WHY I DON'T HAVE A RECORD DEAL
Ahhh, the question that I get asked the most...
"Why don't you have a record deal?"
"Why aren't you famous yet?"
There is NO way to simply answer. So, I'm tackling this tough question + I'm breaking down THREE Music Industry "Truths"... that actually, aren't even remotely true.
THREE Music Industry "Truths"
#1. A record deal = success. Well... not exactly. Many people think you've got to have a record deal to be a successful artist OR that once you've signed a record deal, you've "made it". First, let me start by explaining what a record deal is in the simplest terms: A "record deal" or recording contract is simply a legal agreement between a record label and a recording artist. The agreement basically states that the artist will record music for the label to sell and promote - resulting in a profit for both the label & artist. Example: Carrie Underwood signs a recording contract with Universal Music Group. She agrees to record music - meaning, make albums - for X amount of years. Universal Music Group agrees to sell & promote those albums during those agreed upon years. The albums she records, sell hundreds of thousands of copies. She makes money & Universal Music Group makes money... and everyone lived happily ever after. Sometimes.
In some cases, an artist signs a contract with a label and NEVER releases any music. Why would a label sign an artist and never release their music? Well, LOTS of reasons. Sometimes after a record is made and a distribution/promotion plan is created, the label doesn't think the record will produce enough sales to recoup the initial investment they made to make the record in the first place... so it's kind of a "quit while you're ahead" mentality. How do they know it wont produce sales? Again, LOTS of reasons: maybe the label released a single from the record that flopped - meaning radio isn't responding positively to the single. Maybe, by the time the record is ready to be released the market is over-saturated with that particular sound. Sometimes, timing is just bad. Maybe the label is merging or folding. Maybe there are other artists signed to the same label that are REALLY successful - by default, the label may choose to focus on those artists more heavily. There are many reasons that a label may decide not to release an album. Don't get me wrong, record labels are great. They're the ones who believe in your gift, your sound, and what you have to say. You're the one making the music and they're the ones there to help you share it with the world. But, they're only part of the team... we haven't even mentioned managers, agents, lawyers, and publicists. That's another day.
Which leads to me artists who have INDEPENDENTLY released music (meaning, they didn't have a contract with a label) and had major success. Allow me to introduce you to Sturgill Simpson, a singer/songwriter currently signed to Atlantic Records. Before signing with Atlantic, Sturgill self-funded and self-released two albums on his own (2013 & 2014) and received a GRAMMY nomination for best Americana Album. So, how'd he do it without the industry support? It sounds simple & cliche, but it's true: determination and hard work. Most important, he stayed true to himself and his craft. He went on the road and toured, he met the right people at the right time who believed in what he was doing, and he built a fan-base around that. TEN YEARS LATER. So while, having a record deal is very beneficial to your career... it's not everything.
#2. You've "made it" when the radio plays your song. You do not need radio play to be successful or famous. Many artists have a huge, supportive fan base without being played on the radio. Thanks to digital services like Spotify, the radio isn't the only way to get your music heard any more. Again, Sturgill Simpson is a great example. In 2017, Simpson WON the Grammy for Best Country Album without being played on major country radio stations. In addition, Chance The Rapper won THREE Grammys in 2016 for his album, Coloring Book - the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy. Oh yeah, and Chance is an independent artist meaning he doesn't have a record deal...
But, in country music, the relationship with radio is very important and special. However, there are many ways to get your music heard and "talked about" without being played on the radio. As an artist, you can still be successful and have a steady career by other means such as touring, streaming, and social media marketing. But, I've been lucky to have my music played on the radio it's an experience you never forget.
#3. You have to write your own music. This one is tricky. I've got two great examples as to why you don't have to write your own songs - and why you should. Ever heard of George Strait? He's been in the business for more than 30 years and during that time, he's had 61 #1 songs - most of which were written or co-written by songwriter, Dean Dillon. In fact, for 20 years Strait relied on and recorded songs written by other writers. But, there's a "new" kid in town who's doing just the opposite: Chris Stapleton. For years, Chris Stapleton turned out hits for other artists (Luke Bryan, Darius Rucker, and Kenny Chesney - just to name a few.) Now, Stapleton is releasing his songs under his own name and the country music industry and fans are eating it up. So, do you have to write your own music? No. Nashville is FULL of really talented people whose sole purpose and passion is writing music for other artists. But, should you? If you can (and it's something you enjoy) totally!
So, back to the main question: Why don't you have a record deal?
Honestly? It isn't my time. Nashville is notoriously referred to as a "ten year town". It can take ten years (sometimes more, a lot more... hello, Brothers Osborne) before an artist even starts to make a dent in the industry. I've been in Nashville for 6 years. I've met a lot of really great songwriters, artists, managers, agents... and some of them have had a hand in helping to evolve my career. Do I think I'll get a record deal or be famous? I don't know. I know God gave me this gift and I believe it's my responsibility to share that with others around me in whatever capacity that means. I try not to think about fame or focus on what "success" means in terms of dollar signs, but rather I choose to rest peacefully in the promises that God has for my life. Do I want a record deal? Definitely... but I want the right one. At the right time. With the right people. Is that the overall goal? My priority and dreams are to just write and make really good music. It's important to me that my music bring joy to others and leave them feeling something deep inside and I'm learning that I can have a sustainable, successful career should the opportunity of a deal never arise. How? Fans. People who buy a ticket and show up to the venue for the show. People who stream or purchase the music and the t-shirts. People who tweet or post about how much they love what I'm doing and crave more. Without fans - the record labels, the "team", the radio - it doesn't mean anything. Fans are what make it all possible and I'm so thankful for support mine have shown me.
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