Music Blogs

So you want a recording contract...?

  • By Trev@circlestudios
  • 26 June 2013

This week we introduce Supajam's secret weapon: Trev from Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham.  He's gonna shoot from the hip about how the music industry really works in a series of blogs: Machiavelli's Guide to the Music Industry.

You know what pisses me off about some bands? Whining. They whine because they can't get gigs. They whine because when promoters put on a gig they are expected to take followers with them. They whine because when the previous band finishes their set their followers all, er... follow them (often out of the door never to be seen again). So, is the world really against them or are they missing something fundamental?  Okay, I'll let you into a dirty little secret... Bands don't get successful without a fan-base. Statistically, you've got more chance of guessing a complete stranger's phone number than having one of your records go to number one. So, if you can't turn twenty fans out to a gig, you probably aren't going anywhere.  Get over it.

The days of winning a record deal just because you are great musicians with a catchy tune have long gone (if they ever really existed). But before you can think about engaging them, you need to think about who your audience actually is.  Now ultimately there are a bunch of different audiences you'll need to think about as your journey gets under way: fans, record labels, playlist committees, publishers etc.  But the key audience you need to engage with at the outset, is your potential fan base: the general public who are interested in you, who might actually pay good money to hear your music and to buy your merch.  
Before we talk about how you go about building a loyal army of fans, remember this. While these various audiences that you'll have to appeal to at some point may look and feel different, they are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there are a stream of bands and artists behind you who forgot that simple rule to their detriment. So step back for a second. Will the way you attract your fan-base also appeal, for example, to a record label?  You don't care about record labels? Fair enough. Skip reading this bit.  
For those who do, have you ever thought about what a record label actually is? What makes those, almost mystical, A&R types tick? Because you can really only understand how to appeal to them if you can put yourself in their shoes.  What do record labels actually do? Most, long ago, sold their recording studios, so they don't record music.  Other than a few notable exceptions, they don't employ producers, so they don't produce music.  Many of them have separate publishing companies so they don't publish music either. So what do they do? 
In essence, much like Guinness or Coca-Cola, what the major record labels do today is manage the brands that they invest in.  Let's be clear on this: major labels don't manage bands.  Indeed they often require that bands have their own professional management team who fetch and carry, administrate and organise, and try generally to maximise the band's position.  But not major labels. They manage brands. With an R.   
So if you accept that they are brand management companies then you also accept that what they do is market their brands.  Except, in their case, the brands are bands and artists rather than washing powders.  So if you are a band that wants to be marketed, in order to appeal best to the label, like a box of white powder (snicker), you must have a clear brand message and you must manage it carefully (you never, for example, see a box of washing-powder posting pictures of itself on You-Face throwing up with its trousers down at three o'clock in the morning). 
It follows that if you are a band or artist that wants to be signed, then you must make yourself look like a brand that your label of choice wants to market. So any decision you make that affects your brand, you must make it with that brand in mind. Be it your haircut, your choice of clothes, your musical direction or the pictures you post on Twit-book. Everything must be subservient to the brand.  And while bands and their brands have been put together around a whacky idea, a bad-boy image or a shock tactic before, save in very rare circumstances, very few have achieved any longevity.  (If you remember the Cheeky Girls at all, for example, I suspect it isn't because of their music...).  In the circumstances, unless your goal is to be just another one hit wonder, better to focus on getting your brand right than getting your bum out (metaphorically or otherwise).
The moral of this story? If you get your brand wrong in the formative stage, you might appeal to one of your audiences, while turning all the others off completely: career ends, whining begins.  So with that in mind, start with this question: what is your brand? Then decide who is your audience.
Next week on Supajam, we talk about how you can define your brand and go about building that all important fan-base. Until then... Play it loud!
The author of Macchiavelli's Guide, Trev is a record producer and Chief Engineer at one of the UK's top studios, Circle Recording Studios in Birmingham.  Check it out at www.circlestudios.co.uk. He has worked with clients ranging from record labels to Yamaha Corporation's R&D team and artists from Bruce Dickinson to Henry Rollins. He is currently working on a solo album for a singer from a global supergroup. You can also follow @circlestudios on twitter.