I have been asked often, “Are you anti-major label?” My answer is, “No!” I am pro-major label AND pro-indie. Even after all of the shifts in the music industry, there are still times that it is advantageous for an artist or band to sign with a major label.
I did an interview with Brad O’Donnell – Sr. VP of A&R for EMI Christian Music Group back in June of 2003 while he was actually still the A&R Director for Sparrow Records before they were bought out by EMI. A lot of what he had to say then is still relevant for today. I am going to post a portion of that interview below.
JEFF: When is it more advantageous for a musician to stay independent rather than to sign with a major label?
BRAD: Good question! I think there are times when it’s more advantageous. I think there are hundreds of reasons. You have to decide what it is that you want to accomplish (like anything else in life) and the best way of getting there. For example – this is just one example of literally hundreds of reasons why it might be better to stay independent. If you’re at the stage in your life where you don’t want to travel anymore or really support your record, and you can’t imagine going on the road for two hundred, three hundred days a year supporting your label, it’s probably better to stay independent. Any record label that’s going to invest many hundreds of thousands of dollars in your career is going to expect you to be out on a national level promoting your record full time. And I think some people get to a stage in their life where they just don’t want to do that anymore, or, it’s just not how they’re wired. It’s not how they want to spend their time. They love making music, but they’re not willing to put up with all that.
I think another reason to stay independent is when it’s only about the music for you. I’ve seen a lot of really talented musicians, really gifted people [decline signing with a major label] once they find out everything that goes into having an artist’s career. You know, music is a huge part of it, and certainly the most important part of it – but there’s also going to radio stations and promoting your record. There’s going to retail stores and meeting and supporting the people who support what you do. There’s going to sales conferences to let your distribution company and your record label know who you are and what you’re up to. There are so many things that don’t involve music that are required in order to give your record a shot to succeed. If those sorts of things aren’t interesting then you’re probably better off staying at an independent level.
JEFF: When is the optimum time in a musician’s career to sign with a major label?
BRAD: Again, a tough question because it’s hard to be specific. There are a lot of different reasons that it might make sense to sign. When there’s enough heat, when your song is getting played on local radio and you’re getting lots and lots of opportunities to tour, play and to open up for people; and when you have a mailing list that you can barely keep up with. All those things say that your ministry is ready to move on to a national level and you need the support and the help of a record label.
This is great advice from Brad. But now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. There is a friend of mine who is independent and plays nationally. He has been offered major label deals, but has turned them down. I am not going to share who he is with the public because I am going to share some personal things that he has shared with me. He told me that he generates well over $300,000.00 worth of revenue as an independent artist that tours nationally. Why would he decline those major label offers? A better question is; why would he sign with a major label? He already tours nationally. He has a very commercial CD and an incredible band that tours with him. He does very well without the help of a major label. Why would he share his revenue with them?
So, if you get a major label offer, you must weigh out all of the options/pros and cons before signing. Signing with a major label can be a huge opportunity! It can also be exactly what you don’t need. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I able to accomplish everything that the label can offer without the label?
• Am I able and willing to do everything that is necessary to support the record that is funded by the label while remaining within my own mission and ministry focus?
Pray and ask for guidance. You will know if this is a door that was opened by God. If you never get a major label offer, don’t be discouraged. It simply may not be in God’s will for your life. I am here to tell you that, for an artist or band that works hard, it is possible to tour nationally or even internationally on a full time basis without the help of a major label. It can happen.
To sing in front of thousands: That’s the hope of just about every Christian music artist or band, is it not? You dream about it. You visualize it. You know that God placed that desire in your heart, but yet, you just can’t seem to get that break you need. If you truly have that desire to sing in front of thousands and you are not doing so just yet, the next two questions are likely the questions that you have been asking yourself. Why would God place that desire in me if I just can’t seem to expand my ministry into a larger platform? Why are others ministering on a national or international level when I am not, even though I am just as qualified or talented?
5 Simple Questions:
I’m going to ask you five simple questions that very well could give you answers to the questions you’ve been asking yourself. How is your prayer life and personal devotion time? What are your motives? Have you been faithful to your calling at the level you are at right now? Who do you promote? How is your attitude toward others? Let’s look at these questions more in depth and then see what the Bible has to say about each one.
1) How is your prayer life and personal devotion time? To many, prayer consists of a simple prayer before meals and at bedtime with their kids. Why would we not pray more when we know God hears us? When was the last time you had personal devotion time (personal time that you devote in conversation with Him, study and meditation of His Word)?
Without intimate conversations with God, how are you going to know what His will is for your life? If your desire to play in front of large crowds is due to selfish reasons and is not in God’s will for your life, you may have missed your calling.
“The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.” 1 Peter 3:12 (NLT) He hears your prayers. Talk to Him and listen. Find out what His will is for your life first and foremost.
