A few folks had sent over a recent article on Cracked, supposedly by the rapper Spose, about 7 things a record deal teaches you about the music industry
. It's a decent enough article that basically shows you that, as you suspected, major labels take young impressionable artists, flatter the hell out of them, pressure them to sign deals, and then try to strip them of all originality and have people write songs for them that they think will sell. Nothing all that
surprising. However, at the end, it also notes that since being dropped by his label (Universal Music), he's been able to build a sustainable career as a musician by retaining a small group of loyal "true" fans, and being able to actually write the music he (and his fans) like, while also not having nearly all of the money go to a middleman/gatekeeper.
However, soon after I read the Cracked version, a few others sent over a post on Spose's own blog, in which he notes that Cracked totally misrepresented the piece
as if it was written by Spose himself, when really he'd just been interviewed for it and most of it was written by a Cracked writer -- who also added in a ton of lame jokes. Spose reposted a version without the lame jokes, highlighting the bits he actually wrote himself. Amusingly, there's a bit of symmetry here between the way Universal Music treated Spose and the way Cracked did -- in which they don't seem to trust him to speak in his own words, but feel the need to mold and shape the product for their audiences.
Anyway, go read the Spose blog directly, but here's the key section which we'll highlight here:
There’s no facilitator or middle-man between the artist and the fan anymore. If the fan likes you, they don’t need to be enabled by the label to like you. They can find you on Twitter or Soundcloud. I grew up listening to a lot of alt rock, so I think of the band Nottasurf when I think about one hit wonders. Now failing to follow up on a big success doesn’t mean you’re back to flipping burger, and it’s all thanks to the Internet.
My first big video ‘I’m Awesome’ got something like ten million views. When the single released on iTunes 850,000 people actually paid to download it. When I released my Mixtape recently, about 8,000 people bought it. So I was able to keep like, 1% of my fans paying. Just do the math: if you put out something for $10, and 8,000 fans buy it, that’s enough to sustain you as a musician. My album ‘The Audacity’ came out in 2012 sold the same number, $10 a piece. iTunes took a chunk, and then the cost of making that album (production, printing, studio time…) was probably six thousand. So I made a profit of $70,000.
I reinvested about $40,000 into new projects, but that left enough to cover rent and food and a nice Christmas. It’s not yacht-money, but I don’t have to play that game of trying to keep up appearances with fancy clothes and cars. That’s part of traditional rap nonsense, but my fans don’t expect that. The more I relate to my brokest fan, the more albums I sell.
I released the songs Universal hadn’t wanted in a free album called Yard Sale, and used that to advertise my Kickstarter. It brought in $28,000. And now that I have that small, loyal fan base I’m able to keep releasing music that’s uncompromised. I make all the money from my iTunes sales now too. I pay $35 to list it and get close to a dollar per sale. When I was with the label I made .16 cents per sale. I’ve made as much money in the last 3 years as Universal ever gave me.
It's worth noting that elsewhere in the discussion, he makes it clear that I'm Awesome
got much of that attention prior to him signing with a label, so people can't claim that he's only got this following because of the label. We've heard similar things, such as how Amanda Palmer found that the support of a major label only helped temporarily
, while many of the true fans who stuck with her had found out about her prior to signing with a major label.
None of this means that any musician can be successful. Of course, that was never the case. But the key point is that, under the old system, if, like Spose, the major label chewed you up and spit you out 11 months later, you were basically out of the music business. But, today, you have many more options. And that's what's so exciting these days -- the increase in options and opportunities for those able to take advantage of them. The ability to build a career that doesn't require a very small number of gatekeepers to anoint you is what makes it such a different world.