I get asked so often about what it takes to make it in the music business these days. People say that bands are not getting record deals, but this is in fact untrue. Bands are just not getting the same record deals that they once were. The traditional method of doing things is upside down and everyone is scrambling for a rhyme and reason as to what the future holds for music. Its a time to be inventive and to try new things. Success in music comes in so many different facets now. There are so many metrics, both tangible and intangible.
How does this affect youngsters starting out on the path that they hope will allow them to eventually follow their heroes? Their idols? The ones who influence them to pick up a guitar or bang on a drum? What is the goal of young musicians starting out when they form a band? Should they try and get signed or build up a massive online social presence? Things get quite complicated for youngsters in this day and age; the task of being a musician has never been more daunting.
This week, a news story broke about a group of 8th graders in a metal band called Unlocking The Truth securing a record deal from Sony for 1.7 million dollars. The headline is quickly making its way around the web and gathering a lot of attention, but is it just hype? Surely, it can’t be that easy? These guys are a band that has yet to release music with any vocals. Unlocking The Truth is, thus far, an instrumental metal band. They are great players and truly fun to watch – the whole story is quite fascinating, but even a lot of popular music with vocals gets nowhere near the figures that are being bandied around.
These young men have a great opportunity and I am not trying to take away anything from them. I hope everyone in charge is doing their due diligence to protect not only their careers, but the band as people as well. I remember when I heard Ghost got a million dollar deal and that blew me away, although that was for a follow up album, not a debut cut.
The old maxim “read between the lines” is cheesy and predictable, but that is exactly what you must do here. Literally, “read between the lines” of the story. The headline grabs everyones attention, but readers quickly discover that in fact there are many stipulations to this multi-million dollar deal and as a result, the story is definitely a bit misleading. The first album advance is $60,000 (which is actually decent for a new band) but after the first record it’s pretty tough to hit the figures that are part of a six album deal. Six albums will cover a long period of time. These days, a deal of this nature is extremely rare and surprisingly, what’s different is that everything has been disclosed to the public. The required numbers are very difficult to achieve even for seasoned artists. Omitted though, were the details about what happens if they don’t hit these marks. Some would say that the headlines have been designed to garner some publicity, and others would say that the publicity is required in order to help them hit their marks, but it could go either way.
Where do we stand here? On one hand we have a young, vibrant group of musicians who have definitely earned their place in the spotlight. Touring on the Warped Tour, opening for Guns N’ Roses, they have definitely achieved quite a bit at their age. The public awareness of the deal specifics adds a huge deal of pressure over and above just signing a record deal. Couldn’t they have kept that part private? After all the band are still in eighth grade! Who knows, maybe it will mount enough hype and they will hit the mark – it is extremely unlikely though and that’s because it’s just a different business now. What will happen when their album is released later this year? Will people still even remember? We are so oversaturated with material that it’s hard to tell who will be there from one day to the next.
I don’t want to paint a negative picture, rather a dose of reality. After more than a decade of music industry experience, I know these situations are too good to be true. On top of this, I have never heard of so many deal points being disclosed publicly. Shouldn’t there be some kind of law against this considering everyone in the band is a minor? I think it’s just too much pressure, quite frankly. Most bands can barely stay afloat on a label without getting dropped, and their advances can be a fraction of the above figures. In a YouTube age where these guys have received a ton of video views, it is quite possible the label feels they are worthy of such financial figures. They have already done so much work and achieved so much, that my advice is that if the band surround themselves with the right people and did it all themselves, they could be completely self-sustainable. They wouldn’t need Sony. If I was the manager, I would have taken this route. How many eighth grade metal bands even play Coachella!? These guys are something special.
I hope for the sake of the kids that the parents are paying attention and at the same time I hope they go double platinum and sell out many world tours. I am rooting for them as much as anyone. We need to support our youth and the next wave of musicians, not damage the future by having them try to live up to unrealistic scenarios that even superstars cannot achieve. The business is upside-down but music still needs to flourish within people, especially when they are the next generation of great musicians. Good luck guys! I can’t wait for the album!