The Record Deal Is Only a Beginning
This Guy WILL Tell You How a Record Label Works
When the great indie label Blood Music’s (Astronoid, Perturbator, others) founder announced he was stopping business despite remaining one of the most successful independent labels in the world, it was incredibly sad news. But when he subsequently announced he would answer music business questions candidly on the label’s Twitter feed, it was an amazing opportunity. Without anyone to answer to, no bands to impress or publicists to placate, questions like “how to get a record deal” could be answered by someone who knew, and with no reasons to not provide the unvarnished truth.
Thankfully, he was agreeable to letting us share his priceless responses here.
Question: How to Release on Vinyl
So, i did release a digital and a cd a few years ago, but the dream is to put out a vinyl release, but am afraid that printing labs will press crap quality, so what are your advices on doing HQ vinyl releases? also got any pressing labs to recommend?
Prep your release in advance. WYSIWYG. If you send in quality material, it should print well.
Highest resolution audio, mastered for vinyl (if you can’t do it, find an engineer).
Full size art, 300 DPI, laid out in InDesign, logos/text on separate layer as vector.
Question: How to License Music
How do you go about getting permission to press a record that another label may own the rights to? Was there many times where you could not get permission? What kind of percentage does the original owner get of the profits compared to blood music?
E-mail the label and the band. You need to be sure who actually owns the rights and do the deal with them.
There were dozens of times I could not get the rights.
Traditional here is a flat license fee per copy, paid upfront. Avg range 1-3€ per copy. Or 10-20% of copies free.
Question: Common Mistakes Artists Make
What’s the biggest misconception unsigned bands have or biggest mistake they make?
Fantastic q. Unsigned bands make so many mistakes. Gonna make a list.
1. Telling people more established than them how things are done. Happens repeatedly. Those who know the most are ALWAYS the most ignorant.
Bands: don’t be afraid to look dumb and DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK Q’s.
2. Equating genius with infinite value. Many very good bands think “we’re better than xxx, we should get paid more.”
The journey to artistic genius was just the beginning. Now they need to build their project into something financially viable. It’s a series of separate steps.
3. Thinking they can spend as much as they want and that the money will always come back.
A commercial band is a business. Spend the least you can for maximum results. Paying 20k out of pocket and telling the label you haven’t recouped two years later is the band’s fault.
4. Thinking that sending your art out to labels / professionals will result in it being mangled and stolen because the whole system is corrupt and there’s no use even trying.
This is the easiest way to spot a creative who is their own worst enemy and will never “make it.”
5. Thinking that a band can stay independent of the system forever and keep growing. This happens in about 0.00001% of instances.
They will almost all eventually hit a wall they cannot break through without labels, distributors, and other industry professionals.
6. Thinking they need a label to get ahead or be financially viable.
There are a good handful of bands that have independently broken through. They sell less copies than on a label but make more money. It is possible and is (with very hard work) a legitimate personal choice.
Common Mistakes Artists Make Continued…
7. Signing a contract and thinking the terms are cool for now but a bit loosey-goosey for the future. No, the other party will hold you to all the terms you signed to. Many bands don’t think through multi-album contracts. They think about 3 months ahead.
8. Over-negotiating the terms of their first contract. Some bands will negotiate healthy advances, decent royalty splits and other favorable terms and keep pushing for small details as intense breaking points.
I have walked away from these bands in a heartbeat.
9. Having unrealistic expectations of a label. Wanting “a whore in the bedroom and a cook in the kitchen.”
Those who work at labels are just people and many doing their best. 99% of them are huge music fans. They want success too but can’t control the fans nor the industry.
10. They don’t learn enough about the industry they’re in. They spend their lives paranoid instead of learning what’s normal.
The music industry is in a bad state and getting worse. Sales are down, budgets are down. Everyone’s in it together. Fight the fight together.
11. Ignoring quality of label and focusing only on royalty %s. I have lost bands to bidding wars to labels 1/10th the size.
They sold way less than their potential and made less money overall because they based their choice on only one factor. Mistake.
12. Thinking that a bottomless PR budget will result in endless profit. There is a point at which PR will start to cost more than it earns back. You have to know when enough is enough with spending.
Question: How to Approach a Label / Is a Record Deal Worth It
What do you recommend independent acts do to get a label’s attention in a good way?
