the TV showed their image then they were all set. If not they got dropped. In the past labels had recognized that it took a band 2, 3 maybe five records to develop a sound that was mature and would sell. They could see the evidence of it before their eyes. Despite the evidence they continued to sign and drop bands in an endless cycle. There were a few genuine A & R guys, like Joe at Warners and Mike at Electra but even though they had been successful they had to fight to hold onto every band they signed.

In the background indy labels gathered steam. REM came from nowhere in Georgia and rose over the course of a few years to become stars. There were even a few labels that ignored the rules, radio play and the major labels and released bands that sold big. One of these labels was run by this guy and another one of these labels was run by this guy.

Then along came Nirvana. When Nirvana broke through to commercial radio the major labels went into a feeding frenzy. They bought up every label that would sell and signed anything that sounded even vaguely like a guitar band. Regional music conferences like South By Southwest were suddenly overrun by label reps fighting over any band with buzz.

All across America kids got guitars for Christmas. Musical instrument sales boomed. All of them started bands and the relatively small underground music scene became central to the following generation’s world view. This continued through the 1990’s until around 2001 then came the internet and downloadable music.

In the past seven years downloadable music has destroyed the major labels. It has rewritten the rules and for the first time in about a hundred years it brought about a world where thankfully musicians could be successful and never learn what the term A & R means………………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010