How Do I Get A Record Deal?

I  received an email from a reader a couple days ago asking my advice on how to get a record deal in 2010.  I know that many of you have the same question so I'll post my response.  I have changed the first name just to protect the reader's privacy.

Hi Suzanne,
   I have to be honest with you.  Getting a record deal is getting harder and harder these days. Record deals are no longer what they used to be. As a result of illegal downloading of music the record companies have really lost a large hold of the industry. Albums aren't selling the way they used to. Record deals do still exist but are really much harder to get.

The people who do get record deals in today's day in age are often time considered "conservative investments" for the record company. So, often an artist who gets a deal either has large fan base already, or is already established in the industry and just need a bit more "push" from a financial and marketing perspective. Occasionally, an artist is signed based off their marketability factor alone and hasn't really done much in music. In these situations the artist usually has a team of people who help produce them (think Ashlee Simpson, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber etc.). These artists are usually young and attractive. They may or may not be that talented but through marketing and positioning on the business side of things a label can turn these people into "a star". In order to get fame, production, and financial backing like that you have to give up lots and lots of the rights to your music. This is a very bad thing! An artist wants to keep as much of the rights (publishing and songwriting credit) to their music as they can.

The GREAT news though is that in 2010 you don't need a record deal to make a living in music. The vast majority of professional musicians do not. With the Internet there are lots and lots of ways to market and establish yourself in the business. It's truly become an equal playing field. If your talented, hard working, and know how to market yourself really well than you can be successful.  Here's the awesome part of this.  Most musicians  either don't know how or don't have the interest to really learn how to market themselves. 
Sometimes we learn the most by asking different questions or focusing on different things.  If I were you I wouldn't focus on a record deal.  I'd focus on 2 main things.  

1.   Work extremely hard and put out great music.  Make your music as amazing as you can.  Never ever ever cut corners.  Wrong notes, bad timing, out of tune vocals, mediocre writing, bad recordings, cheesy lyrics, lack of style etc etc. etc....none of that is ok.  This includes your live shows and your recordings.  Don't rest until they're as polished as you want them to be.   I have a 25 point checklist of things I go through before I release anything to the public.  Quality control is everything.
Your music must truly say something and create that wow factor.   What will make you stand out from the rest thousands of artists out there?  The answer is extremely hard work and originality in your sound.

2. Learn to market yourself.  The best advice I can give you is to read as much as you can and educate yourself on the music business side of things.   The more you know about music career marketing the better of you'll be.  You should even consider getting a music career coach or mentor.  

Remember: Talent, hard work, and a fantastic marketing plan is a great recipe for long term success in music.  A record deal does not guarantee that.  Some would say that a record deal never was the "pot of gold" at the end of the rainbow.  That rings even more true today. 

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