By Chuck "Jigsaw" Creekmur
It is pretty common knowledge that it is high time that the recording industry re-evaluate its practices and business M.O.
This is a direct result of the digital era, however I have an archaic response to the resurgence of the new indie and internet movement.
Record labels need to make the record deal worth something again.
Right now, with all eyes on the artist, the artistry, the sales and the business, the labels are going to need to raise the bar instead of lowering it. In recent history, record deals have been given out like cheap candy on Halloween night. The dude co-signed by the DJ gets a deal. The bum best friend of the multi-platinum rapper gets a deal. The trash rapper that does a few thousand out-of-the-trunk can get a record deal. There's a clearance sale on record deals, it seems and the industry "got it for cheap."
These unqualified people are getting signed for all the wrong reasons and very little of it is based on talent or ability. Can we agree that that is most important aspect of an album? I mean, most of these folks don't even have an interesting story to sell to the people or media. I'm sorry, but even getting shot isn't enough anymore. The "deal" has been devalued so badly that your average artist boasts about being indie, not even fully grasping he gravity of that. (That's another topic, but indie is short for independent.) The point is, nobody really cares about getting signed to a deal anymore...they have options.
Don't confuse this as an anti-indie statement or even a pro-major labels commentary. I firmly believe that we only recently fundamentally got off track, but it seems like Pandora's Box is completely broken open. Artists as recently as 50 Cent, Young Jeezy and wise older artists like Master P grasped the notion of crafting a full-circle look at their art way before they hopped in bed with the labels. Then, other artists already signed to majors took meticulous care of their likeness and their art, which often extended well beyond their music. That care doesn't exist anymore, from the artist or the labels. Artist development, A&Ring and other once-essentials are now fundamentally dead.
That can change for the betterment of the business and the future stars of music, if the deal is harder to attain. Getting signed must be a rite of passage of sorts, where only the best of the best emerge victorious.
With the barriers to entry gone, and access readily available, I'm not suggesting that the music game shut down the doors to anybody. In fact, this idea would open up doors to the talents all over the nation and the world that have the goods, but don't have the inroads. There are more ways for an artist to create energy around themselves and you don't have to sit in front of the Def Jam building to get somebody's attention. So, I'm talking about the artists in Detroit, Delaware, Baltimore and Chicago getting in. I'm talking about the MC's in Rotterdam and South Africa. The labels have to understand, this is what is out there. The artists have to be ready to answer the door when opportunity knocks.
Essentially, what I am suggesting is that - for the fans' sake - artists must assume control of their own destiny and when they have gone through that industry trial by fire, everybody is a winner.
If the deal is just given out, even the "nobody" doesn't respect it. The goal: creating the next generation of superstars and salvaging a business that enables potential greats to fulfill their destiny.
Artists: Labels will be labels. Create value in what you do and what you are. Have a total package as an artist and, more importantly, as a commodity. Know the digital landscape in detail, but don't completely abandon traditional forms of promotion and marketing that work. Have a team.
Labels: We've seen what happens when artists are JUST signed. Nobody wins, because many of these immensely talented individuals sit on a shelf, only to get released years after their buzz is the highest. Others do get release dates, but suffer from wackness or simply from neglect. From a business point of view, there will always be an urge to sign the next hot thing on the spot, but treat the artist like a flower and help them blossom. There aren't many Michael's, Mariah's and Madonna's out there, but there are many reoccurring lessons to be learned from these artists.
Chuck Creekmur is the founder of AllHipHop.com, a cultural critic, public speaker and has been independent for several years. Sometimes, he can be found at www.twitter.com/chuckcreekmur