Additional scriptures to read and study: John 17, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, James 5:16
2) What are your motives? Have you truly examined your purpose for wanting to sing in front of thousands? Do you simply want to make a full time living singing and know that you will have arrived if you are singing in front of thousands? If that is the case, you might as well sing as entertainment and not as a ministry.
We can make our own plans, but the Lord gives the right answer. People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives. Commit your actions to the Lord and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:1-3 (NLT)
Additional scriptures to read and study: Psalm 26:1-3, 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5
3) Have you been faithful to your calling at the level you are at right now? I am not even necessarily talking about your own church platform. First, let’s begin with your own household. How are you treating your family? Are you doing everything in your power to see to it that they are taken care of? You can not expect to minister on stage if you are not even ministering to your own family and taking care of their needs. They should be your first priority.
Now, let’s look at your local church platform or immediate audience. Are you giving 100% every time you are on the stage? Do you give the same attention to detail with the small crowd of 25 than you would to a crowd of 1000? How can the Lord trust you with the large crowds if you are not faithful with the small crowds?
If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.
Luke 16:10 (NLT)
“‘Well done!’ the king exclaimed. ‘You are a good servant. You have been faithful with the little I entrusted to you, so you will be governor of ten cities as your reward.’”
Luke 19:17 (NLT)
Additional scriptures to read and study: Matthew 25:21-23
4) Who do you promote? Is your conversation full of “me, myself, and I” or do you wholly and sincerely promote Christ? Jesus said, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” John 12:32. I realize that He was talking about when He was lifted up on the cross, but He also told us in Matthew 16:24 to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.
It only makes sense that if you lift up the name of the Lord rather than you own, you will draw people. What better way to sing in front of a crowd? Jesus is worthy. Sure, you can have some radio stats on your website. You can have a few details about yourself in your bio. Those details are necessary so people can get to know you better. But, when it comes to singing, regardless of the size of the crowd, promote Him, not yourself. That is what will draw a crowd.
Let’s compare this to healing. Why does the Lord choose to heal someone? So that He can be glorified. I believe the same goes with playing in front of a large crowd. If you truly promote Him instead of yourself, the crowd will come so that He can be glorified.
Additional scriptures to read and study: John 3:14-16, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23, Luke 14:27, Colossians 3:1-4
5) What is your attitude toward others? Do you have an attitude of humility and compassion or an attitude of arrogance? I’m just being honest. I don’t know very many people that likes being around an arrogant person. Do you? Jesus has an attitude of humility and of compassion. If He was arrogant, I doubt He would have drawn a crowd.
“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:10-11
Don’t treat others well just to be nice. People can tell when you are sincere. Have a true heart of humility and compassion. That’s the kind of person that draws people.
Additional scriptures to read and study: Matthew 23:11-13, Proverbs 15:32-33, Mark 6:33-34
What does it take to sing in front of thousands?
• Pray and devote yourself to the cause of Jesus Christ. He will reveal to you whether singing in front of thousands is His will for your life.
• Check your motives. The Bible promises you that when you commit your actions to the Lord, your plans WILL succeed.
• Devote 100% to your family and to your immediate audience. When you build God’s trust at the level you are at right now, He will advance you according to His will.
• Promote the name of Jesus Christ in every thing you do. He is capable of drawing a much bigger crowd than you could on your own.
• Treat everyone with an attitude of humility and compassion. Nobody likes a horse’s butt.
Before you go any further, you need to define what “making it” is. Even with the technology leveling out the playing field between the major labels and the indie artists, you would be amazed at the number of indie Christian music artists that come to me asking to be pitched to the major labels. Why is that? Let’s think about this for a moment.
Option 1: The major label fronts you (the artist) a big advance to have the album recorded. You (the artist) sign a contract for an 85/15 deal. Then, the advance must be paid back out of your 15% before you ever see another dime. Option 2: The independent artist raises the funds necessary to record, distributes it online through their website and through iTunes, works hard to promote the new album, then starts gigging. The artist gets 100% of their sales with this option, not 15%. With either option, the artist is going to pay to have their music recorded, so why would you want to give away 85% of the sales to the major labels?
Now that you have that knowledge, do you still want to sign with a major label? If your reason to sign a major label deal is simply because it is the “easy way” to accomplish your goals, you are mistaken. Whether you go the major label route or go at it independently, it is going to take a lot of hard work. If you are not willing to work hard, then you might as well reconsider your dream. God does not honor a lazy artist.
Check out this formula for success. Knowledge from Man + Smart Written Goals + Wisdom from God + Sweat Equity = Success. Now, let’s go back to defining what “making it” or “success” is. Obviously, most Christian artists and bands have a mission to uplift the body of Christ and to draw those who do not know Christ to a saving knowledge of Christ. Usually, their ultimate goal is to reach a larger platform with a national or international audience so they can accomplish their mission on a larger scale. If that is truly your desire and you have the God-given talent to do so, you can do so independently. So, what does it take?
