‘Slavery’ within the music industry and maintaining fan relationships

There’s this sensation people have where they lose interest in things once other people start liking it – the thing that you liked then loses its originality and therefore becomes ‘mainstream’, which is something that is unattractive to many people. This same idea applies to music.

The rise of unsigned artists gracing the music world is ever-present, and so small fan bases are more and more common. A small fan base is enticing to a lot of music lovers and it gives them a better chance of interacting with the band/singer, helping them create a relationship with their favourite artist.

This relationship is special to a lot of fans and so when a band becomes signed or just gains more popularity this can be difficult to take. It’s a bitter-sweet emotion, as any artists’ dream is to be recognized for their work, as with any profession, yet as a fan, you want them all to yourself – a hidden treasure.

© Wikimedia Commons, Arctic Monkeys performing in 2006

When MySpace was at the height of its popularity in the early 2000s, many unsigned artists used it as a platform to promote their music, with the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Calvin Harris, You Me At Six and Kate Nash all being signed after they gained popularity on the social media website.

However, this may have caused some disappointment amongst original fans who had supported the artists through their lowest points, backing them even through possible hate and rejection from critics. The success may fill fans with pride, that they got there first, and they ultimately helped the artist get big. Nevertheless, in some cases, once artists sign to a label they are pressured into changing their sound or image, much to the dismay of fans.

In 2015, the late icon Prince warned artists not to sign recording contracts saying,

“Record contracts are just like — I’m gonna say the word – slavery, I would tell any young artist… don’t sign.”

© Wikimedia Commons, Prince performing in Brussels, 1986

He claimed that signing most contracts with big labels gives artists little control over the music they make, and the companies take big profits for – basically – no work. “Once we have our own resources, we can provide what we need for ourselves,” Prince said of why he chose to join Jay-Z’s own streaming service Tidal. “Jay Z spent $100 million of his own money to build his own service. We have to show support for artists who are trying to own things for themselves.”

It is evident that most established artists understand the pressures and control record labels have over new artists – and how difficult they are to get out of.

It seems the only resource artists need from record companies is the initial outing of their music – and the finance to get it out there.

Hopefully, in the future, bigger artists will come together to put a stop to the exploitation of new artists when signing record contracts and make it easier to put your own music out independently.

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