The Mystique of the “Big Record Deal,” Pt 2

Shortly after posting my last entry, I had a discussion with a friend about big record deals, modern trends, and general fulfillment in the creative world.

He pointed out that most musicians in fact do NOT want to get signed by a major record label, preferring instead to follow the grooves that are being cut by the powerful presence of independent labels. With a more level playing field, “indie rock,” for example, offers the artist more creative and financial freedom.

I rebutted with, “Why wouldn’t you want to be signed to a major record label?”

The Music Business Handbook and Career Guide by David and Tim Baskerville says about major labels:

“…[A]rtists are attracted to the large advances and prestige of being associated with a label such as Sony or Island Def Jam, the security of knowing there are sufficient funds for marketing, and the stability of an established company in a business where one of the greatest difficulties is getting paid.” [Baskerville, 276]

It’s funny to me how there seems to be a pervasive trend against the major labels. I’m not sure where this stems from – perhaps the fact that a lot of music coming out of major labels today is downright crappy. The “indie” musician naturally feels compelled to write, produce, and distribute his art, well – independently.

My friend also raised the point that the majors are not nearly as thriving as they once were, giving way to the strong currents of independent music brimming to the surface of consciousness through the web. True, but they are still out there, they are still signing artists, and they are still the driving forces behind most popular music… if one defines “popular music” as the music that is appealing to most of the music-listening population of the world.

By their nature, major labels tend to reach greater audiences and garner more profits for themselves and, when the sales are successful, the artists. That part at least seems to still be true, but then again, what do I know?


Baskerville, David and Tim. “Music Business Handbook And Career Guide.” 9th Edition. New York: Sherwood Publishing Partners. 2006.

The Mystique of the “Big Record Deal”, Part 1

I’ve always thought a good deal about record deals. What are they? How does an artist, or a band, obtain one? What does the artist, or band, need to have, or do? Do they need to seek out the record label, or does the record label seek them out? Is the “big record deal” something that everyone can have, or does it only come to the “chosen few”?

Unfortunately, I was soon to find that there are no answers to these questions, or if there are, they are very vague and blurry. Who’s to say what it takes for a great band to find a record label who would be willing to invest in them, and vice versa? It would make sense that an amazing band, such as The Beatles, would inevitably attract EMI records, just because they are that good. But in an alternate universe, would they be overlooked?

A lot of factors go into play here. Today, more factors go into play than ever before. As I thought I understood how the business used to work, you would form a band, work really hard, practice all the time, and hopefully get signed. Nowadays, this formula couldn’t be further from the truth.

Seth Godin speaks about finding a “partner” in his podcast, “Startup School.” He says that back in the day, a person such as Casey Kasem would serve as a “partner” to the artist in question, having them on the radio, bringing them into the networks that would help them garner a huge following. He reminds us that artists don’t, and never have, wanted to deal with the headache of keeping track of fans, maintaining them, supplicating to them, and assimilating them. The artist, as I touched on in the last post, just wants to do his art.

This is where the “partner” comes into play. But Godin’s concept of the “partner” was more of one person, someone who worked for and with the artist to help them create and manage the following and “get themselves out there.” He said nothing of record labels or deals.

The reason I’ve always been fascinated by record labels is because they seem so elusive. Everyone wants one, or thinks they do, but no one really seems to know how to get one – in the sense of knowing a more or less direct path. That’s because there is no direct path. There are no steps to take. There’s no “first do this, then do this.” (If I ever figure it out, I will come out with a step-by-step product.)

Godin, the pace-setter of entrepreneurship, seems to still believe in the artist doing his part – writing a blog a day, having an e-mail list, being ferociously up to par with social media, et cetera. However, he also says in this podcast that a partner can serve as a very helpful tool to do these things efficiently. In the next post, I’d like to discuss whether the idea of a “partner” can be extended to that of a “major record label” in today’s anti-major record label environment.

Do you feel that a partnership with a big company can be beneficial to someone trying to make a splash? What are some dangers?