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The dilemma of working with the most talented musicians and artists

Music industry snakes and ladders

Some of you may remember my blog series, Macchiavelli's Guide to the Music Industry, which ran for a while on a well known site. I started that blog in the first place when I thought that the main reason that many musicians couldn't find a way to climb the music industry ladders was because of how opaque it must look from the outside. Because it wasn't obvious to them which were the snakes and which were the ladders. What I tried to do in that series was to help artists to understand what a record label was looking for and what the expectations of them as a signed artist might be. I thought that would help them avoid the reptiles that litter the way.

On the back of Macchiavelli's Guide I decided that there was more I could do as a record producer to help artists that I was working with. In short, I decided I could use my contacts across the industry to help to open doors for them. Now I don't know whether I simply chose to work with the wrong artists for the wrong reasons, but on every occasion I tried to do that, something went horribly wrong. Experiences ranging from egotistical behaviour and ignorance which simply put off the music managers, lawyers and agents I introduced, to at it's most spectacular, a band who fell apart because they couldn't agree on how the booty should be split when they were offered a major label contract on the basis of a record which I had both funded and produced for them! This led me to understand that many artists were simply incapable of acting in a professional enough manner to capitalise on the opportunities being offered to them.

As a result of the above, with my fingers feeling well and truly burnt, I retreated for a while from trying to help unsigned artists at all. I went back to basics: made records, tv ads and film scores, and quietly got on with running my business. But I always felt there was more I could do. If I could just find a way of preventing people from killing their own opportunities. That state of affairs led me to a discussion with the Managing Director of Integrity Records, one of the longest running truly independent record labels in the country. Now Nick, like most record labels, had seen a very big change in the economics of running a label as, in an era which people don't actually like to buy music, it had become more difficult than ever to recoup any investment into a new artist. Over almost a two year period we tried to work out between us what model could work. Where we got to quickly was that music publishing required a substantial set up cost (registrations, infrastructure, catalogue, sync agents, collections) but could make us profits that we could reinvest in recording artists who in turn had publishing potential. An upward spiral in which we invested our profits back into the business for the good of both the songwriters and the catalogue. From Nick's perspective it could allow him to invest more money back into releasing his own recording artists, from my perspective, it meant that, as a record producer, I could offer a pretty near cast iron guarantee that anyone I worked with could have a publishing deal. And of course once an artist has assigned their music to the publishing company, other than receiving a cheque and spending the money, artists wouldn't really have to commit to anything or deliver to a time schedule except in the case of bespoke compositions (on which we choose our writers very carefully indeed).

Two years on we have three agents on the ground in the UK and four in the United States. Our catalogue has been placed in film, TV ads, online and in Play Station games. Flushed with success, last year we relaunched Wise Dog Records as an imprint of Integrity Publishing Limited. But of course this is where we began to have to rely on artists again.

We recently signed our first artist of 2017. Now this singer/songwriter is fabulous: hard working, talented, reliable, willing to listen to ideas and, occasionally, take direction but at the same time, has a real vision for her music and knows where she wants to get to. I initially worked with her on a development deal and ultimately produced, recorded and mixed her debut single. When I pitched it to Nick he sent it around a small cadre of friendly radio DJs and taste makers for their opinion. As a result, we are currently preparing the release of her debut record: branding, PR, plugging, music video, distribution etc. So far so good. But then we forgot our 50 years of joint hard won experience and decided it would be a clever idea to get our next potential signing a cameo part in the music video for this artist. What could go wrong...?

It took a considerable time to book the venue, and the studio (there are two different scenes), catering, organise wardrobe and make up, plan the video on almost a frame by frame basis, order the additional equipment required, find and buy the props, not to mention find a window when every single person could be available for a long day of shooting. So when the cameo singer/songwriter in question pulled out 36 hours before filming with no more of a reason than 'I might have a gig opportunity...' Well, you can imagine. While the loss of deposits is important in this catch strapped environment, the loss of confidence of everyone involved is hard to even begin to quantify. And this is before we even think about the effect on the singer whose debut release will now be pushed back as a result!

So artists, musicians, I guess this is a plaintiff cry of some grizzled old git who is very close to giving up on you. if you are offered an olive branch, even if you can only see it from your own perspective, try for a moment to think about how it might affect how other people feel about you if you snap the leaves off the end and then hand it back. Consider, if you will, whether you want to bank some goodwill or ensure that doors may well be slammed in your face going forward. Understand that most record producers, management companies, music lawyers, record labels, and music publishing companies actually know each other personally. And also understand that if you accept that olive branch, and then slap the person who gave it to you in the first place around the face with it, the whole damn olive grove (let's call it the music industry) may well find it hard to trust you enough going forward to invest anything in your music.

Thanks as ever go to Iain at www.igibson-photography.com for the graphics! Whether you need a photo shoot or a new website, give him a call.