As an unsigned artist I’ve so far managed to escape some of the pitfalls of being signed:
- Complete ruination via a label no-longer wishing to promote something they were excited about 5 minutes ago that even gathered momentum but suddenly stopped because they fired all the people working with you
- That sudden unexpected thing no-one tells you about when music turns into a thankless dayjob and you disconnect from it after touring too long and too hard
- Or worse, it results in you breaking your one means of earning a living if you kill your voice through overuse or having to put everything on hold due to needing surgery which your label will make you pay back anyway.
However, one thing I’ve not escaped is the touch of those who would prey on others on their way up, as they’re just getting started in the sharkpool of the industry.
I found myself having to write this letter the other day, as I’d been offered music licensing at a deal of 70/30 split (to me, it wasn’t THAT bad) plus a $30/mo subscription (recoupable on first paid job). It also came with a 60 day cancellation policy, which seemed excessive as other licensing companies offer around a month.
On the surface, it’s not a TERRIBLE deal. It even may seem perfectly reasonable but if you’ve been around a little you see most of these types of deals work on percentage alone, and only the really shady outfits ask you to pay upfront for things they haven’t delivered.
What got me thinking is that for a company I’d never heard of, who seemed to be pretty sure they could place my songs, it seemed a little off I’d never heard of them, nor been able to find any positive feedback online.
They had contacted me and in that moment, given me just enough hope to think I can do this, all over again but not counted on how protective I would be if any opportunities arrived to make money off this thing I do.
So i found myself writing this email.
I’m afraid I wrote this reply not just for myself, but all the youngsters and hopefuls out there- of which there must be millions like me, who are offered far worse and feel there is no other option.
Yes, there is.
You can keep doing what you do but find a day job.
Patti Smith tells us to “do good work” and in numerous interviews has given advice to struggling artists that it’s only ever about the work. If you have to move back home, take a job you hate, whatever, it doesn’t matter if you’re poor just don’t let anything interfere with your work.
To do this in the modern world is hard, with rising rent, increasing food prices and an uncertain future.
You’ll have to work harder than anyone around you because you’ll be doing two jobs in one- coming home after your head’s not been in music for 8, 12, hours, being too tired to practise or sing, and having to anyway, having to immediately open a spreadsheet and keep contacting people to help you who say lovely things but don’t actually really help, maintain your social media sites and try and reach out to fans, record new stuff to keep people interested and spend as many evenings as you can booking gigs and playing to people who couldn’t give the slightest shit about you or your stupid music.
I’ve been guilty of slacking on music a little this year, and as a result have found myself in a situation I need to rectify.
But we all have to figure it out, because you may love doing other things and if you’re lucky you’ll be talented enough to have many strings to your bow, but there’s a universal truth here in that if you simply cannot imagine life panning out in a way to NOT let you do this ONE thing, then only you have the power to make it a reality.
It’s an all-in situation.