What’s The Real Cost of Signing A Major Record Deal?

While I think this has a bit of a bias to the viewpoint – the author does bring up some good points.

I know a few artists who have been on The Voice, Australia’s Got Talent etc and the contracts they have to sign before they go on the show sometimes are seen as horrendous – for some they may be, but in the end, like those we know who have signed with labels…. if all the pros and cons have been taken into account and you still think it would be an advantage to your future – go for it!
It is a matter of being aware of the pros and cons.

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If new artists are akin to California fires, the intensity is still the same as it was 20 years ago. It’s just that more people now have matches. Sadly, they’re all choosing to light up in the same spot. Everybody wants a major deal. It makes you wonder how many more crooked deals will be dealt before newcomers finally decide to promote their art independent of the strings of majors. Aligning with a major label offers few benefits beyond the spoils of fame and the facade of a panoramic lifestyle. Let’s examine the merits and demerits of being on a major label, shall we?

Fame
Sure, having the long-reaching tentacles of majors will help deliver your product to the masses and bring you ample exposure. The problem is that new artists often get peanuts on their percentages in exchange for fame. Who wants to be a broke but famous star?

Advances
It’s true that you’re likely to get large advances from majors. That said, just remember that you have to pay back the advances and recordings costs from your royalty rate as applied to actual sales. When your records no longer shift those monstrous units, you’ll find that you’re stuck making money for a label even if the passion and financial benefits are long gone. It’s like taking a loan that ties you to your creditor long enough to limit your long-term success.

Sales
Ah, the main objective of everyone who’s ever picked up a mic. If you made an argument in favour of sales 12 years ago, I would’ve nodded in agreement and slapped you hi-five. A cursory glance at the record sales within the last 5 years, however, shows an industry that’s on its knees. Every dime spent on promoting an artist’s record, from video production costs to radio promo, is recoupable from his royalty points (with few exceptions, of course). When, say $300,000 of income goes to the label, only about 10% of that goes towards recoupment. This way, you’ll have to shift a bazillion units to see substantial revenue from royalty points.

Major vs Indie
It’s a surprise that newcomers, who clearly have respectable artistic goals, aren’t deciding to pass up opportunities to sign to majors. Drake, for instance, had an opportunity to buck tradition and stick it to the majors. He had already gathered reams of buzz. His mixtapes were moving like hot cakes. He had an opportunity to debut in the Top 10 as an independent artist. In the end, he chose to play ball with the same people that passed on an opportunity to sign him when he was just Wheelchair Jimmy. The world is waiting to see how his deal with Universal will impact his craft. On the flip side, Chicago outfit the Cool Kids and New Orleans MC Jay Electronica have shown that it’s possible to attain reasonable success sans the backing of a major. Did you hear the one about Cool Kids co-headlining a North American tour with the Clipse in 2009? That’s an indie act with no full-length album co-headlining a tour with a major act. Lucrative deals with the likes of Nike and EA Sports stand as a testament to the Chicago duo’s ability to leverage their music for indie success. Similarly, Jay Electronica, who’s affiliated with New York-based indie Decon Records, has managed to build a cult-like street following while churning quality music. Indies like Rhymesayers Entertainment, Duck Down and Stone’s Throw Records have all managed to stay relevant for decades while consistently dropping quality albums. Everyone seems to be jostling for the top spot these days, but the smart ones have figured out that the middle is where the gold lies.

Quality vs Quantity
One area that illuminates the disparity between majors and indies is album packaging. Sometimes it takes an album that offers a combination of quality music and unique packaging to get a consumer’s attention. Brent Rollins, the mastermind behind many classic hip-hop album covers (including Freeway & Jake One’s Stimulus Package) laments that big labels are more reluctant to invest in superior packaging. “When I work with large labels,” says Rollins, “it’s like pulling teeth just getting them to use something like a metallic ink on an album cover. Sometimes they talk about something like 5 cents out of a dollar extra to do something. I know that adds up when you’re printing a lot of them, but we’re talking about giving something back to people.” While large record companies are typically less enthusiastic about embracing new ideas, independent labels have always been synonymous with creative liberty. Others might continue to seek the rat race that is wooing a major label, but diligent artists will seize every available opportunity to steward their future and change the game. Take it from Courtney Love, who’s seen both the good and the ugly side of major deals. “If a record company has a reason to exist, it has to bring an artist’s music to more fans and it has to deliver more and better music to the audience. You bring me a bigger audience or a better relationship with my audience or get the f–k out of my way.

