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Want a Major Record Deal....You Sure?
May 03, 2003

The REAL Key To Getting A Major Deal

Sources: MCA, Universal Def Jam, 312 Ent.

Are you still beating down doors and recording demo tapes with the hopes and dreams of becoming a major label super star?.... We suggest you stop it. We're so sick of this fraud.

Executives from MCA, Def Jam and Universal agreed in comparison during a discussion about the odd desire for artists to seek out Recording Contracts from Major Labels.

Undoubtedly, several ways exist to receive that golden Major Label Contract. Two of the most common are as follows:

1) Shop a demo via self or lawyer and hunt labels for your deal.
2) Independently create enough buzz to lure a label to you for contract negotiations.

Neither approach is done with ease. With option #1, (an occurance that graces every 1 out of one million artists) the rest of the process usually goes like this:


1) Artist #1 slaves, begs or hires a prominent lawyer to get A&R to listen to their demo. With no previous track record or bargaining leverage, should an A&R actually decide to listen to their demo and / or make plans to sign an artist based on sample product, the artist will most likely receive a slave-labor, low-end recording deal with very little advance. Why? Because of the massive amount of risk a label encounters with a new artist. They are going to invest thousands, possibly millions of dollars to gamble with your success. If you cannot prove to them that your a sure bet, or if you have no leverage i.e. an "I-don't-need-you,-you need-me" stake of claim) you have no barganing power and therefore, you take what you get.

2) Artist #1 is then tied into a low-profit contract for the next 4 to 6 albums (which, due to commonly missed fine print of contractual jargan) can end up equaling about the next 30 years of their life.

3) After that, they are put in a studio recorded, promoted and toured AT THEIR EXPENSE, which THEY are contracted to pay from their own record sales of which they are only getting about .80 cents per CD. IF not Less...That is... if their CD even makes it off the recording shelf. You see, labels run like any other business. This is a business you know. Debits, credits, assets, expenses. It does not run on creativity, like most naive think. When labels need to cash in, when there is any financial danger, labels depend on their "cash cows" or already exisiting stars for income. Super attention for "cash cow" marketing campaigns or releases often lead to the neglect or abandonment of rookie signed artists. This happens more often then you would care to know. Think of all of the "rated next" artists seen in Vibe magazine that mysteriously dissapeared. Most likely these artists were shelved, their singles didn't sell enough units or they were forgotten and never released.

4) But if Artist #1 is REALLY REALLY lucky, they'll have a hit song. They'll make the label approximately 5 to 6 dollars / per CD while they make only .80 cents and they will continue to pay back the millions of expenses they've acquired (with that measly .80 cents per cd) until they eventually go bankrupt or end up in court like our friends: TLC, Backstreet Boys or NSync. - And, keep in mind, you've only heard these special cases because they actually had MORE THAN ONE hit song. Hundreds of other artists were sent packin, back home as one hit wonders or with years of work on their shoulders and nothing to show for it.

This doesn't happen to everyone, but most major label artists, unless successful WRITERS collecting publishing (See "What is Publishing") are forced to make most of their money off of tourning, performances and endorcements, NOT from CD sales. Most take at least two albums before they see any FAIR profit from their work, others get trapped into recording contracts and are miserably tied to their labels.(Think Prince - "Slave" and Tupac). Nearly ALL artists signed to major label contracts DO NOT OWN THEIR MASTERS. Masters are the final finished recording product. (The product you sweat, wrote and PAY for from cd sales). This means, should the label decide to let you go, you don't take any of your music with you. If you wish to re-release it or sell it on your own terms, you'll have to re-record EVERYTHING, ALL OVER AGAIN at your own expense. Sounds lovely, huh? (Think Cindy Lauper and Prince...again) Yet, you only hear of these cases because the artists are seriously successful.

Is this the horrendous fault of the big bad record label? Not really, but that's another article.

Look at what happens with Artist # 2:

1) Artist #2 saves up enough money - usually 10 to 15K (less than the cost of a car) to record, promote and distribute their own full length CD. They do it right. They look at the billboard charts and compete with what's out there. They test market (meaning they get feedback from the streets, not from friends and family). They get it properly mixed and mastered and end up with a professionally, commercially competitive product.

2) They start grass roots promotions, book shows, get exposure, purchase some radio ad time, get local college radio spins, start with local home-jam spins by commercial radio and create a nice buzz.

3) They’re song becomes a SMALL, TINY hit, they get requests on radio and they're little local superstars. Not BIG STARS, but VERY, VERY SMALL STARS.

4) Eventually, after a nice buzz has begun to circulate, Artist #2 will mysteriously begin to receive phone calls from various labels and executives asking if they would be interested in a P&D deal (Promotion and Distribution Deal.) What's a P&D Deal? This is where major distribution companies (started and run by major labels) offer to simply market and distribute a completed album for a percentage of the pie. They will usually pay to have the product manufactured too and give you an advance on CD sales.


1) Artist #2 is making close to 5 to 10 dollars when they sell their CD's. Hardly anyone outside of their region knows them, but they're making more money than the new artist signed to Def Jam. Why? Becuase they keep their expenses low and profits big. They can sell 2,000 CD's and make $20,000 (In comparison to a major super star who can sell 1 million CDs at .80 cents / per CD and make about $800,000.00 dollars MINUS the 1 million they OWE the label for promotions and are still in the hole-$200,000.00

2) Artist #2 sold albums on their own and next thing they know, every label from here to L.A. is calling them to give them a distribution deal. Why? because they've proven that they are potential "cash cows." They've basically said. "I'm making all this money on my own. I don't really need you."

So, what's the point? What's the KEY to getting the record deal you dream of without the nightmare most artists face? SELL YOUR OWN UNITS.

1) I can't stress this enough, so I'll say it one more time SELL YOUR OWN UNITS.

2) You don’t necessarily want a recording deal; you want a P & D Deal.

3) With Free Internet Music Killing Major Label Profits, Labels are cutting back, laying off and CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE A CHANCE ON YOU. Even less now than before.

4) Most of you’re here-today-gone-tomorrow signed artists have entered into a contract with no proof that a label can make money off of them. They are a huge risk that labels don't want to take. And labels loose millions of dollars every year from bad investments. They end up counting on their Eminems, Janet Jacksons and Britneys to cover up all of their losses, in which if you're a nobody, they won't push your product so hard. It's quicksand.

5) Stop worrying about chasing down a label to tell them how good you are. They have RESEARCH TEAMS for that. If you really have what it takes to be a star, they’ll find you...REALLY. Ask Ludacris, Shawna, Jill Scott, Nelly, Master P. and Cash Money. TRUST ME.

6) What if you can't sell units on your own? Well... as hard as this may be to swallow; If you can't sell units on your own, you probably would have never lasted with a label. If you can't get average people to buy your music, how will a major label see value in signing you as an act? At least this way you still have your dignity, your pride and you only lost a car.

The reality is: Getting signed by a record label is not determined by how talented you are. It's not even determined by how good your music is. It’s determined by how much money you can make. If Majors see you already making a dent in record sales, they’ll be grateful to get a piece of the pie. and it’s no risk to them, because you’ve already proven that you can make sell a record. If you release your own album, you’ll have less expenses, more control, the ability to weigh your options, deciding between labels and making more money on your own than you would if you had signed to a Major in the first place.

So the next time someone who's never sold a CD comes up to you with the I’m-a-big-shot-now-line: “I’ve just been signed to a major recording deal.” Be happy for them, pat them on the back and wish them the best of luck…. They’re really going to need it.

For More insight to this article, See the Industry Advice Section for the Wendy Day Article: "How to Get a Record Deal"


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