How Do Musicians Get Signed?
Alex Cosper (7/22/13)

The mystery of how musicians get signed has a little to do with talent and a lot to do with who you know, and how many people you can point to in your following. Numbers and associations definitely speak louder than talent in the music business. That should demystify the charts completely. Once you study the American charts thoroughly you may notice that a majority of acts that get signed to major labels come from the cities where the music industry is based, such as New York City, Los Angeles and Nashville. Other big music cities that have produced many hit acts include Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Seattle, Atlanta and Miami. Many artists have been signed after appearing at music industry conventions such as South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

The process of getting signed rarely happens directly with artists. It usually happens with artists who are represented by management firms that are already closely tied in with the labels. The reason labels no longer like to sign artists directly is for legal reasons. Many artists who went that route ended up with very little money and tried to sue labels for stealing their music or getting a bad deal. Management firms connected with the music industry tend to screen out beginners when it comes to musicianship, but gravitate toward attractive young singers whether they have vocal talent or not. Electronic effects can be used in the studio of enhance off-key singers.

The chances of an unknown act with no following are slim, unless the artist happens to look like a super model or fits the latest fashion. The music business has not always been more of a fashion show than a music showcase. The trend toward signing countless acts due to their looks began to escalate in the 1980s when radio formats were divided and fragmented by national radio consultants who began to create specialized formats for specific age and ethnic demographics. Prior to this era, many artists were signed more on the merits of their songwriting and performance talent.

If your act does have a visible regional following, you need to find management that is connected with mangement in the three biggest music cities, if you want an offer for a record deal. At one time labels offered big cash up front for the artists they signed. A six figure cash advance to pay for recording costs was common through the late 1990s. But after music sales sharply declined after 1999, labels no longer could afford to front big cash for all the acts they signed. They began looking more for artists that already had professional recordings ready for marketing paid for by the artist or management.

The other piece of the puzzle involving which artists get signed and which ones do not, revolves around how much money the artist or their manager already has in the bank. If investors behind the artist have six figures available to pay for radio promotion, there's a good chance that artist will be signed over a poor starving artist with better talent. Many independent artists of the 21st century are happy to not be signed to major labels, who tend to overwork their acts and underpay them. An artist that already has money in the bank and an organic regional or multi-regional following has the best chance of getting a record deal.

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