Records, To Sell Or Not To Sell…That Is The Question?

Kristen Hersh, George Howard, Peter Himberger

No…apparently not.  Turns out the question was, Record Deals, Are They Necessary Or Not?  Either way, the panel discussion with Kristen Hersh, founder of the band Throwing Muses (, George Howard, founder of Tune Core (, and Peter Himberger, co-founder of Impact Artist Management ( was an excellent one… just not the one I was expecting.  There was a lot of great information, but here is my condensed version of what I thought were the most important points.

One of the biggest take aways of the discussion is that you can’t make your career on the internet alone.  Each of the panelists agreed, artists are fleeting on the internet…and there are a million of them trying to get everyone’s attention.  Any online experiences should be used to enhance the offline experience.  The same goes for recordings.  If you’re making records and doing stuff online, but you never play live anywhere…you will probably have a hard time finding listeners and building a fan base.  Even Mystikal would have agreed.  When he came back on the scene after being away for several years things had changed significantly.  He had to get out and play because no one knew who he was anymore.  Just putting out a record wasn’t going to cut it…and he had already been successful.  If you’re a start up, DIY artist you could easily get lost in the sea of online fame and fortune seekers if you’re not also building those personal relationships with your listeners live and in person.

As for getting a record deal, the panel brought up some interesting points that I had never considered before.  The reason artists sign record deals isn’t because they’re getting a super-fantastic deal…it’s because they are looking to validate their ego.  However, spending all your time focused on trying to get that magical, all powerful record deal can be a big distraction.  Distraction from what?  Well, it distracts you from doing the work of figuring out what you really want to accomplish with your music and how to maximize the relationship between you and your listeners.

If you want a record deal simply because you think it will keep you from having to do any of the heavy lifting…you are setting yourself up for big disappointment.  With all the changes (trials, tribulations) in the music industry, record labels today are looking for artists who already have an independent track record and a strong listener base in place.  It doesn’t have to number in the millions, but it has to be stable enough for them to build on it.  This requires that you plan and actively participate in your own career.  Once you do this you will have a much better idea about whether or not you need or want any kind of record deal and you may be able to negotiate better terms if you do decide to contract with a label.

As you go it independently, remember to be creative in making those audience connections.  Kristen Hersh emphasized knowing the difference between fans and listeners.  It’s one of those ,“all listeners are fans but not all fans are listeners” kind of things.  You need to cultivate your listeners because they are the ones who will always show up…online and off.  Fans are trend seekers…and sometimes you can turn them into listeners…most of the time they will take off as soon as something newer and shinier presents itself.  It’s much easier to turn a listener into a fan than the other way around.

How do you do this?

PLAY LIVE.  Do house concerts.  Have special swag for your most loyal listeners.  Get up close and personal with your listeners.  Make the experience so cool that they are compelled to tell everyone they know about you and your music.  Miss Hersh was a pioneer in making intimate connections with her audience while also creating alternate revenue streams for her band.  She created one of the first subscription models for her punk band, Throwing Muses, with which she was able to offer some free music (in exchange for email addresses) as well as paid packages that helped get the music made while rewarding the listener/contributor with free music, merchandise or special experiences (depending on the subscription level/amount).

The old recording industry created a particular model of success for artists, but is it the only success?  The panel answered with a resounding “NO”!  Being successful doesn’t just mean being able to sell eleventy million records (though, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?) or achieving fame and fortune on some grand scale, it means being able to pay your bills and support your family doing the thing you love to do most.  Ask any really good actor and they will tell you it’s not about fame or fortune or money…it’s about the work.  Acting is the work they love.  For really good musicians it’s also about the work.  Creating and/or playing music is the work they love.  Getting paid for it is just a bonus…a necessary one, but a bonus nonetheless.  Do what you love, love what you do…that’s what I call success.

Get even more info , interviews and links at

“I play because I love it.  I don’t do it for the money…but I’m also not going to do it for free”

-Tony Serio, Boot Hill


Posted on May 16, 2011, in Music Business, Sync Up Conference and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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