Suggestion Box: MC's...To Sign or Not To Sign?

Gather ‘round..

It’s 2016. We all know at least 153 people that say they rap now. And maybe a couple of them are half decent at it. I don’t want to come off pessimistically, but the reality of the situation is, most of those people won’t do much with the music. It’s just fact. Let’s not hold any punches here, there are just too many wack rappers out there and that don’t have anyone honest enough in their lives to tell them the truth. But let’s focus on the short few that may actually be able to have a nice little career with their music. 

There was a time in music, when you’d be able to just grab a record label’s address from the back of an album and run down to the office with your 4-5 best songs on a demo tape and play it right there on the spot. You could literally walk off of the street and get yourself a record contract. You may not sign for a millions or anything like that, but you’d be on your way to starting a budding career as an artist. So much has changed since the era that I grew up in and loved so much. And most of those changes have come via the Internet and what it offers. Record labels aren’t bringing in the money that they used to. Bootlegging and file sharing has seriously crushed sales in a way that’s just embarrassing for the recording industry and they still haven’t figured out a way to combat this. You don't see a lot of artists selling millions of albums anymore, like you did in the late 90’s. It’s so bad, they’re counting streams now, as if they’re physical sales. Labels are struggling to make the money they used to, so contracts have been restructured to make them as much money from the artist as possible. 

This is where the dreaded “360 deal” comes in. Long story short, every single dollar you make as an artist, gets chopped up a bit, with the label collecting on the back end. You get pennies. They basically own you. Now for some artists (who I won’t name here), this isn’t that bad of a deal because they’re still benefiting from the label’s promotion and ability to cover travel and expenses like recording and cost of production. But think about that, that money still has to be paid back at some point. If sales are down, and a majority of your artist income is being syphoned over to the label, when do you start seeing some real money for your work? Truth is, you may never. 

So shouldn’t newer artists start thinking differently in regard to how they want their careers to go? Adapt? But in a way that actually benefits them and not a company? I’d say so. With social media and so many sites that host music for artists, does anyone really need a record label to do the work for them anymore?

With ProTools, Logic Pro X and a ton of other software out there, artists can record right in their bedrooms if they really wanted to. Let’s say you’d rather not, and want the pros to handle your recording and mixing. There are tons of studios that will knock that out for you, for costs that are lower than ever. And this is easily due to them knowing that you could just do the same at home, if you wanted to be bothered with it. If you wanted to produce your own tracks and stayed away from blatant sampling, you could do that too now because production equipment and software is way more affordable than it used to be. But again, let’s say you don’t want to bother with production, there are plenty of producers online who will license beats to you for really low prices and allow you to even sell your music, most times with a set limit of how much they’re okay with you distributing. 

Social media provides an artist with a level of visibility we’ve never seen before, unless they were famous. I’m not saying you should spam people and beg them to listen to your music. Because they won’t. But social media allows you to give people who may be interested, access to your music, but also to you and what you have to say or promote. You’re doing all of your own work here, unless you have friends that would help, but the good news is, you don’t owe anyone. You're fully in charge of your own career. And have autonomy over something that important is beyond dope. The downside, you won’t have anyone overseeing your career and fronting you money for things like recording, travel and production costs. But these costs tend to be lower when you’re the one deciding when they’re necessary to pay and when they’re not. You can work at your own pace, but also make whatever kind of music you want without the need to get things approved or released without your permission. 

Why wouldn't an artist want a direct line to their supporters or following? If you chose to put your music on iTunes, or any site that sells music for artists, you wouldn’t have to worry about your pay being as fragmented as it would be, should you have signed with a major label. There will always be someone else to pay, but these would be people you’ve chosen to pay, not people you have to pay. If you started your own company, and sold your projects under your own umbrella, the feeling of being that free is something that should definitely inspire you to create more without the worry of meeting deadlines or figuring out how to recoup the debt you owe a parent company. 

All of this is being said, just to say that the system has changed. And before signing anything, you should always consider that this may be the best time to be an artist because you can take control of your own destiny without the need for going to outside companies to handle your career and its path. With enough hard work and fortitude, you can do everything they would for you, but with much more control and freedom. Independently. There’s nothing better than an empowered artist, and I think you owe it to yourself, to put matters in your own hands, rather than hoping that someone behind a desk sees something in you and wants to gamble and give you a shot. That shot may never come, no matter how talented you are. So why not give yourself the shot, and cut the middleman out of the equation? Something to think about.



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