I’ve had the pleasure of working with quite a few artists who were independent but went on to sign a major label deal. I thought it might be interesting to go over how a few of them went from a indie artist to a signed act. I think what you’ll find is there is no magic formula, but you might be able to take some of the idea’s and make them your own. I must say, I don’t think signing with a major label is a great idea unless you have a good amount of fans. You must look at signing as a business agreement. In any business agreement the guy with the most to offer has the leverage. So to keep it simple, if you have a limited amount of fans your are going to get a one sided deal in favor of the majors. If you have tons of fans and are selling shows out on your own, then you hold the cards. You’ll be able to ask for more money upfront, get guaranteed releases, and whatever else your lawyer might be able draft up in your favor. All that being said, here are two experiences from two artists.
Sammy Adams – Sammy was the first artists I ever worked with who got signed to a major. In many ways producing and mixing Sammy’s album changed my life. It gave me the opportunity to move to LA and get to meet and work with some of the people I had always dreamed of working with. Sammy’s path is what I would call the the right sound at the right time path. He did a cover of Asher Roth’s “I Hate College”. He posted it on youtube and it caught fire. Tons of kids started playing it a their college parties. Next Sammy and I worked on a EP called Boston’s Boy, and the independent label he was signed to released it on iTunes. I thought it would do well, but wasn’t expecting much. Suddenly it started climbing the charts. Next thing you know it was in the top 10, then number 1. It was a insane experience. Next thing you know we were flying to LA to meet with some of the biggest names in the business. Sammy was smart however, he waited to sign. He wanted more leverage so he went on tour. He did a US tour selling out almost every House of Blues he played at. After that he finally decided to sign a BIG deal with RCA.
Now the questions is, did Sammy get lucky? No not at all. Sammy did something really special. He made music that spoke to people. He wrote music for party kids at college who liked hip-hop. He was one of them so the fans related to him. This is one of the hardest things to do as a artist. Many artist play follow the leader and make music just like whatever is hot. That doesn’t really workout though. You gotta speak from your heart and speak to people just like you. Fans can feel that in the music, because your being real. Your not being someone your not.
Cam Meekins – I meet Cam in Boston shortly after Sammy’s album took off. Cam was 17 and working on music at his house. He asked me to produce a song for him so we got in the studio. When we got together, I realized Cam was a super talented lyricist and decided to start working on a whole album with him. We released the album and the fans really gravitated to it. Now in Cam’s case the album didn’t blow up as much as Sam’s first album but it did give him a good amount of fans that believed in him and his music. Atlantic Records called and wanted to sign him. The deal was a bit different then the one we all dream of. It was a development deal with a small advance for one album. It worked out great for us cause we had funds to make a album, and it gave Cam time to develop and find his sound. After releasing the album Cam realized he didn’t want to be signed to a major and both parties went their separate way. A development deal can be great, but you must structure it so that you can be released after the first album. Otherwise you could be locked in, and the label has the right to never release your music.
Now why did Cam not want to be with a major? Well, Cam had a vision for himself and his music. He wanted to do it the way he saw fit. When you are signed, you are not the only vote for when your music will be released. There will be a A&R, label president, and a host of other people that will give their input. This can be a huge headache for artists because if the label has a different vision then yours, they might make you go back in the studio for months or worst yet not release it at all. In the short life of a artist, all the buzz you built could be gone if your music takes to long to release.
These are just two examples, but hopefully this gives you a good idea of the pros and cons of signing. You never know when your opportunity will come, so the best thing to do is make quality music and promote it every way you can. You might think that it’s impossible to ever get noticed but just do your thing and remember that cream always floats to the top.