Posted: Jun 24, 2019
Category: The Musician Business
**Guest post written by Nick Cesarz, drummer, producer, and blogger from Milwaukee, WI. Nick is the editor and owner of DrummingReview.com, a website dedicated to helping drummers choose gear, learn how to play, and guide them through the music industry.
"It's a phone call conversation I wouldn't wish on any of my enemies: getting dropped from a record label.
Being let go from a record company is a sad tale that many acts endure throughout their careers. Today I'll explain what it's like and how you can reduce your chances of having this unfortunate conversation.
Before our signing to Atlantic Records, we were lucky to have many of our songs trend on the SoundCloud Explore tab (this was in the early half of 2014 from my memory; I don't know if the feature is still around).
It was a time long before Spotify had taken its place as everyone's favorite music application.
The genre Indie Pop / Rock was all the rage, and our singles were getting thousands of plays each day. Our strategy was simple: upload one song each month and tell our fans to stream it on SoundCloud. To our surprise, each song managed to hit the Explore tab.
I believe "Breaking Up My Bones" was the final song we uploaded from the EP and it surpassed all expectations statistically, hitting 10,000+ plays each day.
In just a few short weeks, executives from Atlantic Records flew out to our practice space to watch us perform live. By July of 2014, we sealed the deal, signing to Atlantic's subsidiary record label, Fueled By Ramen.
During our time at FBR, we were blessed with opportunities and chances to prove our worth. Our first "real" tour was with a band called twenty one pilots. Before signing, we had only done small regional tours.
We released two albums under Atlantic, both of which were not commercial successes. This is likely the most significant contributing factor to our being released. I cannot say for sure, as I am just speculating.
The phone call came during a rehearsal and to say it was a shock would be an understatement.
When you're signed to a record label, being dropped isn't something at the front of your mind. There's work to be done, and everything seems to be progressing forward.
The call is emotionally devastating: it doesn't feel real. It can almost feel like the end of your career - but it isn't.
Today, artists can launch their own careers with services like Tunecore, CDBaby, and others. Mark Mulligan from Midia Research names these as "Labels as a Service."
Mulligan also noted in a previous article that independent musicians and unsigned artists represented 30.3% of global music revenues in 2016. The market is changing.
We continued forward independently for a while after parting ways with the label. While we're not active as a band currently, I am happy to have had the experience of being with a major label to share the story.
With the good and bad out of the way, let's talk about four ways you and your band can avoid that dreaded phone call if you happen to be a signed act (if you aren’t signed, you should still follow these rules as a band each day).
While the first point may seem obvious, it is exceptionally crucial. Always be prompt with responses to emails and phone calls. Ignoring the company who has just invested heavily in your act is the worst thing you can do.
Poor communication leads to frustration, misunderstandings, and lack of trust. If the label you work with no longer values your judgment, more decisions will be forced by either your A&R staff or the label itself.
We always did our best to maintain a good relationship in our circles, but I have heard stories of bands ignoring phone calls, calling them out on social media, and even using profanity directly towards their label. These are not the best ideas if you're a newly signed act, or ever.
When working with a label as a new band, it's often your responsibility to create content ideas for the year going forward.
You'll most likely need to submit a social plan that outlines what you're currently promoting, what you'll create to support it, and so on.
Examples include acoustic videos, concert footage, Q&A videos, photos from shows, and other creative ideas.
This could be something as simple as an email to the label saying, "We're going to release four vlog videos throughout the next tour promoting the new single."
Once you send the email off, be sure to commit to the project. If the record company sees that you cannot fulfill on a commitment, your act may begin to appear as a risky investment.
There's always another act begging for the opportunity to be on a label willing to work ten times as hard as you are currently. Let that be a sobering thought.
We were a little too agreeable during our time. We always believed that stating our opinion would be viewed in a negative light. I'm beginning to rethink this.
If your current trajectory isn't going the way you see fit, be sure to make it known to your A&R or label by voicing your opinion.
Stating your feelings shows passion and determination to succeed. You may be nervous about being a new band on the label and stating your opinion, but I feel it is beneficial to do.
Blindly following the decisions of a label can deter your progress, as they don't always have the correct answers.
What worked for one band or act may not work for yours. Keeping quiet can increase doubt toward your group when measuring the books at the end of a quarter.
Let's say your booking agent or label slots a tour with an act you think won't work well. This is a perfect opportunity to voice concern and question the decision.
I've heard the story too many times of the band who signs a major record deal, blows the entire advance, does nothing, and gets dropped.
Being in the position of signing a record agreement requires a great deal of restraint and responsibility.
Many artists who dream of being signed to a major often also believe that the mere achievement of the record deal brings tremendous success. This is a myth; the record deal is just the beginning.
If your act happens to get signed, you'll now need to become a successful signed act, if you aren't already before signing.
Showing the company that you can offer a return on the initial investment in your band will be required. Unfortunately, business is still business.
This is the most significant determining factor of an act's duration with a label, in my opinion.
Being signed to a record label is no different than any business relationship. Despite following the steps provided here, there may come a time when ties need to be cut, as was the case with our band. I value the time we shared with FBR and am happy to have had the experience.
The bottom line is more important than ever due to the decline of music sales over the years. Lavish expenses and significant advances are mostly gone.
Whether you sign to a major or not, remember that signing a deal alone does not define your music career. Artists today have ways of making a living without the help of record companies.
Platforms like YouTube and other social media have made it possible to grow a fanbase without hefty marketing budgets of the past.
While traditional marketing does work wonders still, it's not always necessary. "
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