Music has been a part of human culture since the beginning of history, and it continues to transcend language barriers, belief systems, and remains completely open to interpretation. Musicians create works of art through emotional expression and artists create because they have to, and in turn, an industry was created to exploit that need. In other words, the industry is aware that all an artist wants is for his or her voice to be heard and that they are willing to sacrifice everything to make that happen. This means that those who connected the artist to their fan base once held all of the power, but let us examine where artists and labels are at today.
Once upon a time before the Internet boom, record labels had entire divisions of people hired to find potential talent and get them out there to the world (and make money off them). A label might have signed an artist based on what they could become with the proper nurturing and development. Bands like Aerosmith, Rush, and even the Beatles were developed over time with a lot of hard work and a team of people that believed in the product. Artist development was the key to success and the networking of these companies made it such a tight circle that it was impossible to get in unless you were attached to these companies in some form.
It was a scheme that would work like magic for decades but as the 90's and the Internet came, artist development took a back seat to the fans themselves who had effectively become the A&R. Bands were getting exposure to the masses through the Internet and constant touring, which forced the industry to change its focus. It was no longer a development-based models, but rather a jump-on-board model that only promoted the laziness and corruption of the current model.
It has been a gradual change over the last 20 years to where an artist has to do all the work themselves before a label will even consider you for a contract that may end up taking over 85% of their income. It has become a model where the band actually screws themselves by signing to a label.
The old" model and mentality has had no choice to adapt. Labels used to offer distribution, which you can now get through companies like Tunecore for less than $50. They used to offer album printing and production, which doesn't really matter now in an age of digital downloads and torrents. So at this point, it is merely their network that is keeping these labels alive, and that will dissolve as the Internet discovers and produces more and more superstars.
As times have changed, a few things have to come to light:
1. Reliance on album sales for revenue has to stop. It is time we quit fighting the loss of sales on actual records and embrace it. Nowadays, you can get a great album produced for under $10k. Write it off as a business expense and find new ways to attack the target market through merchandising and branding.
2. The band does not get a huge signing bonus and rarely profits from a standard record deal. The days of signing a deal and getting millions just to sit back and be a rock star are over. You need to think of yourself as a small business getting absorbed by a conglomerate. They will take your style and dull it, they will water down the product for profits and will only give you enough money to survive and make them profitable. Once you stop producing profit, you are dropped to the side just as quick as you were acquired.
3. Labels can't tell the people what is cool anymore. Although it was true for so long, it is now the public themselves through their friends and the Internet find out about new music. A man in a suit can no longer dictate what is cool.
4. Booking agencies can't keep raping on tour packages. Promoters and venues alike have become extremely lazy with the way they put on tours. Venues don't want to promote their own venue and promoters are taxing on touring acts that will not draw what they claim to draw. This results in locals having to pay-to-play and venues having to ask for ridiculous demands to book on a night where people wouldn't come out unless there is a built in crowd.
5. Large studio and video budgets are not profitable. You can now create either of these at a fraction of the price that it would have cost 10 years ago. So budget smart and use that extra money on promotion.
6. Artists can't rely on a label to take care of everything. The bands are to blame as well for being lazy and expecting the companies to do all of their work. If you are lazy enough to shove off all of your work to others, then you deserve to be taken advantage of.
Bands need to quit being whiney prima donnas, and labels can't be lazy monetary gluttons. Times have changed, so either adapt or be left behind.