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Sending your demo to Record Companies
Don't do it !
by Billy Tweedie

For every A & R scout who swears they'll listen to everything they're
sent, there are many more who don't.

Of the A & R executives who swear they listen to everything they're
sent, there are many who have no budget to develop new artists. Most A &
R staff are too pre-occupied with the artists they have already signed
to have to worry about more. But if you must, then "Don't depend on it!"

For every demo that does get listened to by an A & R scout whose
Department does have a budget for new artists and who do have the staff
and time to develop new artists, the record company is definitely going
to make a profit from your work if it possibly can, and you very
probably will not. If you are asked to sign a recording contract, you
will be restricted in what you can do, restricted in what you can earn,
restricted in which other companies you can then speak to, restricted
from receiving any money, ever. (Well, some of these might apply to
you)  If you have signed a recording contract, there's no point in
reading this article 'cos you probably won't have the authority to make
any decisions about anything to do with your music - someone else will
now be in control.

And if you don't, then : "What else can you do ?" You can make music for 
fun, play gigs, make recordings, enjoy it, meet happy people, and maybe even 
have a day job. At least you'll be your own boss when it comes to the music. 
There's money to be made from music without becoming involved in the 
USA Record Industry (or only involved a little bit!).

You can play backings in studios if you can read the dots (advertising
tunes and film scores can be very lucrative). You can write and/or
perform the music for  stage shows. You can make and sell tunes for
computer games.  You can produce your own product, market it yourself,
distribute it yourself, promote your own tours. Everything a Record
Company can do, you can do, without producing a profit for them. (OK,
its a lot of work, but people do it, and as you learn more and meet more
people, it can become like any other new job, mysterious at first but
all fitting together into one big picture - and on a good day, it can
even be enjoyable). You can even ask for help from people who are in the
business in your area. The only problem is likely to be money, but then
I was trying to say you were unlikely to see much of that from a
Recording Contract anyway.

Record Company fact and fiction.

First the folklore. There's loads of stories about bands sending off
demos and forgetting to put their name, address and phone number on the
tape or on the letter (or on the photo, if included). There's as many
stories of bands getting the standard polite rejection letter proposing
to  keep a note of what they're doing for future reference, and not
realising it really means "NO".

Then there's the jokes about the band who sent a blank tape and still
got a reply saying that "we enjoyed listening to your ...... and will
keep it for when we are next looking to develop our roster of artists". 
These stories are all true and tell a lot about the way the business treats its 
hopefuls in a time of over-supply. In plain old Marxist economics, 
when supply exceeds demand, the product is under-valued. That's you !

A & R staff are young and they like music, nights out, drinks (on
expenses if possible) and the rest. They probably get as well paid for
staying in their home town (usually the capital cities - New York or
L.A. in our case) so they might not travel beyond their home town often
if they don't like it. They are encouraged to look out for promising new
talent and to enthuse about an exiting future if they find any. 
They also are unlikely to have any authority and probably don't really 
understand how the economics of developing a recording career adds up - 
they probably leave the job before they would get to that stage. 
They work in a Department who has a Head of Department who might, 
and might not, have a budget for developing new artists. The first catch 
is that they may still offer a contract to a promising band even if the 
Head has little or no intention of releasing any records by them. 
This simple trick firstly prevents any other label signing them up, and 
secondly prevents them from diluting the demand for the product of any 
similar artists also on their books who do have recordings available.


Later in the contractual process comes the negotiation. Don't expect to
be able to negotiate a good deal in an economy of over supply - if you
don't sign, there's probably many others who will. And don't expect to
understand the details which cover all sorts of future eventualities
(which any good contract should do anyway). Those details contain what
are often thought of as "tricks" though quite simply, they protect the
Company's  investment in you and their ability to make a profit out of
you. Perhaps the most famous of these details among critics are
"breakages" (not so common nowadays) and "cross-collateralisation"
(which allows for an on-going relationship with you over several
recordings. Breakages often occurred in the first half of this century
when records were very fragile... Rather than have people in every shop
and every distribution company count the broken records, you were simply
asked to agree not to be paid for 10% or more of the records pressed.
This clause still appears in the CD era where reliability and durability
are far better.

Cross-collateralisation is the process whereby the money earned from
the sales of your first record will be used to pay for the next one. In
reality, money earned will first be used to pay back the costs of that 
first record, the recording costs, marketing costs, touring costs, 
administrative costs etc. etc.. If there is a profit, any further income can 
be used to pay for the costs of the second recording - its income can be 
used for the costs of the third one, and so it goes on until, eventually, 
you are out of flavour and your most recent record doesn't sell well. 
It's been paid for, but there won't be any income left for you.

There are many other issues like these. I'm not trying to teach you all
the details of  contract negotiation here, I just want you to get some
idea, by way of some examples, of what you'd be getting into if you were
going to be agreeing a Recording Contract with someone.

Now please don't think that Record Companies are sinister exploiters.
Many cynics speak as if they are. They are simply running a business for
profit, and all that they have got to make a profit from is you and other 
performers & composers.

It's always a funny world when art and commerce meet, and the only sane
way through it is to try to understand how the other half work.

The alternatives

Making music for commercials, films, theatre, personal relaxation tapes,
computer games etc. These can all be very lucrative - of course there's
not enough demand for every hopeful guitar band to start making a good
living from these, and if you want your music to pay, you'll probably
have to play what the customer wants. Many creative musicians play in
"club bands" or teach music to pay for their hobby. There's nothing
wrong with these options. They can pay well, you're probably learning
more about music, and you don't compromise the integrity of your own
work when you produce it as a hobby. None of these alternatives are
going to prevent you from making and playing the music you like for fun!

Do It Yourself Distribution

The main thing that seems to get in the way of most unsigned bands who
have produced a good quality CD is how to get it distributed. The main
Distributors are unlikely to get it into the shops because the shops
won't be ordering it unless they know that you've got a decent
promotional / marketing campaign coming up. Do It Yourself distribution
is a lot of work, but if one of you doesn't mind a little bit of
paperwork and a lot of driving and telephoning, then it is a realistic
possibility. Ideally, you'll have a small label with several releases to
distribute at once, or will have teamed up with some other musicians and
arranged a mutual self-help distribution system. Of course the actual
CDs or vinyl could easily be distributed by post or by a parcel carrier,
but you'd still need to make contact with the shops to get them to order
copies from you, and you'd still need to persuade the shops that you're
doing some marketing which their customers will become aware of.

Other methods might be by mail order (using adverts in the press etc)
and by downloads via the internet. Some musicians I know have never even
tried to attract the interest of the  Record Industry. Instead, they
have produced their own product and then taken it to the  independent
Distributors in several of the European Territories and in Japan. On
average, the value those countries place on performers is higher than
here, and so European Distributors can really help get a product into
shops and sold, with only a modest amount
of European touring and publicity. This might well be worth a try if
your music is likely to fit the tastes of other countries. If so, it
will be worth taking time to find the promoters and venues that are
associated with your style of music and arrange a promotional tour,
possibly in conjunction with other artists who are already known in the

A cynical view of the US Record Industry:

The Music Business Journal has also published some advice on setting up
a label in their Resources section at  in
the Resources page.

written by Billy Tweedie 2001 

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