If you have a band and you want the band to become successful, you should really have some idea of exactly how the music industry works. It is also useful to have some idea of the sequence of things in the life of a successful band. It doesn’t always happen like this, but this is a pretty good roadmap.
1. Get the band set up
2. Produce some product to promote yourself
Set up website
Make a youtube video
3. Move from Semi pro to pro
Get a record deal
Get a management deal
Get a publishing deal
4. Earn money
Sell click thru’s on videos
Radio & TV plays
5. Pay Tax & manage splits
Get an accountant
Get a music lawyer
I’ve grouped the various things into four catagories. Some of these cross several catagories, such as gigging, but I’ve listed them at the stage you are first likley to need help & support. Of course if you sign to a major, you will have people to do all of the donkey work, but it is always worthwhile understanding the way things work, as it is your career and you may only get one shot at it.
Getting the band set up. Before you start planning where to build your mansion or which Ferrari to buy, you actually need a functional unit. You will need songs, recordings and photos before you can really consider doing anything. Of course some bands start gigging because they have access to venues, but for novice bands without contacts, recordings and photos are the first step.
The usual thing to do is to put a set of music together, choose the best three songs and record them.
Once the recordings are in the bag, get a few decent photos. With the recordings and the photos you can set up a basic website or facebook page. This will tell the world who you are and what you do. It is possibly the most important thing you will do. I’d recommend doing this before you do gigs. If people like you, then you can direct them to your website or facebook page and you can keep in touch with them. That will help you build a following for live shows. You may also want to put together a Youtube video. A decent video can attract fans for the band in a way that would take years gigging on the circuit(however a bad one may have the opposite effect).
If you are starting to get lots of likes, hits on the video and plays on your soundcloud tunes, you may attract the interest of the industry. Many bands think that the most important thing is to get a record deal, but for most bands, a management deal is as important, if not more so. Perhaps more lucrative for many artists than a record deal is a publishing deal. This will help you receive royalties from the songs you write. A good publisher will get your music into places that a record company wouldn’t bother with and hopefully help you get by financially. A decent management team will have contacts for both publishing and record labels, so hopefully will make sure you get the best deal. Always get legal advice from a specialist music lawyer before signing any contracts. Make sure they are independent of the company you are signing with.
Although a record company and a publisher may give you an “advance”, you haven’t earned anything yet. This only comes with sales. The advance is paid back out of the sales when they come. Many bands sign up for all sorts of expensive things and think “The record company is paying”, they aren’t you are, but you won’t get the bill until the sales come in.
So how can you earn money as a band. There is the classic way of selling vinyl/cd’s. This is an ever diminishing proportion of the picture. There are also downloads (iTunes). For many artists, even more important are advertising revenues from click thru’s, Merchandising (t-shirt sales at gigs), and endorsements (ie appearing in adverts, or letting your music be played). You will also receive royalties for radio plays and any TV plays. This can be a significant amount of money. You need to make sure that in any contract you sign, all of these issues are covered and you get your fair share of money from all of them. You may also want an “any future revenue streams, not currently invented” clause. Many bands from the 1970’s have come unstuck with CD’s and downloads, as the record company owned all of the rights to future innovations.
SO hopefully you’ve got the cash rolling in and everything is fine. You are receiving massive royalty cheques, what could possibly go wrong? Well the drummer decides that he’s not getting his fair share from all of the proceeds and has an old handwritten contract from when you first set the band up in his bedroom that guarnatees him 25% of everything. He quite the band and sues you. Two weeks later, theInland revenue tell you that you’ve paid no tax at all and you owe them a million quid. Sadly you’ve spent it all on a Ferarri and champagne.
This is where you need a good lawyer and a good accountant. Well actually it isn’t. It is too late now. You needed them when you signed the contracts. You need them in place before they are necessary. My advice to any band is to be aware of all of these things. If you have no record deal and no income, you don’t need to have an accountant or a lawyer, but as soon as you get some interest, you need to consider the issues.
The local accountant who does the accounts for the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker won’t do. The music industry is a massively complicated area. A blog such as this can’t advise on who you should use or where you need to go, but we can make you aware of the issues. I’ve been in the music industry for 34 years now. I’ve played in bands, managed bands, run studios, done PR for bands. The one thing I’ve learned is that talent may open you the doors to fame, but unless you are careful, someone else will make all the money.
Never sign away your rights to anythings on the promise of guaranteed success. If you are that good you don’t need to and they will sign you up anyway. People ask me what is a reasonable percentage to sign for a record label, a management company and a publishing company. My answer is that it all depends on the terms. The question I tell bands to ask is this. How much money can I expect to earn from it?
Let me give you one example. A friend of mine many years ago signed a one off deal witha record label to put out a song by his band. The guy who owned the label said that he’d press 5,000 copies. He explained to my friend that to make it worth his while pressing it, he’d give my friends band 20% of the profits ( a ridiculously low margin). My friend was so desperate to get the single out that the band just signed the deal. They hadn’t signed the deal for financial success, but to get exposure. The single was a hit. It sold twenty times what had been expected. The band found that they had signed away 80% of all the rights to the song for ever. The response of the guy who ran the record company was “too bad, a contract is a contract”. Sadly they were not the only musicians to come unstuck in this way.
It may be argued that they got exposure and the label had taken the risk, but the band should have insisted that there were time limits on the deal and that if it sold more than expected, they would have received a better percentage. The biggest mistake they made was getting there dads solicitor to advise them. He thought the whole thing was pie in the sky and was more interested in making sure the band didn’t have to pay anything out. In actual fact the original deal had been a 50/50 cut with the band paying for the recording. The band had thought he’d done a really good job as he’d saved them a couple of hundred quid.
If you want your band to become one of the monsters of rock, you have to cover all of the bases. There are many bands that work hard, perform thousands of gigs, make a living, but 99% of the population have never heard of. The one thing I didn’t mention was the final piece of the jigsaw. The surefire hit. Anyone who tells you they have a guaranteed recipe for this is lying (unless they have a Rolls Royce outside and a stack of Gold Discs on the wall). That is down to you. There are three things to bear in mind when trying to write a hit. Firstly, try and keep it to under four minuites, because if it is longer you’ll find radio play hard to get. Second, make sure it sounds good when played on a car radio and a laptop PC. This is where most people hear new music for the first time. Third, if you’ve done a few demos and people tell you one song stands out, then that is the song which is most likely to get you that hit. Often it will be one the band are less keen on. Ask yourself whether you want success or not.