Summing It Up
This is not to suggest that major record cartels are irrelevant. Previously undiscovered artists benefit from the huge promotional break a major has to offer. It takes a ton of funds to break a new artist — funds most artists don’t have on their own. But it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of signing to a major before making the plunge. What’s the real cost of signing a freaking 5-album major deal in the long run? What does it mean when an artist has to recoup, say $250,000 of her promo budget while the label earns 10 times that amount? Keep in mind that most artists makes $0 from royalty points until recoupment is clear. That’s sad. The music industry is a burning house and people are running into the building with more gasoline instead of trying to douse the fire. Will this be the generation that finally capsizes a broken system or will it be the one that settles for the okey-dokey? Will this be the generation that revolutionizes music business or will it be the one that settles for a stint in the belly of the beast? That question lies in the hands of the Drakes and the Jay Electronica’s of this world.

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Anyway like the previous article about signing exclusive deals – drill down into the detail and be sure you go in to any arrangement with your eyes wide open.

Till next time.

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Signing Exclusive Deals – a couple od questions you may want to ask

I’ve licensed music via exclusive arrangements and open  – and think it’s a matter of choice for clients  – depending on their situation, and their level of comfort with  arrangements.

There are a lot of factors to consider before signing and exclusive arrangement and this article by Aaron at Renegade Music disucsses the issue in relation to licensing your music – – – but I think the questions (or variations of them) apply to other situations as well (such as management, record deals etc) as well as the licensing/sync market.
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Here are the questions and issues I evaluate when deciding whether or not to sign an exclusive deal with someone:
1)    What is the company or person’s tracks record?
If I’m going to enter into an exclusive arrangement with someone I want to know what their track record of placing music is.  Do they have a long history of placing lots of music? If so, this is clearly a positive sign that will factor heavily in my decision.  On the other hand, if they’ve only had a few placements or have only been in business for a short time, I’d be very reluctant to give them my songs exclusively.  I want to know that the odds of getting my music placed are stacked in my favor and one of the best indicators of this is how much music they’ve actually placed.

2)    Do they have a specific project or projects in mind they want to pitch my music to?
When I signed my first exclusive deal in 2002, my publisher had a specific project in mind that she thought my music would be a good fit for.  After I signed our contract, I had my first placement about three weeks later.  This is a question I always ask when I’m offered exclusive deals.  If they don’t have anything specific in mind or if there answer is vague, I don’t automatically decline, but I’m certainly less excited.  To me, if there’s no specific idea of where my music will be pitched it says to me that they just want to grow their catalog for future projects which my music may or may not be a good fit for.   This isn’t an indication my music won’t be licensed, but chances are it won’t be placed right away if they have no specific projects to pitch my music to.

3)    What do they think my chances of having my music placed are?
No one in this business can guarantee you placement until your music is actually pitched and accepted.  But If I’m going to give someone exclusive rights to my tracks I want to get a feel for how likely they think it is they’ll be able to place my tracks.  I’m looking to see how enthusiastic they are about my music. Do they think there’s a strong demand for what I’m doing stylistically? Again, there are no guarantees, but a good publisher can make an educated guess.

4)    What other offers do I have on the table?
When I’m pitching new music, there are usually at least a few dozen places I’m reaching out to.  Ultimately, it’s about signing the best deal with the best company at any given time.  The bottom line is I want to sign with whoever I think I’ll have the best chances of getting my music licensed through.  At the end of the day, If I think a company that requires exclusivity will have a better chance at placing my music then that’s the company I’ll go with
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So think of your own set of questions, adapt these and consider what answers you require/want to hear when talking to someone about an exclusive arrangement – and take your time to consider and extend questions as far as you need to (for example if it was with a record company – when do you start getting a return after advances are repaid? Etc).

Till next time.

Why mastering your tracks is critical!

There is a lot of discussion currently on this topic at the moment.

