In addition to Music Marketing 201, I’m also teaching Dave Kusek’s Future of Music course. The first lesson in the course looks at the difference between the music business and the record business (there’s a big difference, of course), what a major/independent label offer musicians, the importance of touring and merch, and an overview of publishing.
Part of the first assignment in the course has students evaluate a hypothetical situation involving a songwriter that is beginning to have some success, and is now being courted by a major. The question: should this artist take the major label deal?
It’s a pretty broad question in theory, and one that requires a lot of questions in return. What are the terms of the deal? Is this a 360 deal that will require this artist to relinquish control (financially and creatively) of merchandise, touring income, publishing? Does this artist feel that a major label can effectively do things that the artist cannot do for him/herself?
From a critical thinking standpoint, all the above (and more) should be considered (by a lawyer, if possible). But from a knee-jerk standpoint, my first thought is to walk away. Consider these two news releases from last week. The first is from London’s Guardian paper:
“EMI, bought by Guy Hands’ Terra Firma group last year, confirmed today that worldwide headcount will be cut by between 1,500 and 2,000 as it slashes costs.
Confirming EMI insiders’ fears, the company said ahead of staff briefings this morning that it was launching ‘a series of wide-ranging initiatives within its recorded music division to enable the group to become the world’s most innovative, artist friendly and consumer-focused music company.”
On the flip side, there continue to be interesting ideas popping up on how artists can run their own label. Take a look at this company, called Slice The Pie. The company enables artists to connect with financers who want to invest in music. It looks to me like the company is in its infant stages, but it is definitely an interesting idea.
I’ve worked at labels. And while I think that a small tightly run forward-thinking label can survive and prosper in this environment (Stone’s Throw is one of my favorite examples at the moment), I still think the majors are a ways off from being even remotely close to navigating the current environment. I think times are going to continue to get worse for the majors before they get better, and the resources available to independent musicians are going to continue to improve.