First, be prepared to give away your artistic integrity and work in mainstream genres. Focus on faking it before you make it. This includes making high-quality music videos with properly produced tracks and a pop-star public image. And, of course, you need a bit of luck.
Selling Your Soul To The Music Industry
Times are tough for musicians all over the globe. A couple of years ago, the music industry’s collapse left many wondering if it’s possible to make a decent living selling your music.
Although the glory days of record labels are long gone, there still seems to be this idea that getting signed will somehow propel you into the height of the biz.
In this article, we’ll explore whether record labels are still relevant today and whether they take your soul as a valid currency. Also, we’ll discuss whether it pays off to do such a thing.
What Does It Mean To Sell Your Soul In The Music Industry?
To answer this question, we need to clarify a couple of things.
What Is The Music Industry Now Anyway?
As we’ve all probably heard many times so far, the music industry is not what it used to be. I believe a significant shift has happened in terms of its identity.
Nowadays, the industry seems to be this melting pot of “old players” like record labels and tour promoters and “the new kids on the block” that seem to be every independent artist out there.
They all seem to be somehow working together in an arguably, slightly dysfunctional way, but hey, it kind of works (for now, at least).
My main point here is that there are no more rigid structures within the industry, and even if such a thing still exists, it’s been highly diluted.
Back in the day, you knew who the “boss” was, so to speak, and knew which steps you had to take to reach and hopefully grab the attention of an executive who would decide to sign you.
You pretty much had to rely on that approach, as there wasn’t a proper alternative.
It was hardly a case where you’d have enough money to fund the recording session, pay for promotion and organize tours, all by yourself.
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In today’s climate, the notion of a leading figure or the “big boss” in the industry has disappeared.
The process has been democratized in a way. Anybody with a bit of influence and credibility can become your gateway to musical success.
So, you might be a bit confused about where to point your guns.
Today’s music industry has become a highly complex and interconnected web of labels, promoters, and independent entrepreneurs that don’t seem to have a fixed hierarchy anymore.
Just something to bear in mind when choosing whom to sell your soul to.
So What Does Selling Your Soul Mean In Music Usually Mean?
I’d say it means giving up your musical integrity (artistic or financial) in favor of the short-term money and fame you’d get in return.
But is this option still viable today?
Now that we’ve cleared some things up, let’s see how you can do it.
How Do You Sell Your Soul In The Music Industry
Obviously, this won’t be a first-hand account of how to become an international pop star.
I’m most definitely miles from it, but judging by some knowledge of how the industry works today, I can give you some tips on improving your chances.
Choose Your Genre
As much as I like prog rock, you’ll hardly cash in millions by playing it. It’s too complex and inaccessible for most casual listeners.
What you want to go for is something that’s popular right now. Just look up on YouTube what genres have hundreds of millions of views.
You’ll most likely notice a pattern unless it’s some evergreen stuff.
It’s either upbeat electronic music, modern rap, or reggaeton.
Choosing to create any mainstream music won’t be a mistake as far as your audience reach goes.
Produce A Great Record And Music Video
The next thing you need is a well-produced, catchy song in the popular genre of your choice.
Remember when you needed a scrappy demo, and if the song were good, the label would sign you?
I think those days are long gone. Today you need a complete package – a great-sounding song and a high-quality music video to complement it.
With the production costs going down yearly, this may not be as challenging as it seems.
There are plenty of amazingly talented, anonymous producers out there that will do a total production of your song for a fraction of the price.
You can get creative with the video and make a low-budget setting work in your favor.
Getting Your Face Out There
It’s beneficial to have a solid public image.
Since you’re still not famous, you should start presenting yourself on social media like one.
This means having professional-looking photos of yourself and creating unique styling that will interest people in checking out what you’re all about.
Faking It Till You Make It
As you’ve seen so far, all of the steps follow the logic of “faking it till you make it.”
Today, you must present yourself as a true pop star for record labels to consider offering you a record deal and heavily promoting your music.
The business climate has changed dramatically, and labels simply do not take risks as they used to.