Knowledge from Man
You may have an incredible singing voice. You may have great songs. But, if you don’t have them produced and recorded properly, you will have a hard time making it on a national or international scale. With the shift in the industry, the major producers have decided that it is in their best interest to help really talented independent artists if they are to continue making their mortgage payment. Most have rates now that are much more affordable. It is imperative that you have recordings that are well-produced and commercial or you will not get radio airplay or bookings on a larger scale. If funds are an issue and you can not do a full CD, just consider doing an EP of 3 to 5 songs. It is much better to have a 3-song CD that is well-produced and recorded than to have a 10-song CD that sounds … not so well-produced and recorded.
“Once the CD is complete, how do I get major airplay? Didn’t you already say it is impossible to get airplay?” No. I only said that it is almost impossible to get airplay on the major Christian AC stations. However, out of the 1000 and some odd Christian radio stations across the country, there are only around 100 that are Christian AC. The other formats in Christian radio (CHR, Rock, and INSPO) will consider independent singles. Even with all four formats in Christian radio, there are still only around 200 stations out of 1000 that are major reporting stations last I heard. So, don’t get bent out of shape when K _ _ _ _ in your town won’t play your single. Switch ponds if the fish aren’t biting! There are plenty of fish and plenty of ponds. It is possible for a Christian music artist to release a single and get well over 100 radio stations to play your song. Check out our news page to see how many radio stations are playing our artists.
“How do I know which producer to use, which radio promoter to use, which stations to pitch to, who to use for booking, and how to sell my CD?” This is where a good manager comes in. If you are talented enough to go national and it is God’s calling for your life, you are going to need a good manager whether you are major or independent. A good manager will know who to hire to produce your CD, promote your songs, and book you. A good manager will have the knowledge, experience, and connections necessary to oversee your ministry and ensure that you are moving forward in your goals.
“What do I look for in a good manager?” When you get signed by a manager, you will be in it for the long haul, so get one you know you will get along with. Look at their credentials, reputation, and track record. That speaks volume. If you are a Christian artist, it helps to have a manager that aligns with your ministry goals. The manager will likely want to interview you prior to signing you. Don’t be afraid to interview the manager. Also, don’t sign the contract unless you feel 100% sure that it is God’s will for your life. Having the right manager can make the difference in your success.
Smart Written Goals
Once you find a good manager, he/she will likely ask you to sit down with him/her and write down your goals as well as a target date for each goal. It is very important to write down your short term and long term goals and keep them where you will see them daily. If you live in Arkansas and want to travel to the sunny beaches of Florida, you will need a map. You have that vision of Florida. That’s why you want to go. But, you need the road map so you can reach your final destination. Your written goals are your road map to your God-given dreams and visions.
Wisdom from God
Pray daily. Read your Bible daily. Open your heart to Him and share with Him what you are feeling. You will have up days. Share those with Him. You will have down days. Share those with Him. If you do this, He will guide you and give you the wisdom to make the right choices. Praise Him for the accomplishments in your life. Surround yourself with Godly uplifting friends. Seek Godly council from your Pastor. Put together a team of prayer warriors who will commit to pray for your ministry and those you reach.
When I interview someone for consideration to be included on the roster of artists I manage, I always tell them that I work as hard for my artists as I expect them to work for themselves. A person that never does any more than they get paid for never gets paid for more than they do. It’s just as important to work smart as it is to work hard. If you only work hard without working smart, you will get nowhere. It takes the right combination of working hard and working smart to succeed. After all, isn’t that what sweat equity is? Sweat is formed when you work hard and equity is the effort made to increase the value of something.
It is important to invest into your ministry. If you are truly doing your music ministry for the right reason, you should have no problem investing. After all, is it not the Lord’s work that you are investing in? Most creative types I know simply don’t have the extra cash laying around to invest into their ministry. This is where the hard and smart work comes in. You must work at raising funds just like a Missionary would when he is raising funds to go into the mission field. There is no difference between that Missionary and you. You are a Missionary and music is a tool. Sweat equity can help you raise the fund necessary to invest into your mission.
“Let me guess. This is where you will tell me to approach you about managing my music ministry.” Nope. Honestly, we already get somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand submission requests per year. I don’t mind that, but when we do have a spot available for a new artist, we do a lot of sorting to get to just the right artist that fits our roster and mission. However, I am open to consult artists even if they don’t fit into our roster for management. I can still provide ideas of where to record, where to get radio airplay, where to get your CD’s manufactured, how to get your songs on iTunes, and how to get bookings. Feel free to e-mail me any time! The best way to reach me is by e-mailing email@example.com.
