There was a time when record labels committed themselves more seriously to developing the careers of their recording artists. Today, it is much harder to find a record label committed to this goal. When a major label signs a new artist or band, they presume the act has sufficient musical, songwriting, and performance talent, and are ready for the big time.
Up until the late 1980s most, record labels had a department within the company called Artist Development, and the job of that department was to support their acts’ creative side, while steadily developing a following for them. When sales of records increased with each release, the label stood by their acts, believing that the more the public heard their music, the bigger their popularity might grow, and the greater their popularity, the more records they would sell. Most of the ’70s Rock bands that dominate today’s Classic Rock radio format are examples of the old school version of Artist Development.
By the early ’90s, most labels had changed the name of their Artist Development departments to Product Development. In other words, the emphasis changed from nurturing the growth of an artist and their music to high-pressure sales development tactics and strategies. Product Development today, for most major labels, means putting the label’s energy into creating sales for a new release and doing so quickly.
If you had three strikes in the past, you have one strike now, and if you don’t get a solid hit, you’ll probably be forgotten in favor of some other activities waiting for their one at-bat.
You can still see cases of a major label committed to Artist Development when you look at the careers of bands like Radiohead, The Barenaked Ladies, Smashmouth, or the Dave Matthews band. Artist Development is also behind the success of today’s teen acts that dominate the pop music charts. If a thirteen or sixteen-year-old boy or girl has the looks, personality, and musical talent at such a young age, and the labels can sign long term contracts with them, it leaves many years for their investment to pay off. The labels may collect revenues from dozens of new releases over the (potentially) long careers of these kids as some of them make the transition into adult superstars.
For the most part, in today’s competitive music business, the responsibility for Artist and Product Development has changed hands. Independent labels and entrepreneurial artists have inherited the responsibility of nurturing new talent by fine-tuning their artistic and business development and slowly growing their careers over several album releases. Developing a music career for the long haul is all about controlling one’s own destiny.
Artist and Product Development go hand-in-hand. They should work in combination and coordination with each other. When a balanced approach to developing your music and your business affairs are respected equally, you create a more realistic opportunity for achieving some success with your music. Art is no less important than commerce for today’s developing musician.
Artist Development: Preparing Your Career
In the music business, everything starts with a song. Without great songs, there is no music business. Songwriting is not just an artistic expression; it is the axis upon which the music business rotates.
So, the first order of business in Artist Development is the music itself. Good songs are not good enough when you are preparing to market your music. People only respond to what they feel are great songs Your songs must have some commercial appeal, if only to a certain music niche. (Folk, Hip Hop, Alternative Rock, New Age, Jazz, Blues, etc.) Finding that niche, and learning how to manage its growth is essential to becoming a successful act. So, your songs must be of a very high caliber.
Artist Development is also about protecting the great songs by registering them with the copyright office. Songwriters and music publishing companies need to affiliate with the Performance Rights Associations (ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC) as well so that if and when those songs are played by the broadcasting industry, or in certain public places, they will receive proper payment for the uses of those songs.
Many songwriters have to decide if and when to look for a publishing deal or start their own publishing company. In my opinion, until there is a demand for your songs, (meaning that there are a lot of people who want to hear your songs, or buy them), don’t worry too much about getting a publishing deal. Don’t get me wrong, the pot of gold at the end of the music rainbow is the income received from the use of songs. The business of music publishing, which is really the business of finding uses for songs, is a very important topic to explore, but only when the time is right.
Choosing a name for your act, and filing for a trademark to prevent others from using your chosen name is also part of the business organization of developing an artist’s career properly. It is strongly advised that you invest in registering your band name or stage name by trademarking it.
Artist Development should also include writing up a band agreement that defines the issues related to running your career as a business and how you will work with the people in your band.
In the beginning, managing your own career will be your responsibility; with the goal of creating such a buzz about your music that you attract professional management. Many developing acts encounter some resistance to the lyrics or cover art they have created. Be prepared to deal with the fallout from any controversies surrounding your music from critics, special interest groups, or even the record labels you may be dealing with. There could also be some situations you get into that may lead to potential, ethical and moral decisions that you must make.
