Music Industry FAQs

Q1.  How many record labels are there today?

A1. Today, many of previously existing labels have gone out of business or merged into the “Big Four:” Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment , and the EMI Group.  In addition, there are dozens of Indie and boutique labels as well as “virtual labels,” which basically are artist-owned Internet sites, where an artist promotes and sells (or gives away) CDs or MP3 downloads.

Q2.  Which of the Big Four is the largest and most successful label?

A2. Universal Music Group is the largest of the “super labels,” made up of Geffen, Interscope, Island, Motown and Universal.  It accounts for about 26% of the market, with Artists such as Mariah Carey, the Black Eyed Peas, 50 Cent, Kanye West and Gwen Stefani - and No Doubt.

Q3.  Who’s next?

A3. Sony BMG Music Entertainment accounts for about 22% of industry sales. Its label imprints include Arista, Columbia, Epic, J, Jive and RCA records. Key Artists are Kelly Clarkson, Alicia Keys, Outkast, Shakira and Britney Spears.

Q4.  What are the remaining two “super labels?”

A4. The EMI Group is next with about 13.4% of the market, with imprints including Astralwerks, Capitol, EMI, Mute and Virgin.  It has super groups like The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Coldplay, as well as Artists such as Goriliaz and Robbie Williams.

Q5.  What about the Warner Music Group?

A5.  Warner’s is responsible for about 11% of the market, with such imprint labels as Asylum, Atlantic, Reprise, Lava, Rhino and Warner Brothers.  Some of its key Artists include: Alanis Morissette, Madonna, Green Day, My Chemical Romance and Rob Thomas.

Q6.  So how do I know which label to sign with?

A6.  Look at their success stories, their Artist roster, as well as their sensibilities.  If you’re an Artist like Madonna, it makes little sense to try to get a deal with Warner’s – it already has the “real deal.”  If you’re a young dance-pop artist, labels like Jive have had great success with Artists like Britney.  But again, if you’re a carbon copy of her, you’d be smart to pursue another label.  And in every case, consult a veteran and respected industry attorney or Artist manager before signing with ANY record label.  The industry is full of horror stories of Artists, who signed deals without proper representation – and later regretted it.

Q7.  Is it better to be signed to a Major Label or to an Indie?

A7.  It depends on your talent, career aspirations and the type of Artist that you are – and want to become.  For example, if you are a solo Artist or band with a sound and instincts appropriate for AAA, Alt-Rock-Pop or R&B-Pop, you probably would be best served by being signed to a Major Label.

Q8.  What is the rationale for that?

A8. The Majors have more financial resources to record and produce your record, as well as to provide you financial advances and tour support.  Since most of their Artists are “million-dollar” investments, Majors set higher expectations and goals for their Artists, and shorter time periods for being successful. Majors used to give Artists two to three albums to develop and reach gold or platinum levels of sales.  They now expect Artists to accomplish that on the first album – or lose their deal.

Q9.  So why sign with an Indie?

A9.  If your artistry is outside or on the fringes of pop music, (folk-rock, edgy, experimental, fusion, college, non-melodic grunge, roots rock, jazz, etc. ) you may be better off at an Indie label, which doesn’t expect you to sell a million records and will give you more time to develop your artistry.  The downside is, most Indies don’t have the money, marketing power – or strength at radio to accommodate the needs and aspirations of a budding or real superstar. So an Artist needs to seriously think about his or her musical strengths and weaknesses, career aspirations and needs.  Before signing with ANY label, ALWAYS consult a reputable industry attorney or manager.

Q10.  What kind of deals are artists getting now?

A10. Because of declining record sales and income, fewer Artists are being signed.  Those who are, often sign “360” deals, wherein the record label not only takes a high percentage of income from record sales, but also a large portion, perhaps 40% of the Artist’s TOTAL income, from touring, merchandising and (sometimes) even publishing income.  And, there are deals in which an Artist signs a “360” deal, which reverts to a more standard deal, with the Artist retaining a larger share of his or her royalties, when he or she hits targeted record sales or income levels, negotiated up-front by the Manager with the Label. More traditional deals are available with Indies.

Q11.  Why is it now so hard to get a deal?

A11. There are fewer record labels. Industrywide, record sales and income are down.  So the labels are very picky about whom they sign and competition is tougher than ever.