I hope this series of blog posts has been beneficial. I would love to see your comments.
The major Christian record labels seem to be decreasing while the independent Christian record labels seem to be increasing. The lines between the major labels and the independent labels are starting to fade. When you walk into your local Christian book store, you will notice that the music department is shrinking while the book department is growing. What is causing such a drastic change? Are people not buying Christian music any more?
Technology is the primary reason for the change. Consumers are still buying music, but CD sales are decreasing while digital music sales are increasing. Technology has not only changed the way music is being bought, but also the way music is made. At one time, an individual could not afford to record an album on their own without the backing of a major label. However, that’s not the case anymore! Anyone can record in someone’s spare bedroom studio with equipment that costs less than the price of a full album produced and recorded in Nashville… so long as they have the right knowledge and skills to go along with the technology.
With independent artists, distribution deals are no longer necessary when songs can be set up for sale on iTunes, MySpace, the artist’s website, etc. This allows a person to replicate fewer CD’s to sell at live concerts and ministry opportunities… and instead, sell digital music internationally right from their own website. How cool is that?
Technology has also changed the way an independent artist can market their new album. With e-mail blasts, social networking, and internet-based press releases, you can reach your fans without the necessity of spending lots of money on television advertising, radio advertising, and print advertising.
The playing field between the major label and the independent artist has been leveled. Why would anyone want to sign an 85/15 major label deal when the major label is no longer needed? Sure, they can give you a nice fat cash advance to record your album, but remember that you still have to pay that advance back to the major label with your 15% of the sales. That’s right. You will not see another dime of the music sales until the advance is paid back out of your 15%. Ouch!
Ok, but how can I, the independent artist, survive in this huge music world that was once controlled by the major labels? I’m glad you asked. That will be covered in my third and final blog post in this series. But first, I would love to hear your stories about technology and how it has changed your life in the Christian music world. I look forward to your comments.
Just out of curiosity, I recently joined the music advisory panel for one of the largest Christian adult contemporary (AC) radio networks in the US. When I received my first survey, this is what I found. I opened the first page of songs to evaluate. Every single one of the songs were from major label artists. That’s right, not one of those songs to be evaluated were from an independent Christian music artist or band. Well, I went down through the first page of the survey and evaluated each song. Out of the nineteen songs, I only gave two of them a 4 or 5 out of 5. I rated the rest with only a 2 or a 3. I’m sorry, but the rest all sounded alike to me … almost as if they were cookie-cutter songs.
I clicked on page two of the survey. Maybe they will have some independent songs on this page! Nope. This page contained eleven more songs. However, they were major label songs that were brought back from 10 to 20 years ago. Hmmmmmm. But, here is the interesting thing. I rated them much higher than those in the first page. Each song was more unique and in my opinion, better quality. It reminded me of the reason I listened to Christian AC radio then and don’t so much any more.
All of this got me to thinking. Are major Christian radio stations running of out music? If so, why don’t they start considering more independent music rather than bringing back some of the old music? Are the major labels putting pressure on these stations? If anyone out there has any insight into this then by all means, leave a comment!
Anyway … let’s move on. I contacted two friends who work in the radio world as song promoters. One works primarily with independent Christian music artists and the other primarily with major Christian music artists. I asked both the same question: In all of your experience and time working in Christian radio land, has there ever been an independent artist or band that has had a song played on the AC radio network that I had mentioned before? I received my first response from the promoter that works primarily with independent artists. His response was a one-word response … “None.” That’s interesting.
The promoter that works primarily with major label artists has been involved in the industry for several years longer than the other. I expected him to list several, but he could only think of three independent artists that were played by this radio network over the years. Again, that’s very interesting.
So, this all brings me back to my original questions. Are major Christian radio stations running of out music? If so, why don’t they start considering more independent music? I am really looking forward to your comments.
No doubt, the music industry is changing daily. What is causing such a drastic change? How does this affect Christian music artists? Whether you are a major label Christian music artist or an independent Christian music artist, it has, does, and will affect you. The next three blog posts will be about the state of the industry. I am not just posting these for everyone to read, but also to read your thoughts. Please do involve yourself by posting your comments. I look forward to it!
We have a constant desire to better ourselves for the growth of our artists and the betterment of the industry. As we have grown over the past several years, we naturally outgrew our old website. Welcome to MMGI 2.0! :)
In addition to the face lift, we have made sure to add the function of a blog, right up front on the website. This can be found on the “home” page, and I invite everyone to stop by once in a while and catch up on things. By staying on the same page, we can make sure to maintain constant and consistent growth and impact, both individually and as a body of believers. With God, all things are possible.
PS: Special thanks to Shawn Weston for the new website design and direction!