They want to know that you have all the qualities they need to make the most money from your public image and music.
The X Factor
Luckily, there is a shortcut route if all of this seems like too much hassle for a simple sellout.
Nothing embodies a “pact with the devil” type of contract more than modern talent shows.
If you are a talented singer or performer with a bit of luck, this may be the best route to take if you’re in it for the money and fame.
By applying to shows like The X Factor and The Voice, you sign away all the rights to your performances and future music as long as the contract lasts.
But you do get a fantastic opportunity for overnight success in the entertainment industry.
Do You Have To Sell Your Soul To Be In The Music Industry?
Whether or not you should give away your artistic freedom for money and recognition is entirely up to you.
Giving away your artistic freedom can become troublesome if you care about your musical legacy.
Let’s take a look at an example.
Cherry Pie Guy
There’s a famous story of a glam rock band, Warrant, who has experienced the dark side of making it in the music business.
You’ve most probably heard about them through a song called “Cherry Pie.” Aside from a goofy music video and lyrics, everything about that song feels great – it’s a real 80’s rock anthem.
But that song didn’t sit well with the band’s lead singer.
The story goes that the record label asked them, just before the album’s release, to come up with one more song that would feel “like a single” (read super catchy and accessible).
Reluctantly the band wrote “Cherry Pie” as a filler track. Still, instead, the record label renamed the whole album and focused all of the promotional resources towards that song. There was nothing a band could do about that.
As much as I love that song, it doesn’t represent what Warrant was about.
Their music certainly had elements of 80’s glam culture, but it wasn’t nearly as exaggerated as in that song.
Warrant did have a rock star hit on their hands. Still, it misrepresented their whole music catalog, significantly impacting their lead singer and songwriter, Jani.
He was a phenomenal artist who deeply cared about his legacy. Sadly, the inability to have control over it brought him many misfortunes.
Is Signing a Record Deal Selling Your Soul?
It doesn’t have to mean so, especially nowadays.
You can even get a deal that works for you with proper negotiation. Since the record label’s power shrank over the years, they are far more willing to make compromises that work for artists.
However, their ability to positively impact your career has decreased compared to the golden age of the record industry.
Can a Record Label Really Help an Artist Instead of Just Exploiting His Music for Profit?
There are many examples where the label and the artist work in harmony and actively promote each other’s businesses.
If you want the slightest chance of getting ripped off, you should have some leverage and a good lawyer by your side.
Is Selling Your Soul to The Music Industry Worth It?
Even though we straight away assume that giving all your rights to the label guarantees money and success in return, it doesn’t have to mean so.
For example, the popular hip hop group TLC had significant success. Despite selling tens of millions of records, they filed for bankruptcy shortly after their breakthrough album. So, all things considered, it is a tough choice to make.
Do Famous Musicians Really All Have to “sell Their Soul” in Order to Make It?
I don’t think that’s the case, as plenty of musicians with a strong vision of how their music is supposed to sound do just fine in the industry.
There is such a thing as industry pressure to model your music towards what’s hot at the moment. Still, not all artists have to succumb to it to make it.
What Can Be the Consequences of Selling Out?
Depending on your attitude toward your career, there could be many and none. One of the significant consequences can be not having the initiative to do anything without permission from the label.
This would mean that spontaneously organizing a gig or publicly appearing on certain TV shows without the label allowing it would violate the contract terms.
Is It Wise to Get a Record Deal, Considering the Fact that Nobody Buys Music Anymore?
The record sales have dramatically decreased. Having a label in between usually means you’ll get almost no money from the sales. In that case, it might be better to go independent and sell your music through platforms like Bandcamp.
However, labels can help promote your brand through touring, and that’s where they’re still very much relevant.
I’d say that it all comes down to reasons why you’ve got into music in the first place and what type of musician you are.
If music has a special place in your life and you genuinely care about your mark on the music scene, I’d suggest not doing so.
On the other hand, if your primary concern is enjoying the life of an entertainer with all of its perks, then absolutely go for it.
Want tips on how to survive in the music industry? Check out our Music Industry Survival Guide.