If an independent act is already doing most of what a label would do, just with less access/money, what benefit does being on a label even provide?
Q1: e-mail them.
But the best way to get a specific label’s attention is to have someone they trust introduce your music to them.
That said, do not burn out your friends asking them to introduce your stuff around. Most people won’t do it unless they think you’re 100% ready.
Q2: A label will take a huge chunk of revenue. It’s a gamble. If your partnership works, it will spread your music 3-5x more. Possibly 10-20x.
The more revenue you generate, the more offers come in. Merch, tours, licenses, endorsements. That’s where your financial nugget lies.
Question: How Much is Record Industry Worth
Honestly, I just wanted to say after reading your advice the other day: it’s terrifying how many people / bands aren’t willing to hear the truth about the industry.
A LOT of people get into media industry for the wrong reasons. There’s an idea that it’s going to be sexy as hell, and it’s not.
The industry is sometimes sad, cutthroat, mundane, technical, confusing, and downright boring.
Any talk that destroys its sexiness makes people angry
Question: How to Get a Job in the Music Industry
What do you look for in people to help with the label directly?
People who are underrated at what they do. People who can operate on tight budgets, since many releases do not earn serious profits.
To say I am detail-oriented is an understatement, and if they make 0 mistakes thenOk hand. They must be good at self-management and meet all deadlines.
Question: How to Build an Audience Online
what advice can you give to one-man bands that don’t really have the ability to tour? how can they grow?
In 9/10 cases your reach is more limited. Internet is the great equalizer, and you need to work double to build a fanbase.
Partner with a label or do split EPs with other bands. You need to interact with a community online. Bands hate marketing, but it’s all you’ve got.
Question: How to Get Signed to a European Label
What metrics are European labels looking at when considering signing an artist?
Yeah, I know, I know. The music.
The same as everyone else. Every legit European label will sign bands from anywhere.
But the idea of a “Europe only” album release is increasingly rare unless your band is huge.
Beware that a lot of mid-size European labels struggle to sell in USA, which is the biggest market.
Question: Recording Contracts – Challenging
How hard is it to figure out the legal/contractual part of the business?
I’m weird in that it was natural and almost fun for me.
It takes practice. If you have a contract, go over it with someone who really knows what it means. They’re not evil. They spell out the terms you agree upon signing. Beware of leaving protections out that should be there.
Question: What Are Record Labels Looking For
Check out our Release It Right system.
Spotify listeners or spins or both? Facebook likes? Twitter or Instagram followers?
Social media post engagement.
Soundscan (for bigger labels).
Spotify / YouTube spins.
Previous labels / tours.
Most important is to show you have a real fanbase and that they think they can sell your sound to their fans. Metrics are secondary. Touring cares more about metrics.
Question: How to Contact a Label
For an entire course on how to network in the music industry, check out Connected.
What do you value most when being contacted by an artist for the first time?
1) I love the music.
2) I think I can sell it on my label.
3) If most of the package is there but something needs work, they listen to advice.
4) They sound relatively normal.
It’s gotten me into trouble that #4 is so low on the list and not #1. But that’s the music biz for you.
Question: Do Labels Make Album Covers
Who puts money and the criteria for the art work into the album’s? Is the labels job or is the artists themselves?
Case-by-case. Some labels have an in-house style but most not.
I have completely art directed some albums and paid for it. Others have been done completely by the artists and they paid for it. If you want your art a certain way, talk to the label about it before you sign.
Question: How to Support Artists
I’m not in the biz.
But as a consumer of plenty of your labels, what’s the best way to help the artists I love? Buy on Bandcamp? Share on social media? I know that streaming services kinda suck for the artists. Without shows to attend, what’s the most effective thing I can do?
(1/2) A very popular question, and it’s impossible to answer. Every band has a different deal, so for some Bandcamp can be the best. Others, it can be vinyl from the label. Others it can be shirts from the band.
Actively spreading the word is the only way that is guaranteed.
(2/2) But any revenue towards the band helps.
What makes it tricky is that many bands don’t know what is best for them cause if they sell 1000 shirts but 0 records, no label wants to finance them. It’s complicated. I think you should support however is most comfortable for you.
Question: How do Independent Artists Promote Themselves
What are some good tips on “word of mouth” marketing? You seem to know the right people to promote your artists’ work.