Some, because of the development of ‘mastering suite’ software and plug ins,  think they can do it themselves at the end of the mix process (and maybe they can). Some other than loudness finishing levels that they can achieve with a limiter, think it is unnecessary – especially for music that is only destined for the digital domain. Some think mastering just squashes to be loud and takes out all the dynamic flavour of a work (and yes bad mastering can do that – or it may be intentional and expected in certainn genres like dance/trance etc), and there are a number of other reasons presented as well.

Others, like us, wouldn’t think a piece of music is ready for commercial sale or marketing into the licensing sector unless it has been passed through a good mastering house.

Anyway – just thought this article by Aaron of Renegade Music Marketing might be of interest and add to the discussion.
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Mastering your tracks is a critical part of the production process.  Every step of the production process is important, but mastering, when done properly, is often times the final step that makes your tracks “broadcast quality” and ready to be sold or licensed.

Mastering gives your tracks depth, clarity and volume. There is an art and craft to mastering just as there is an art and craft to mixing and engineering.  When done properly, mastering, in addition to making your tracks “hotter” also puts all of the song’s frequencies in their proper ranges so that the lows aren’t too low and so the high end isn’t too high.

Most publishers, supervisors, radio production people  and the like are not experts in production in the sense that they will be able to pinpoint specifically what it is about a track that doesn’t work production wise.  Usually they simply know from experience and from listening to a lot of music what works and what doesn’t.  

Nine times out of ten if they don’t like your production they will not give you any specific feedback about your tracks beyond something vague like “the production isn’t quite up to speed”.  Occasionally, if you are working closely with someone, they might give you a little more feedback about specific areas of your mix that need work, if they are even able to articulate it themselves.

(Ian’s note: similarly, to compete in the retail sales world your finished product needs to stand up alongside the music you compete with, have that same ‘gloss’ and ‘finish’ of– regardless of production budgets – it affects initially listening/purchase decisions as well as that “relistenability” factor).

The bottom line is that you need to always put your best foot forward and present tracks that are fully produced, mixed and mastered.  The mastering of your tracks needs to be done by someone who fully understands and is an expert in the art of mastering.

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While we may do a ‘pseudo mastering’ on the occasional demo or extremely low budget job – here at PavMusic studios we agree totally with the above  and we do not master clients’ projects in-house but work with/send to those who do that specifically.

So what do you think?

PS:If you do not have your own contacts in this area, we can help by referring you to mastering houses that we have worked with  (or know via other people’s use and recommendation) that would suit your genre and style (and budget).

Why You Might Need a Producer

From an article by Robin Yukiko (Berkley Graduate, pianist, singer songwriter and music educator) 

You’ve got the songs. You’ve got the talent. Thinking about self-producing your album? Here are a few reasons you might want to consider working with a producer.

You need someone who knows your potential who can push you. You might be happy with the first take, but you need someone to say, “You can do better” or maybe “that’s enough”.

An outside perspective helps. Maybe your voice sounds tired. Maybe you come across as sad during your happy, peppy song. Sometimes we need fresh ears to get the best take.

You need someone who knows sound. Think about the voices of Phil Collins, Adele, Florence and the Machine, etc. It’s not only their voices and stand out, but the treatment of their voices. This can be reverb, doubling, or another combination of effects. But it’s not just a matter of slapping on some flange and calling it good. The trick is finding the right treatment that brings out the uniqueness that is already there.

Arrangement is its own instrument. It’s possible that you are adept at writing string quartets and horn sections but most artists aren’t. In fact, for many, it might not be apparent that a song could use an extra something. A good producer can hear the gaps and know how to fill them without overflowing the song. The right instrumentation can bring a song–and its vocals–to life. Additionally, a producer will know which players to hire to get the best sound.

You need someone to believe in you. It sounds simple, but knowing there is someone else who loves your music and is willing to work to help make it happen can give you the energy and motivation you need to get it done. And in a discipline like music–its players so often riddled with doubt–that simple thing is invaluable.

There are other things that a producer might do for you but these are some.

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Hopefully this might of interest and require more investigation – if so, hopefully Ian Pav can be of benefit to you

What a couple of clients said about working with Ian:

“Ian Pav has been a Godsend to work with. His experience in the industry and ommunication are amazing, and being very new to the industry myself, nothing I have asked has been too much trouble. I have enjoyed both working with him and getting to know him and would class him as a genuine, all-round nice guy.”

