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How to Negotiate with Record Labels

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Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Dear Fan Landers,

For the last few months my band has been doing fairly well. We had a successful tour with some press here and there and we've release some albums and tapes that have sold fairly well. About six months ago when we received an email from the head of a very legitimate label saying how much she liked our material. We met with her and we discussed our band and basically danced around the issue at hand. It seemed like she wanted to sign us but nothing was presented and we didn't want to seem presumptuous--we still keep in touch and she has come to our shows. Recently she emailed me saying how she liked some of our new songs. What's the deal here? Why is she keeping in contact here and there and offering no contract or anything? Is she trying to develop a relationship and then present a deal? Or is she looking for us to write a record and present it to her first? Very confused, not sure if I should be hopeful or not. I don't want to make the wrong move! Help!


Dear S--

Congratulations on your label interest. My first thought is that she likes your band but perhaps does not think you are quite there yet, and is not committed enough to tell you. She might also think other labels are likely to show interest and wants to maintain connection once you are ready. Friends who have done A&R have often told me about getting in with bands in order to be able to tell their label heads they were in the courtship mix. Her interest might just be her doing her job, or maybe she just wants to make sure she is the first pig in the pile. Maybe she is holding back because she doesn't think your band is ambitious enough to do the work, since you have never said anything. You will never know unless you ask her.

Are you thinking about making a record? Tell her. Do you want to make records with her label? Tell her. Open up space in the conversation and let her know what it is your band wants, your big dreams and where her label fits. But don't try to get her to pull the trigger on a deal unless your whole band is certain that it is right for you. You don't want to just sign with her because she's the only one to make overtures towards your band.


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