Aspiring producers, singers/songwriters bands and rappers alike, dream to have their music discovered by “big league” record companies and have their singles released and heard on the radio- it’s the dream; isn’t it? We’ve come a long way from the old days where mixed tapes of artists’ demos are somehow smuggled past security to wind up in the hands of a hopefully impressed A&R executive’s (the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters) hands. Those days, however, are long gone with the digital revolution ushering another shift in the relationship between artists and the record companies; hungry to nab the next big thing.
The over glorified record contract used to mean sudden access to millions of record company dollars, devoted to promotional and marketing power, whose aim was to put you in the spotlight and help the world hear your music. From releasing music videos to booking recording studio time and the release of full length albums, all of these things were associated with making it big. The pre-eminence of American Idol and X-Factor help reinforce the big dream of being discovered for millions of aspiring singers- adults and youth alike.
These were the trappings of a bygone age, however, and that time has long passed. The nature of the game has inexorably changed, and I’m not just talking about the necessity of record labels to have the public gain access to your music. A number of scandalous lawsuits emerged in the 90’s, shedding light on the sad state of affairs in the industry, which along with music’s digital revolution, has transformed the relationship between artist and public, leaving record companies and labels slowly adapting amidst a quickly shifting landscape.
Recording Contract Realities
Take a look at TLC, artists who were at the top of their game, who were forced to file chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995, on the heels of their highest grossing album CrazySexyCool, which sold 11 million copies just a year before. For every $1,000 sold “the average musician gets $23.40.” For a breakdown of who gets money from album sales (hint: it’s not the artist), take a look at the graph below.