Derryth Nash – performer/ production client
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/DerrythNashMusic

“I came to PavMusic when I started my music career – Ian shedded much needed light on the music industry through mentoring and recording my first EP. After working with Ian I walked away with a clear vision, a top quality recording and the tools to succeed with my music.”

Guyy Lilleyman – performer/production client
Australian National Busking Champion 2013;
2013 ACT Best Blues, Roots & World award winner
Website: http://www.guyy.com.au/home

“In this industry you have to WORK hard to succeed- it is a BUSINESS” – just saying (again)

I have a couple of posts on this topic here already  – but to me it is probably the main reason that 70% of those artists who have the talent for a sustainable full time career dont make it (and sometimes have to leave the industry all together).
So when I received a broadcast email from one of the music licensing groups commenting on this – I thought it was worth forwarding as a supportive statement by someone else ………….

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They wrote ……….

“I heard a great interview recently with the singer/songwriter Sam Beam, aka “Iron And Wine”.  He was asked what the secret to his success was and he replied, “If you treat it like a job, they’ll pay you like it’s a job”.  I love this response, because it really sums up the attitude that is required to succeed in the music business.

It’s ironic to me that arguably one of the hardest and most competitive industries attracts a large percentage of people that seem to be looking for an alternative to working hard.  I’m sure you’ve all encountered those types of “musicians”.  The ones that are chronically late to rehearsals, who show up too stoned to play gigs, who sleep in until two in the afternoon.  The music industry seems to attract a lot of slackers, at least in my experience.

But the reality is that to succeed in the music business, you’re going to need to work your ass off. You’re going to need to work harder than in most other industries. You’re going to need to practice.  You’re going to need to take lessons.  You’re going to need to book shows.  You’re going to need to promote your music.  You’re going to need to email publishers.  You’re going to need to keep writing new songs.  You’re going to need to record your songs professionally.  You’re going to need to…. you get the idea, work!

To me it’s fairly obvious why more musicians don’t succeed.  Music isn’t a profession that immediately pays well.  You have to pay a lot of dues first.  So what happens is a lot of musicians start out very enthusiastic about their careers, but somewhere along the way, life gets in the way.  Bills pile up.  Mortgage payments are due.  Kids are born.  Priorities change and music gets put on the back burner.

Let’s face it.  Not everyone is meant to be or cut out to be a professional musician.  But for those of us who are, and you know deep down if you are,  let’s be realistic about the amount of work we need to put in to get the results we want.  My band has a new manager, and she is pushing us harder than I’ve ever been pushed before.  I have a four hour rehearsal tonight, after a very busy day of working and recording podcasts.  I resent her sometimes for how hard she pushes us.  But I know that she’s right.  I know we need to work harder to get where we want to go. “

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Hope that triggers some of you who should be doing the ‘business work’ side of things more – into doing the business!

 

PLAGIARISING (it’s not a crime per se)

Plagiarising (or plagiarizing depending which country you live in) has been around a long time and most people are aware of it in a general sense. There were heavy penalties in school if you plagiarize someone else’s work for your essay or homework. We have heard cases in the press at times in a range of arts, science and general industry of cases where someone has plagiarized an idea, body of work etc.

In this blog I wanted to discuss the concept a bit and relate it to some thoughts I have in relation to the music industry for your perusal and hopefully some discussion.

Let’s start with a definition.  
The ‘reliable’ source that is Wikipedia says …..
“Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “purloining and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,” and the representation of them as one’s own original work..”

Webster’s online dictionary gives the definition as –  
“transitive verb:  to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own :  use (another’s production) without crediting the source.
intransitive verb:  to commit literary theft :  present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Just an aside before we go further….please be aware – Plagiarism is not a crime per se but in academia and industry it is a serious ethical offense, and cases of plagiarism can constitute copyright infringement (which is where legal action can be taken).
Oh, and plagiarising can be both intentional and unintentional, and there are many cases of both being contested and won.

Musical plagiarism is the use or close imitation of another author’s music while representing it as one’s own original work. 
These days plagiarism in music occurs in two contexts—with a musical idea (that is, a melody or motif) or sampling (taking a portion of one sound recording and reusing it in a different song)……….

