Steven Blanton ~ Leaderocity

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MORE Labels, Indies, and DIY... and My New Book

Click here to download sample pages of this 174 page book.
The Songwriter's Toolkit: From Pen to Push Play

Click on the book to purchase now. Pre-sell purchases include a free download card of the new EP by Aaron Blanton (a Grammy nominated and multi Dove Award winning artist.) Aaron Blanton has sold over 1 million CDs.  You'll get a free ringtone and at least six brand new songs recorded in L.A. and Orange County. The download card will ship at the time the book ships. This is a limited time offer!

I read a statistic this week from Digital Music News that really muddys the water.  "... Nielsen Soundscan offered some sobering stats.  A total of 98,000 albums were released in 2009, and just a handful crossed the million-mark.  Perhaps more sobering, just 2.1 percent managed to cross the 5,000-mark, a group that made up 91 percent of total sales.  Suddenly, fresh artists are staring at a near-zero chance of selling even modest amounts, part of a continued drizzle on DIY optimism."  Believe it or not, there does seem to be some life remaining in the big labels.  Many of the big radio/MTV acts are indeed signed to labels.  One might argue that as long as there is an excessive volume of cash flow, artists will continue to be willing to sign deals with labels.  The point is well taken.  Some artists will go with a major label for the world-wide exposure it could bring.  Since we aren’t privy to the deals they sign, we cannot speak to the issue of remuneration in exchange for whatever compromise they may (or may not) have made for a chance at the golden ring.  However, the stories abound of contracts known as “360’s”, named for the encircling financial absconding that engulfs the artist to control every single item marketed with the brand of the artists from downloads to tees to dolls to tours.  It basically means that virtually everything the touches the artist is owned by the label.  The cross-collateralization (redirecting of funds away from the songwriter) of the publishing catalogs for songs written by the artist, as well as recoupment clauses, take an enormous bite out of the artist’s take home pay.  This is one of the reasons we are hearing the loud outcry from artists (signed and unsigned) desperately trying to collect moneys from a variety of revenue sources.  They simply need the cash.  Who can blame anyone for wanting to get paid for the work they have done?

But that same argument goes for the hard-working labels as well.  If they really get behind an artist, there could be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars spent on marketing, branding, recordings, duplication, tour support and publicity.  The contracts they write are intended to support the bottom line and reward the stockholders (regulated by the Federal Gov.) without a creating Congressional investigation and showing up on C-SPAN. It is a sword that swings and cuts both ways.  In my estimation, everyone who works should get paid for their labor.  Labels and artists should reap the bounty as co-workers toward the same goal.  The reality is that greed drives too many decisions and the smell of money has an intoxicating affect on those who get engulfed in its aroma cloud. 

Conversely, there are artists who would give up everything of value and meaning to have the applause of the cheering, approving, world audience.  They need to play.  When these two extremes of label and artist meet up, it is more like a drug dealer supplying an addict than like a business arrangement.  By now you know I am always about balance and moderation and it is no less true in the music business.  The labels tend to be an over-the-top entity and the seeds of destruction are within.  The more it functions like the old model, the more destructive it is to its own survival.  These are of course, generalizations.  There are labels with different and healthier business models that may take them through to continued viability, but not without some morphing.
As musicians take back ownership of the music they create the less they need the glut of the label and all its excesses.  These players will seek out and find Indies who can and will step up in a partnership with the artist.  Indies don’t generally offer 360 contracts but look more like 180 deals.  180’s allow for the artist to direct and control rights of the publishing, merch and certain marketing pieces in an amicable arrangement with the Indie label.  Some Indie labels are offering ala cart deals that allow for picking and choosing the most needed areas of support.  Some share the cost of the record production rather than shouldering the cost alone.  This gives the artist much more power and shifts some of the successful marketing and sales back to the music maker himself.  In some cases, you must come to the party with some financing in hand in order to take on your share of the expense as you partner with the Indie.  This is a model that has existed in one form or another for many years.  It has moved in and out of vogue and has had a bit of a bad reputation because some of the Indies (formerly called custom record labels) were little more than glorified record mills.  They simply recruited anybody who had money to make a record, good or bad, and put a label on the record.  But the more recent incarnation of the Indie is a much healthier iteration of the custom recording company.  They generally offer some form of distribution (an ever evolving thing) to get the record in the marketplace.  Theoretically, they can and will do all the things that one individual couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t do for his musical career.  Besides distribution, they know who will help build a buzz through the right publicity and who’s who in the music business for the right kinds of connections.  I alluded to this in the previous post but, what is all that worth to you?  You are trading something whether it is points (percentages of sales) or something less monetary such as limiting your rights in some area.  It is about trading and compromise.  It is true; we can’t have it all.  If 98,000 albums are released in 2010 as well, how will you climb to the surface for some airtime? If you are one of the fortunate 2.1%, you will only sell 5000 units.  That isn't enough to buy the baby milk.  You must decide what you need help with and find someone to partner in your musical venture, formally or informally.  Find someone who has what it takes to help move your music out into the world where it can be appreciated.  Strategize a plan as soon as you finish reading this and go make it happen!  And even if you aren't a songwriter, you need to pick up a copy of my new book to give you insight into the world of music.  Until next time... Go Get Creative!    

The Songwriter's Toolkit: From Pen to Push Play

Click on the book to purchase now. Pre-sell purchases include a free download card of Aaron Blanton's new EP. You'll get a free ringtone and at least six brand new songs recorded in L.A. and Orange County. The download card will ship at the time the book ships. This is a limited time offer... REALLY!

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