Starting your own business (sole proprietor, partnership, or corporation) will also be a necessity if you want to have control over your career. There are many questions to be answered about operating your own business, financially and professionally. You will also have to update any changes in your business operations as they may occur, because the different city, state, and federal laws affecting any business are constantly changing and evolving.
As your career develops, you may wish to improve on some of your creative talents by taking voice lessons, or master classes from more experienced musicians. Investing in the best equipment and musical instruments is another necessity if you are going to be a professional, working musician. No artists can perform their best work using mediocre equipment.
One of the most delicate issues involved with Artist Development is the matter of creating and consistently maintaining a clear and honest image. What people hear in your music must be seen in how your dress on-stage, and can help or hurt you when you create promotional materials and artwork for your CDs, etc. So, weave a thread of consistency with your chosen image throughout the Four Fronts of music marketing.
As you become more successful in your career you will need the services of an entertainment law attorney. Use lawyers who have had experience within the music industry. You will need them to look over any band agreements, record label contracts, publishing deals, or any other number of legal matters. Artist Development as you can see is a combination of creative and business issues that must be dealt with to make your music, and the business surrounding your music, run smoothly.
Product Development: Making and Selling Your Music
Product Development is about preparing your music product for the marketplace and finding ways to sell it. Product Development issues become much easier to deal with when all the details addressed in Artist Development have been taken care of. Not all musicians take the time to deal with these responsibilities. They prefer to rush the songwriting process and move right into the recording studio, in their eagerness to get their music out. That is a big mistake.
The first thing a professional label does after signing an act is to start thinking about the marketing or sales plan for the act. That’s right, a good record label executive, perhaps the A&R rep that signed you, can already envision how your music will be promoted and sold by the time you enter the recording studio.
Researching the right recording studio, right producer, and engineer become key issues in Product Development. Where will your record be recorded? Who will record it? Both of these questions must be considered quite seriously before you make a final decision.
The choices of what studio to record in and what producer or engineer will be hired to make the record are uppermost in the mind of a label person. Record labels are aware that if a certain sound, for a certain music genre isn’t recorded properly, the chances of radio airplay could be hampered. If so, there may be no significant sales of the record. So, production choices are part of the Product Development equation when deciding how to market a new artist or band.
Never cut corners when recording your music. Once the recording is finished, you will have to live with it forever. You never want to say, ” Gee, I should have done such and such.” Find the best studios and recording team you can afford. Music production sounds are changing constantly and it is your responsibility to make sure your records sound as contemporary as possible.
Up next is mastering. Mastering is not something to be passed over lightly. The mastering engineer can enhance or hurt the recording you made. Choose a mastering engineer who understands your genre of music. This is a must.
Who will manufacture your record? Who will design the artwork for your release? These are two more essential questions. Your finances will most likely determine this, as they probably determined production decisions. Take the time to make a record that sounds and looks like something you would want to buy yourself. Album cover artwork, packaging material design, and printing issues are important because you are creating a product that will be competing for the attention of music fans who have an abundance of music releases to choose from. Is there something about your album cover that will attract a customer to your record?
Once a record has been manufactured and is ready to be sold to the public, Product Development turns its attention to Distribution and Sales Arrangements. Many developing acts forget this in their rush to record their music. But, if you’re going to spend thousands of dollars recording your music, don’t you think it would be a good idea to find a way to sell it? Well, that is exactly how professional record labels think. They make sure a system is in place to distribute and sell their records to their fans. Many musicians make the mistake of trying to get some radio airplay, or other media attention before they’ve found a way for the public to buy it. Make no such mistake.
Product Development, after a record has been recorded, focuses on all the business arrangements involved with selling CDs, tapes, and vinyl recordings. You will soon learn that the business of distribution, like the business of music retail, is a complex and challenging undertaking. Welcome to the world of major label distribution companies, independent distributors, rack jobbers, mass marketing retailers, mom-and-pop independent record stores, and the evolving world of Internet music sales.
So, my explanation of what Artist and Product Development are about has had one main purpose; to tell you that what you have or have not done in these two development areas will make or break your chances of making some money with your music, as you go on to promote, publicize, and perform it.
Christopher Knab is an independent music business consultant based in Seattle, Washington. He is available for private consultations on promoting and marketing independent music and can be reached by email at email@example.com