What Prince Can Teach Artists About Record Contracts
“Let the baker make the bread.” It’s a simple statement that carries the weight of the entire recording industry and all of the litany of problems that come with it. For anyone who dreams of becoming a recording artist, the chances are that you may have heard about all of the issues you may come up against when singing with a record label. While, yes, signing with a label has some perks, one artist, in particular, has stated that signing and working with a record label is akin to slavery.
This artist is Prince. And today, your friends at the De Novo Agency wanted to take some time and dive into exactly why Prince felt that way about labels and what he can teach any and all aspiring recording artists about record contracts. Oh, and that first quote is also from Prince, but we’ll touch on that shortly!
For now, let’s look at exactly why Prince had such profound and beneficial knowledge to share with artists everywhere, even after his tragic death only a few years ago.
Prince is an artist who was renowned for his breathtaking talent as a multi-instrumentalist and his uncanny vision for his music—his art. And he set the recording label industry on fire because of his steadfast belief that the baker should make the bread. His thinking was pretty simple. He’s the artist who’s working so hard and pouring out his vision and his soul with every song he records. He, as the artist, should be the one that gets paid for it directly and be able to make the music he wants to when he wants.
I mean, wouldn’t you feel the same way? Don’t you already feel the same way as an artist? But the sad fact is, that’s not how recording contracts work in the state of the industry what it is today. Especially when they’re trying to grasp a hold of anything they can now in the digital age.
Not only was Prince’s music as iconic as it goes with such like ‘Purple Rain,’ ‘1999’, ‘Raspberry Beret’ and ‘When Doves Cry, but he is infamously admired and remembered for his contentious relationship with the music industry. All he wanted was control over his music and would stop at nothing to have it… and it’s this same approach to the recording industry that the team at the De Novo Agency believe every artist should take to their art.
A little background on Prince and his label:
When he was 18, he signed his first contract with Warner Bros Records. His debut album came out in 1978, and he produced it and played every instrument on it. He was a savant who did everything (save for engineering) on his terms, but it took his sixth studio album to get his first number one with Purple Rain.
Due to his success, Warner extended the contract with a six-album deal worth $100 million. However, the extended contract allowed Warner to take complete ownership of his work and transfer all his music under their umbrella.
It didn’t take long to realize that the deal with Warner wasn’t favorable, and he wanted out. But Warner Bros. wasn’t going to let him free. One of the first things about the industry you can learn as an artist is that once you’re locked into a contract with a label, you are locked in, and you may have to take incredible action to get out of the contract. But the thing about current contracts is that the deals are stricter and don’t allow artists to be vocal with similar situations.
Here’s what Prince said about his recording contract at the time after he pumped out the remaining albums to fulfill his contract without worrying about the quality. “They are what they are, and I am what I am, and eventually, I realized that those two systems aren’t going to work together. The Deeper you get into that well, the darker it becomes”, he said. You can see that interview here.
Your name is your brand. Be sure you own it.
“The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipating from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name,” he said in a press release.
Prince showed artists now that they must be aware their name is their brand, and if a label takes control, they will use that name to promote their work and sell merchandise. But if you don’t protect your name, you can end up feeling like you need to be freed from a contract that leaves you with no control over your own name, let alone your image.
You’re working for them, not them for you.
Make your music on your terms.
Once Prince was able to get out of his Warner Brothers deal, he found himself with EMI Records. And they allowed him to put out an album when he was ready, instead of when they wanted him to that comes with other labels.
Prince told The New York Times in 1996 that “music doesn’t come on a schedule … The main idea is not supposed to be, ‘How many different ways can we sell it?’ That’s so far away from the true spirit of what music is.”
It was then that Prince was putting out multiple albums on different labels through his NPG label. They were distribution contracts, not label contracts. There’s a difference here. Making the album yourself and owning your masters gives you complete control. All you need is a distribution arm that will take their cut but not own your brand. Prince talked all about this here.
Learn from Prince here. And there’s something to be said about Taylor Swift doing what she’s doing by recreating her masters, so she now owns her own masters.
As an artist, it’s your gift that you’re sharing with the world through your music, and you are master to no one.
Prince has taught artists for generations to honor their craft and own their artistry, and most importantly, you can still create a lifelong career doing it. Learn from his struggles in the industry and be careful of contract deals and major record labels. He famously once said, “record contracts are just like – I’m gonna say the word – slavery. I would tell any young artist … don’t sign.”
If you’re looking for a partner that believes in providing you with everything you need to successfully own and grow a music business, visit us at denovoagency.com!