Getting signed was a whirlwind experience for our band. We literally went from touring in a van, and eating popcorn, potato chips and sometimes nothing at all for dinner- to sitting in a studio in Los Angeles where some of the biggest albums in rock music were recorded. (NRG) Looking back 15 years later, there are a few things that I really wish I had done differently.
I wish I had...
The world of a full-time musician can be a crazy place. By the time our record came out, we had a record label, a producer, a manager, a business manager, a tour manager, an attorney, a publisher, a publicist, a booking agency and a merch deal. We signed so many contracts with all of those people, that by the end of it all, none of us really knew what all the terms were, or how they would affect us in the long term. I will say that Geffen and everyone on our team (after our indie deal) offered industry-standard deals. Record contracts always favor the label, but the label also carries the financial risk. I don't take issue with any of our contracts, and as I said, our deals were very generous and met (and in some cases exceeded) the industry average at the time. My issue is with myself. I didn't really take the time to educate myself on the business side of things in those early days before we got signed. We were dealing with so many things at once after we signed, that my focus was on writing and recording. Terms like 'points on a record', or 'mechanical royalties' didn't mean much to me at the time. If your goal is to become a full-time musician, these are things that you need to have a working knowledge of. Of course, you should always hire an attorney before signing anything, but you should have some understanding of what you're signing and how it could affect you in the future.
The deals were fair, but the debt they put us in could have been easily avoided. We were put in the most expensive studio in L.A. for three months, our first music video cost us in the neighborhood of 250k to shoot, and we were touring in a tour bus before we ever sold one record. At the time it was exhilarating and exciting, but looking back, it made it nearly impossible to recoup, and it all could have been done for much, much less. It wasn't a strategy for long-term success, it was a strategy for trying to get a hit song on the radio and MTV, and if it doesn't work we'll just drop the band and write off the expenses. I'm not sure that we really had the power to change any of it, and I feel incredibly blessed to have experienced so many amazing things, but lesson learned... know what you're signing and focus on the future when planning a strategy.
I wish I had...
This is a tough one. When our demo started making the rounds to all the labels back in 2001, there was one song that everyone kept talking about. We got feedback from multiple sources telling us that we had a hit song on our hands. This one song was the main reason that both DCide Records and Geffen Records signed us. Everyone around us was telling us that this song was going to change everything for us.
It wasn't Downfall.
It was a much slower tune called Hover. When Napster first came out, we uploaded our songs to gain exposure and Hover was our most popular song by a long shot. We started to get fans from all over the world and Hover was definitely the song that got the most positive feedback.
Fast forward to February 2002. Our record was finished and it was time to decide on a single. Since a rock band never comes out with a ballad first, everyone knew that Hover would be our obvious second single. The question was, what would our first single be? And would it do well enough to even lead to a second single. The label eventually decided to release Downfall as the first single and the good news for us was that it did much better at radio than anyone expected. We far exceeded the projections that the label had for our debut release, selling almost 78,000 records the first week and debuting at number 11 on the Billboard Top 200 right behind Boys 2 Men, who had had several hit singles at that point.
After many weeks, Downfall finally started to slip back down the charts while we were on a European tour with Korn. It was time to release single number two, and we had already been playing Hover during our TV appearances in Europe since it would be hitting the airwaves soon.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We were in a van driving to a show somewhere in Europe and our label called to tell us that they had made a last-minute decision to release Running From Me as our second single. "What?!?! Running From Me?" It's not that I didn't like the song, but it was just such a shock since Hover was the obvious choice. My immediate concern was that it didn't really have the big chorus that does so well at radio. The entire band disagreed with their decision. The label said they wanted to really establish us as a rock band before we released a slower tempo song and they promised us that Hover would 100%, definitely be released as our third single. "No need to worry...it's all good". Everything in me felt like it was a mistake to go with Running From Me, but I believed them when they said Hover would get its chance. Long story short, Running From Me did not do well at radio, and there was no room in the budget to push a third single. The first record was finished.
So, yes, a band can get signed because of a song, and then that song can never even get released.
Looking back, I wish I had fought harder for Hover. There is absolutely no guarantee that it would have done as well as everyone believed, but at least we would have had the chance to know. Now we'll just always wonder.
(This is an unreleased version of Hover with an extended section at the end. My personal favorite)
I wish I had...
This one might sound a little odd, but hear me out. Believe it or not, this may actually be the more important one on the list for me. As an artist (or any company that does business online), growing your email list is one of the most important things you can do to ensure long-term success. Why? Because it gives you the ability to communicate directly with your fans. It takes the power away from the record labels and gives you direct access to the people who love your music and want to support you. No middleman. If we had all the email addresses of everyone on our street team, or everyone who came to our website back when Downfall was on the radio, we would have the ability to release a new record right now by simply sending out an email to everyone on our list and letting them know about the release.
Unfortunately, many bands are trying to follow the same process that they see record labels doing. They upload their music to iTunes and/or Spotify and then put a post on Facebook telling everyone that they have new music. The problem is, that the artist makes next to nothing from iTunes or the streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. And while Facebook can be a powerful tool for spreading the word about your music, only 6% or so of the people who have liked your page will actually see what you post. If you want more people to see your posts, you have to pay.
I hope you're starting to understand the power of an email list. My advice: work on growing your list and release your music directly to your fan base before you upload anything to the mainstream platforms. The connection with your fans will be more authentic and the profit margin is almost 100x higher by releasing directly to your fan base first. Once sales have slowed down, you can release to all the other platforms. Create a direct line of communication with your fans that doesn't depend on Facebook or any other platform that you don't control.
The great news now is that it's possible to find and grow your fan base like never before. It used to be impossible to get your music in front of potential fans without a record label and a huge budget, but the power of the internet has changed the game.
Thanks for taking the time to read, I hope you have a great day!