Q12.  Are my chances better to break into the biz if I write my own songs?

A12. That’s a bit of a loaded question.  Most labels will TELL you they’re looking for self-contained Artists (who can write their own Hit Songs).  The hard truth is, most young Artists haven’t lived long enough to have a lot of life experiences they can draw from to write universally appealing songs.  And, most young Artists have spent far more time working on their singing and playing their instrument, than in studying and learning the craft of songwriting.  Consequently, most labels find successful veteran songwriters and producers to write the hits for an Artist’s first and second albums.  Sometimes, by the second album, if the Artist has shown interest, aptitude and signs of improvement, the Label may let him/her co-write with a veteran writer/producer.  But TOO MANY careers have been stalled or totally destroyed when an Artist tried to write his or her own songs, when they simply were not skilled or experienced enough to do so. One of the most famous examples I’m sure you’ve heard of, was the very public dispute between Clive Davis and Kelly Clarkson.

Q13.  I live in a small town in the Midwest?  How can I make it in the music biz?

A13.  Move to a music center such as Los Angeles, New York or Nashville.  You can develop and hone your skills, fan mailing listing and following (especially if you’re a band) in a smaller market.  But if you want to be taken seriously, you NEED TO be in a major music center. That’s where the record labels and talent scouts are.  That’s where the famous showcases and industry performance clubs are.  That’s where your SERIOUS competition is. That’s where you need to be, to be seen, to grow as an Artist – and to secure a record deal.

Q14.  I’ve been singing for years.  All of my fans rave about my vocal chops, but I haven’t gotten signed yet.  I went to a vocal coach in my hometown for a few months but I couldn’t tell much difference.  How do you know whose vocal techniques to pay attention to and whose not to?

A14. Your tape recorder doesn’t lie.  So if you make a simple home recording into your tape recorder and your voice sounds out-of-tune, your breathing is wrong, and you’re having trouble hitting the high and low notes, you need to get to a better vocal coach. Or, maybe forget singing altogether and work on your guitar playing.  At CI, we recommend two great vocal coaches: Ron Anderson, vocal coach to many of the gods and goddesses of pop, rock and country music, and one of his protégés, Nancy Badger.  Both are based in Los Angeles. We can refer you to one or the other, based on our evaluation of your talent, as well as your amount of formal vocal training – and your budget.

Q15.  What are the music labels looking for now?  What are the age requirements?

A15. Labels sometimes sign “safe” Artists that sound like or resemble the latest thing on radio.  However, most A&R executives are looking for young, good-looking Artists with a strong and unique vocal sound, with great songs, great productions and “something interesting to say” artistically.  It’s smart to listen to the radio and adopt the technical sounds of the latest productions.  But the Labels are always looking for an Artist who has both a unique vision and sound – and one who has prepared him - or herself for the “Big Time.” Most “overnight successes,” such as an Adam Lambert, are Artists who have extensively studied and worked on their vocal and performance chops for 10 years.  Most Labels look for Artists between ages 15 - 26.

Q16.  I have friends who are more talented than a lot of the singers I hear on the radio. Why aren’t me and my friends getting signed?

A16.  Most young bands and singers “think” they’re ready for Hollywood or Nashville, when in truth, they’re just beginning to find their legs and voices as Artists.  And, you need to be seen and heard in a major music center - by the record labels or by someone with the power or connections to sign you.  The music industry is like any other: it’s built on relationships.  You need to perform and be seen and heard. You need to network. You need GREAT SONGS and GREAT PRODUCTIONS that sound like radio.  And you need to have a Career Plan – and work it faithfully, every day.

Q17.  I just moved to Los Angeles (or Nashville).  How do I get started?

A17. If you feel like you’re ready as an Recording Artist, complete our Artist Submission form, along with your photo, CD or MP3, or link to your website (MySpace, etc.).   If we hear a voice or song that we like or believe has commercial potential, we’ll be in touch.  Bear in mind that many Artists started out as demo singers, where they “earned while they learned.”  Some famous Artists who worked first as demo singers include Toni Braxton and Garth Brooks.

Q18. I live in Nashville and everyone tells me I have more of a rock sound and that I’m great.  Why am I not getting signed?

A18.  Your chances are much better if you’re in L.A. where Pop-Rock is “King,” not Country. You may be talented and ready for a record deal and touring, but a “duck out of water.”

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