Hey Kid, Wanna Get Signed? Do Me A Favor And Read This!

Who the fuck am I, you ask?

Nobody, BUT I did negotiate my own record deals in the 1980's, my friends.

No manager, no lawyer, just a ridiculous idea that I could get signed AND retain my own masters (which I did). Looking back, having absolutely no guidance from a professional, or even someone in a signed band, I'm amazed at how far I managed to get WITHOUT knowing the tidbit I am about to share with you now.

You see, back in the mid-'80s, when I began approaching labels in hopes of getting inked to a record deal, I honestly believed that bands, singer-songwriters and the like got signed based on artistic merit and/or having built an undeniable following of their own, thereby offering prospective labels not only the band, themselves, but their audience as well.

Even back then, but especially now, the one universal truth among big regional bands was that once your act had a following in a market of note (say, Chicago), you really had no need for a major label.

Thing is, not every great band had a following when they got signed to a record deal. Hell, some had never even been out of the studio when the fat cats began sniffing around. 

But what if your band has no fat cats sniffing around, no connections, and no street savvy when it comes to networking? I mean, you're a musician and you're ONLY RESPONSIBILITY as a musician is to hone your craft - NOT to become Irving Azoff or John Silva in the process.

Well, this is where my little tidbit pays dividends.


Tidbit ahead...are you ready? here goes:

Look at ANY record deal and you will find that somebody somewhere did somebody else a favor.

When I realized this, the sound of my own hand slapping my forehead could be heard for miles.

This universal truth is confirmed numerous times in Miles Copeland III's new autobiography, "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: My Life In The Music Business", especially when it came to getting The Police signed to a deal before they'd built a following.

Copeland didn't go to every record label and pitch the band. No, he merely asked himself who might possibly owe him a favor and then made it impossible for that person to say "No".

By doing so, he walked into A&M Records with the demo of a band nobody gave two shits about and walked out with a multi-album recording contract in-hand. No muss, no fuss.

So, how do YOU apply this to your own band and label aspirations?

Well, let's say you're in a bar and you overhear someone saying that they interned at Geffen Records when they were in college.

Now, Geffen Records is no more (swallowed up by UniScope long ago) but chances are that this person actually knows someone from their time at Geffen who is now elsewhere in the music or entertainment business. In fact, they might even be owed a favor or two by people who were just peons back then, but are power titans now.

But what if you don't want to play a character in what sounds more and more like a mobster flick?

Well, then I would suggest appealing to every single person in the music industry's fear of being washed up and BEG for a favor that is not yet owed but that will be repaid at a future date.

I used this strategy to get a record deal in 1997 after dealing for months with an A&R person that was being wishy-washy.

One day, tired of the run-around, I put it all on the line, saying "Look, as much as I love our weekly chats, the truth of the matter is that I want to record for your label and, by signing me, you'd be doing ME a huge personal favor that I will not soon forget. Should I EVER become established in the music business, your favor will be repaid in kind should you ever need to call it in."

That day, like Miles Copeland III, I walked out with a deal and, twenty years later, was able to return said favor when that A&R person was in need of tour merch support after a previous merch company went out-of-business on the eve of a big tour.

Little did they know that the favor I returned actually helped establish my tour merch company as a major contender at the time.

Money is great, power is nice, too, from what I hear, but favors are the fucking currency of the music business. Period. Employ them wisely, but often  and thank me later, if you know what I mean. :)

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