Now let’s be clear ….use per se is fine….it’s using it without acknowledging the true source or getting permission for it’s use/adaption (and worse, passing it off as your own).

There are a plethora of cases one could quote…those against well known musicians and those having been won taking a very abstract view and argument.
You can do google searches for ages but one to check out for some of the more famous cases is at http://www.fairwagelawyers.com/most-famous-music-copyright-infringment.html..XXXXX a

In Australia, the Men at Work, ‘Land down under’/’ Kookaburra sits’ motif is a well known case. It is interesting in itself, as the motif in question wasn’t a part of the original song writing but an ‘ad lib’ (‘tribute’ as part of the defense) played by the session flutist at the time of the recording and worked on from there..see http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/1178526/emi-loses-men-at-work-down-under-plagiarism-appeal-to-kookaburra  (as an aside take the percentages mentioned and think of all the success of that song including performing royalties from ads etc…imagine the revenue stream over the years …. you can see the level of $$ that were and could have been involved).
Even the awareness that brought the case to into being came from a strange source (the answer to a question on the show ‘Spics and Specs’ ) ….see http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Music/02/04/down.under.kookaburra/

OK but having said all that, let’s be real ….artists, musicians and writers etc have always copied each other. The list of rip-offs, cribs, copies, samples, purloined fragments, pilfered references, and stolen ideas is probably longer than history itself. People have always been influenced and inspired by one another and they have always copied, emulated, mimicked and borrowed. In turn they have helped disseminate ideas and provided materials, tools and techniques which enable new ways of being, understanding and communicating. 

There are frequent occasions when we simply assimilate new information, ideas and beliefs because they closely approximate or elaborate our own. Likewise, our memories are so porous that we often adopt other people’s ideas without ever taking note of our sources. In everyday experience we’re often blithely unaware and unconcerned whether some idea is of our own invention or a notion subtly adopted from someone else. We read books, journals and newspapers, watch TV and films, listen to the radio, surf the web and engage in multitudes of conversation. In the process we unwittingly appropriate and assimilate all kinds of information, ideas and attitudes with barely a regard to the extent that these dilute or embellish who we are.

And then there are phrases, sentence structure, chord progressions without which you are not ‘in the genre’ or space.

A 12 bar blues in E chord progression for example; a I, IV, V turnaround or a standard country 4 or 5 chord progression in C say…….. Many ‘new’ songs use these base progressions as the floor under their piece….. Are they plagerizing? Well, to the letter of the law if you could trace back to the original registered work using it, possibly (but you would then also have arguments of public domain entitlement, etc).

Yes, there are riffs (like the start to Black Magic Woman, Sweet Home Alabama, etc) that are immediately identifiable with a song. However, there is the fundamental issue that, in Western music we only have 12 semitones per octave and therefore there are only a finite combination of progressions and chords around those notes available before you will be doing ‘something like someone else’.
In fact I remember hearing (I think it was by Colin Hay) that Frank Zappa in one of his defences against a plagiarism action, got a mathematician to calculate if adult in the world were given the western musical scale, how long it would be (statistically) before everyone had come up with the same run of a certain size. I think the answer was something like 9 or 13 minutes equivalent!!!! (happy to be corrected here as couldn’t find the reference quickly when I was typing this )

 So what is the answer????

I don’t know –

One issue as producers we often raise is  – that if it is so bleeding obvious why wasn’t it picked up in production by those around that process as well as the group (or the label marketing department, etc) – so is it really that obvious? (and if it is then there probably is no argument).

One argument is – if it is incidental (ie the 12 bar blues chord progression), then that’s different as there may be a need for this floor in the work to be ‘in the genre’ . And this ‘common practice’ element needs to be considered.

Another argument is the issue which is all too often missed or subtly ignored in cases of plagiarism, is whether the material stolen is in any way substantive in relation to its new context. That is, does the plagiarised material bring about an improvement which would be otherwise unlikely?. If it does, then the accusation of deception is hard, if not impossible, to counter. However if the plagiarism is trivial then, I believe, we should be gracious enough to ignore it. 

So I don’t know the full answer – but to me …… if it is intentional copying without acknowledgement for the purpose of self promotion or financial gain, then I am totally against it and advise anyone doing it to stop immediately.

As to the grey areas ….. mmmmmm I look forward to people’s input.

Cheers