Choosing what's best for you
You've got more options than ever before; it's all about sorting out an arrangement that best suits you.
If you want to get signed you may have to choose between a major record label or an independent one. If you want to go it alone you'll need to know how to fund yourself and get your music out there. Whatever your aim, this section is about getting the right deal for you.
A & R
A&R (Artist and Repertoire) are the people at a record label in charge of finding and developing new talent. They’ll sniff out the latest up-and-coming musicians and do their best to get them a hit record.
An A&R person will be the person from a record label who comes to your gigs and who is ultimately responsible for recommending that the label signs you up. They play a major part in creating a record that will (hopefully) be a big seller. Ordinarily, they will choose which producer, engineer and studio an artist will use, and will decide which of your songs are most likely to be most successful. If you’re a great performer but don’t write your own songs, they could be in charge of finding the right material for you to perform.
Once a record is complete, it is normally the responsibility of the A&R department to get retail sales outlets and radio excited about an artist. It’s a fiercely competitive industry and artists have an increasingly short shelf-life, so it’s become more and more common for A&R people to want artists to have an existing, sizeable following before they sign them up. For that very reason, the best way for you to make contact with an A&R person is for them to come to you. Constant touring, self-promotion and a large social network following should be enough to get you on their radar. They’ll also hear new material from trusted people in their network, including publishers and high profile artist managers, yet another reason to network as much as possible.
Different types of deal
The type of deal you’re offered will depend on how established you are, how good your existing team is and how many other labels you’re in discussions with. We’ll take a look at the most common ones offered: the distribution deal, the joint venture deal and the artist deal. You can read even more on this subject in our blog post on copyright, deals and royalties too.
Generally distribution deals are reserved for artists that are a low risk to the label. The label must be thinking: “They are going to make us loads of money; other labels are queuing up round the block to snap them up. We’d better offer them something good.” These deals normally involve a great deal for the artist, with only around 20% of the record’s sales going to the label. That’s because the bulk of the promotion, marketing, radio and video work will be funded, organised and delivered by the band and their existing team. The only thing the label is responsible for is getting the latest recordings online and in stores and collecting the money. It’s unlikely you’ll get an advance to record your next album, so you’d need plenty of cash in the bank and an experienced team around you. The band/artist will own the rights to the master copies of your tracks - so you won’t hear one of your songs on a car ad unless you give the all clear.
Joint Venture Deal
Is the next best deal available, but again it’s not easy to come by without a proven track record of success. Earnings are normally split 50-50 over three to seven years, and who owns the masters is down to negotiation. The hard work is split between the artist and the label, though the label will fund the deal - meaning they put forward the initial cost of making a new record. This cost, and any advance the artist may receive, will probably need to be paid back to the label once money starts coming in from album sales.
Is by far the most common record deal and will most likely be the first one that you’re offered. The label will do everything – including paying for you to record new material – and have complete creative control and ownership over everything you do. The artist can expect around 20% of the total sales revenue, but promotion of the record will be taken care of by the label. The band/artist will also have to pay back everything recoupable. Essentially this means that, unless the album is an enormous success and sales are through the roof, the band won’t make any money out of the deal.
It’s easy for an artist to be taken advantage of when signing a contract, so make sure you seek legal advice before signing anything. Contracts are normally prepared by the record company’s solicitors, so they serve to protect the record company’s rights, not yours. The main purpose of the deal is to give the record/production company rights to use or sell your material, though they’ll also make sure you pay the full production costs out of any possible royalties that you could receive from the sale of your songs. You could be left responsible for any outstanding cost if the record isn’t successful. Check out the Your Money and Your Rights section for further information.
Many artists see clinching a record deal as the pinnacle of their success but acts that are snatched up by labels are not guaranteed success. Of the artists signed up each year, the majority will be dropped by their label because they simply haven’t been as successful as they hoped. So it's important for any musician to realise that getting signed is just the start.