Word-of-mouth is the highest value in independent marketing. It’s the only real way small artists can compete. It’s rooted in zeitgeist and alchemy.
Advice on this is hard, but: watch trends over the long term AND what’s happening now. Then hit every wave right before its crest.
Question: How to Promote Your Music
what are some of the best ways to promote music and increase the sale of CDs, vinyls, and shirts? How do you know how many CDs to print?
Q1: There aren’t just books on this but an entire subsection of study. Sounds dirty as fuck, but look into brand management.
Convincing people to part with money is extremely hard. You need to make something that is of value to many and price it at a level that’s a good deal.
Q2: I have experimented with printing way too few, a bit too few, a bit too many, and way too many.
To be honest, none of them were ever perfect. The only easy way is to base your predictions on how the last album sold. I prefer to print less than more because storage sucks.
Question: How to Get Noticed By a Record Label
What are some helpful tips for artists trying to get noticed by a particular company or publisher? Hire a good manager? Agent? Or just any tips for someone trying to do it by themselves. Or can it be done alone? Any advice would be appreciated.
My experience is that agents will not work for you til you’re already established enough to make easy money.
My advice is to start projects in the indie sphere, and if major label is your goal, work your way up. Most indies, unless they’re ultra hot, are available with an e-mail
Question: How Do Record Labels Work With Artists
When it comes to artists communicating professionally with labels, are there any trends that you’ve noticed that are bad, make things inefficient, or are even dealbreakers? What would recommend artists keep in mind when corresponding with labels?
I suggest artists communicate the same they would with new colleagues at a job. Over time, the discussion will relax more.
I believe even though tones will become more informal over time, attitudes should always stay mature and professional. It is a working relationship.
Question: Do Artists Pay To Be On Labels
Have you ever had a successful artist or band donate or try to invest in the label to help it out? Just because they enjoy being on your label? Or is that even a thing in the music industry?
A few people offered to invest in the label when it was getting more popular, but I had already done the hardest work, so I said no.
I have had artists offer to pay their way onto the label too, but the answer was no.
I prefer to see my vision through and get paid for that.
Question: How Do Artists Promote Themselves
What can artists do to network/get ahead if they don’t have access to resources such as classes, mentors, living in big cities, etc?
Familiarize themselves with marketing tools, especially related to the internet. They need to become part of communities of people doing similar things. Social media groups, pages, Reddit, blogs, etc.
Don’t be shy to share your BIG news wide (album release) but don’t spam ever.
Question: How Much Does It Cost To Start a Label
If one would be interested to start a small label, focusing on black and death metal (mainly local acts). What would be a considered a good starting capital and amount of albums to print on the first record(s)? Any other newbie tips appreciated
Depends heavily which formats. A tape label, I bet 1500€ would be okay. CDs, ~3000€. Vinyl, ~7500€.
Those seem comfortable values that you can release a few albums and see if it’s working.
Press the minimum possible that makes financial sense.
I started this with 10k€.
Question: How Much Do Artists Get Paid For Songs In Movies
What happens when a movie or video game IP is interested in buying the rights to use songs from bands from your label? How does that process usually play out, and what are some of the stipulations for such a purchase?
Music licensing for synch is a HELL RIDE. Read about it online. It’s slow, it’s big business. If you are working on a very limited budget, go for independent bands that haven’t broken through yet, as their terms will be favorable.
Do not even consider a major label band.
Question: What Every Artist Should Know
And lastly a cliche question: In regards to the musical industry, what’s one lesson you had wish you had known 5 years ago?
The only regret I have is fighting too much with a few projects. It drained a lot of passion.
There is nothing else. Too many folks do things for the results IMO. I do things for the learning experience. Knowing the end result spoils the journey
Question: How to Make Album Covers
Do you have any advice or tips for illustrators who want to work with labels?
Where do you find the illustrators for certain releases in which the artist didn’t bring them in first place; through social media?
Thanks for doings this
Can only speak to my label. Many artists submitted work to me, but it never helped in getting hired.
The best way was for them to get in touch with bands, and the bands wanted to work with them. The bands would bring art to me, and I’d approve. I may even hire them again later.
I would like to express my gratitude to Blood Music both for curating great music over the years and for allowing us to publish his AMA here. It is an honor and a privilege.