Deciphering What’s Actually On The Page or Don’t Believe The Hype

Sony Records sent out a press release today that will surely set the internet a flutter.  Here’s the AP (In this case – Alternative Press) Story Line:

Middle school metal trio sign $1.7 million record deal with Sony Music

Boy that sounds great!  Here everyone is talking about the record industry tanking and Sony steps up and signs Unlocking The Truth with a big-ass old school record deal!  $1.7 million huh?  Time to get those middle schoolers in your house some lessons and up on a stage so you can get that Middle School Metal Money.  (I’ll give credit where it’s due – I can’t come up with a better catch phrase than Middle School Metal.)

But the numbers here mean nothing.  Look at my underlined quotes from the AP article.

“Brooklyn, New York based middle school metal trio, Unlocking The Truth, have inked a record deal with Sony Music potentially worth $1.7 million, according to a report from the New York Daily News. The band are guaranteed two albums, with a $60,000 advance on the first, and up to $350,000 for the second. If the efforts prove fruitful, the band could reap the full benefits of the six-record, million dollar-plus contract. “

So here’s how I read this:

Unlocking the truth signed a record contract with an OPTION for 6 records.

I will bet dollars to donuts that they signed a 360 deal with Sony – which means that any revenue streams generated by the band will find a percentage going back to Sony.

That $60,000 advance will be recoupable – which means the band won’t make a dime of the record until they pay back the label for the money that the label spent on them.  You’ve seen the spotify stream articles.  How many digital plays and downloads does it take to pay back $60,000?  A lot more than any other band playing in this genre is getting right now.  Hell, probably more than EVERY other band in this genre is getting right now.

That’s IF the record comes in on budget – which it won’t – you’ll have to factor out the producer’s percentage, the lawyer’s percentage and anyone else getting a cut from this as well.

Oh..and then there’s the video.  IF the record gets released, the label will demand a video to help promote it.  That’s also recoupable against album sales so, again, the band won’t see any money from the record until that gets paid back as well.

They’ll have to tour to promote the record.  The label may offer tour support but if they do – it’s also recoupable.  That’s also problematic because if they signed a 360 deal (and I don’t think there’s any way the label would sign them and not demand a 360 deal) – the label is taking additional cuts on top of any money being made.

So in the past, tour support might be renting a tour bus and paying for the PA – but (in addition to whatever percentage of the door you got) whatever shirts or other merch you sold you got to keep.  In a 360 deal – your small percentage on shirts or ANYTHING else you have to sell – just got a lot smaller.

Note that the article says that the label will pay UP TO $350 K for the second release.  That also means that they could pay nothing and then the band is screwed because they won’t be able to record with anyone else until that release comes out.  That also means that the label could record the album and then just refuse to release it.

Guess who sits in limbo unable to do anything else with anyone else until that happens?

So:

  • IF the first record makes enough money to warrant making a second record that gets released and
  • IF the second record can be recorded and makes money

Then the label MIGHT pick up the rest of the releases with advances (i.e. money that mathematically can never be paid back) that MAY make up to 1.7 million.  Again –  IN ADVANCES – not in income.

So for the type of music the band plays –

I’m betting that this is solely a PR move.

It’s smoke and mirrors.

Sony’s gonna ride the publicity on this, record an album and then push the novelty aspect of that.  “Middle School Metal” is easier to get press on than “Middle Aged Metal”.  Then like every other novelty (“Pac Man Fever” comes to mind) it will fade.

This irritates me for two reasons:

1.  From the “news” angle – it’s irresponsible hype that sends the wrong message to people about the state of the industry.  People look at the headline and come to a conclusion that has no basis in reality for artists.

2.  Malcolm was a student of mine, very briefly, at a music summer camp I taught at.  If you see him sweep-picking something live –  it may well be a form I taught him.  He’s a nice kid and I dig his energy and enthusiasm.  I dig that he’s gotten the press and gigs that he has and I don’t want to see him get taken advantage of.

But is it a bad decision?
Oh, probably not.  But really it depends on what you think the outcome is going to be.

If approached as a money-making venture – yes, definitively it’s a colossally bad idea.

But if this is an exposure play…if this is just a springboard for them to do something else POST Sony – it might not a bad play because right now they’re 13 years old.  They don’t have to make money because they have a parent (or parents) who will make sure that they’re fed and have a roof over their head.

In other words, they’re in a radically different situation than the average band.  They might be able to afford to be indentured to a label for a couple of years.

But for the average band – the last sentence of this: which does a great job of breaking down real money for major label acts…. is where they’re really at.

Public Service Announcement:

Friends Don’t Let Friends Sign 360 Deals.

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