I’ve worked in the music business for nearly 10 years in different capacities at radio stations and record labels like Def Jam. At each location there is always a throng of aspiring rappers, producers, rock stars, and managers in the lobby vying for the attention of label executives and anyone else with sneakers and jeans on. The approach is usually the same, a humble smile, a Walkman or iPod, and a story of how they are the next Jay-Z. Some people have complete albums with polished artwork, while others only have CD’s with their names scribbled in magic marker. They all share the belief that the merit of their music alone is enough to land them a lucrative recording contract.
If this were 1959, I would say that they may have a good shot, but in 2009 with the music industry contracting at an alarming rate due to lack luster record sales, record companies are seeking more qualitative ways of finding artists to sign. In the same way banks lend money to small businesses, record companies make investments in an artist’s career with hopes that it will be a profitable one. These organizations believe in the potential for an artist’s talent to make MONEY.
Traditionally, companies would hire young executives with a finger on the pulse of the culture as an Artist & Repertoire (A&R) person to bring in talent. Although this practice still exists, the labels have moved closer to a less subjective approach to A&R work by conducting research. A&R research departments are charged with finding the next Soulja Boy or Colbie Calliat by combing through social networks, reviewing airplay statistics, tracking regional sales of independent titles, and surveying taste makers in individual markets. The composite of these stats in addition to whom the artist is connected to i.e. DJ’s, managers, attorneys and promoters, is what decides who gets signed and who does not.
If you are a stakeholder (artist, manager, label owner), here’s a list of actionable steps you can perform to protect your music and garner the attention of label executives. The list is not exhaustive but it’s a great 1st step to a long journey.
Copyright your music
Ownership of copyrights are central to how artists, publishers and record labels generate income. The cost of registering is $40.
Develop a stage show, perform often and build a fan base.
The advent of 360 Recording Agreements, which allow labels to partner in every aspect of an artist’s career including touring revenues, makes your ability to draw an audience increasingly important. Traditionally mixtapes have been the conduit for driving the popularity of rap artists, but there’s no substitute for a good live performance in any genre. It doesn’t matter if you are performing at your cousin’s BBQ or at the biggest night club in your city, the point is to be in front of an audience who will talk about your music to other people. G-Unit, Plies, and Ludacris all drew in strong crowds through touring prior to having major record deals.
Register with the College Music Journal and reach out to local community & college radio stations. Some artist jump to the conclusion that once they’ve mixed their new hit it should be played at the biggest station in the city before testing it at the local club or performing it live. These two suggestions allow you get airplay on broadcasts that play a wider variety of music with larger play lists then what you are accustomed to on commercial radio.
Register your music with Broadcast Data Services (BDS) and with Mediabase
These two airplay tracking services monitor what’s played, how often it gets played and who is playing it. In addition to touring, having a large audience of people who have heard your song(s) without label backing can pique the interest of executives. It is free to register with both of them, but there is a cost to subscribe to the services. Even the best songs need to be worked on the radio, just not as much as the bad ones, so with that said it does cost money to get music played on the radio. You will either need to hire independent promoters or attempt to work the music yourself if you have the relationships.
Register your music with Nielson Soundscan
This tool tracks sales which is the bread and butter of the industry. Once again if you can show that people are actually willing to buy your music and not rip it off Limewire, then you present a stronger case for getting a record deal.
Utilize one of the many digital music aggregators that can get your music online for sale at iTunes. Major labels like Universal Music Group, Sony, and EMI have big name artists, large volumes of content, and the marketing dollars to do business face-to-face with companies like Apple iTunes, Walmart, and Amazon.com. Smaller labels with few resources and clout lack this type of leverage, so companies like Tunecore.com, The Orchard, IODA.com pool groups of independent labels and artists approach these companies in the same way a major label would. The companies are commonly referred to as digital aggregators. What this means to you is that you can create your music and have it sold on the major retail sites where people are actually buying music.
Alternatively, you can also sell music through retailers like Amiestreet.com or from your own website with services such as Echospin.com.
Develop a fan base
Social networking sights are all over the net and provide an alternative to traditional media like radio for artists to be heard. Use them to learn about who your fans are and test new music. The lessons you will learn from these steps are set up to help you manage your own career, build a buzz and create opportunities that will allow the record companies notice you.
Jamison Antoine is a metadata specialist in the E-Commerce department at Universal Music Group. He holds an MBA in Media Management and over 12 years of entertainment industry experience with companies such as Island Def Jam Music Group, Infinity Broadcasting and Wherehouse Entertainment.
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