There’s a plague slowly creeping throughout the metal scene. It’s an infection that has stricken many of our brightest creatives and left us without their music far too soon. Let me explain.
During my time as a writer, I have learned there is an astounding difference between truly talented and professional artists and other talented musicians who are merely “signed”. It’s unfathomable to me that the measure of success for most up and coming bands is still landing a record deal with… literally anyone.
I liken a record deal to buying a nice condo. You sign a mortgage and suddenly you feel like you’re on top of the world. You’re moving in to your first place. Soon after, the beauty of that moment fades away when you realize that you just bought the air in between the walls. The building containing it is still under the domain and control of the developer that built it. What a scam.
Back in the day, record labels would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on recording your band, promoting the album, and distributing it. Record labels aren’t much different from a lending institution if you mentally replace your credit score with the amount of followers you have online.
Over time, the astounding cost associated with an album release has decreased significantly. Production costs are down due to the mass availability of quality recording gear that you can acquire at a reasonable price. Music videos are cheaper because cameras that once cost tens of thousands of dollars are competing against cameras in the hundreds for small strides in quality. These days, quality edits and techniques seem to matter more than your camera.
I could go on and on. Costs are down substantially when it comes to the release of an album. Surely, the bigger the band, the bigger the price. I’m not saying it’s cheap, but we’re definitely not dealing with Monopoly money these days.
Couple the shrinking costs of the actual creation of music with the fact that advertising is more affordable than ever, and you have what I believe to be a higher opportunity than at any other time in music history. When I say advertising costs are down, I mean it is literally free in most cases on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The prevailing thought among rising musicians is that you cannot be successful without the assistance of a record label or some local promoter. I’m not here to bash labels who represent major artists. At a certain point, it becomes an absolute necessity because of the size of your operation. Twenty One Pilots definitely needs a label.
But does a band with fifteen thousand Facebook fans need to sign a record deal and give up most or all of their revenue to someone who is just posting (5… 4…. 3…. 2…. 1…) countdown cards on your Facebook page in the days before you release your album?
It frustrates me because I feel strongly that bands would have a much better chance if they held out for a record label until they felt like it was an absolute need. These days, most bands have a record deal. Why? Other musicians give abhorrent amounts of money to promoters who turn around and purchase Facebook ad campaigns that YOU should be buying yourself.
I often wonder what many bands would accomplish if they spent time chasing good music, good visuals, and good strategy instead of giving all of your trust to a label that is taking your money and spending it with little to no explanation or proof. Are they giving you spreadsheets instead of actual stats from iTunes and Spotify? They’re probably ripping you off, bro.
You don’t need a label to find success early on. There are far too many resources available that allow you to do it on your own, but many feel they won’t look “legit” unless they sign with some label.
(There is something I want to note here. While I think record labels are completely unnecessary until you reach a certain point… I feel that intelligent management and publicity is always worth it. Save your money on a label and use it to pay competent management and a publicist.)
I have friends who have signed with labels who deeply regret it, and I have friends who are independent that have nearly beaten bands with the vast resources of a record label.
My friend Eric July used to be the vocalist of a band called Fire From The Gods. They have a deal with Rise Records. Seems like a nice enough band with plenty of potential.
Eric left the band some time ago and started his own group… BackWordz. He spent a couple of years with his bandmates building up their brand online while they wrote their debut album. They released frequent content that was interesting and engaging and created their own hype around them.
BackWordz ended up picking up quality management and a solid publicist, Amy Sciaretto, who is the Tom Brady of publicists in my view. If you’re working with her, you’re going to be a winner. That’s really all I have to say about that.
After a few years of really hard work, Eric and his bandmates released BackWordz debut album “Veracity”. Would you believe it outsold his previous band who has the backing of Rise Records? Lets take a look.
That’s a debut album from a fully independent band. If you’re wondering about the Stay Sick Recordings thing at the bottom… the band formed a partnership with them to merely distribute their album.
Here’s what Fire From The Gods did first week:
Eric and BackWordz doubled the first-week sales of his Rise-backed former band. For the record, Rise continues to develop some of the best bands in the music scene and I don’t think they did anything wrong here… it’s merely a sign of the times.
When an independent artist with quality management (Strong Management represents BackWordz and also works with Killswitch Engage and CKY) and publicity, they end up with a stronger financial situation that gives them a better chance to prosper in my view.
I don’t know who the real killer is, but there are a lot of industry folks that I feel are taking advantage of musicians with underhanded financial agreements. The artists who seem to want it more and are willing to do it themselves are ever increasingly becoming more prominent in the scene.
I think it’s time to change the way we think about bands who choose to go it alone.