For a long time getting signed or getting a record deal was a wishful utterance on the lips of every starving artist and budding musician. The most significant step in the direction towards achieving dreams of fortune, recognition and respect ( gettin' props as they used to call it, a little throwback 90s ebonics for you millennials).
The path was recording a song demo then casting it out to the record companies like a giant fishnet cast into the sea hoping to catch wild Pollock. The hopes of being discovered and granted the opportunity to showcase their talent by auditioning to some A&R from a record label who would see the potential commercial viability of their artistry and help secure investment for developing material and lending some creative input and guidance.
To record decent sounding songs was costly because it required a recording studio with state of the art equipment, sound insulation, sound engineers. If the Record label believed in the artist enough this would lead to being offered an artist development deal (this practice has become outdated) then a recording deal. The deal would typically consist of recording, promotion, distribution. Once they had recouped costs incurred from recording and promo they would then share profits with the artist. Ofcourse things didn't and still don't always work out this way. You could be signed, never even get a release, then get dropped from the label due to internal politics or because the next shiny object outshined you in their eyes so you got pushed to the back of the priority line. I digress.
To the uninitiated and unseasoned some common record deal structures might sound like a geometry class: 360 degrees, 270, 180, 120 and so on. This type of new deal differs from the standard record deals which are still more popular. It is a complex world to navigate considering there are a plethora of uniquely tailored business arrangements between artists and record companies and the 360 degree deal, although not exclusively, is of importance since it caused a paradigm shift in how these business relationships were managed. One may argue that it was a survival response by the major companies to protect their bottom line as they experienced declining record sales brought on by peer to peer file sharing software and the increasing proliferation of pirated CD copies.
Technology, a double edged sword, meant free efficient duplication and downloading by any 2 bit schmuck with a computer and internet connection. The idea of not having to purchase music you wanted to listen to started taking form, cutting right into the bread and butter of the music industry. The record labels learnt that man (or woman) cannot live on bread alone and had to adjust their business models by diversifying income sources in a way congruent with the shifting paradigm.
Some quick history to enlighten those who may wonder what these terms mean and what we are dealing with. The 360 degree deal model's exact inception is open to debate but some of the early artists to land these types of agreements with recording companies and concert promoters were US based Emo-pop band Paramore when it signed with Atlantic. Earlier in 2002, British pop singer Robbie Williams signed an innovative deal with EMI which bore resemblance to a 360 degree deal. The outcome of those negotiations was two agreements, one that looked fairly like a traditional recording contract and one that tapped into his other profit making activities, such as merch and concerts. As you might recall in geometry a 360 degrees is a full rotation or a full circle so yes, the 360 deal means what you think it means. Complete circle, all encompassing. Encompassing all revenue created by the musician. Well kinda, sorta! To elaborate with an analogy…if the artist's revenue was a cake the record label would be allowed to bite huge chunks all around the circumference, that is to say every type of income stream generated by the artist is shared with the record label. EVERYTHING? Yeah e-v-e-r-y thing, it is also referred to as a multiple rights deal because it is based on sharing multiple rights from publishing, touring, appearances to product endorsements, merchandising, licensing, record sales, you name it! Imagine going to a kid's birthday party and their crabby uncle, instead of cutting a single slice for himself, starts to grab huge chunks all around the entire cake confident that he can rebuff any protests since he bought the decorations and maybe paid for the venue.
A step down is a 270 degree deal structure which slightly differs from the 360 because the label only participates in the business of recording and publishing.
All isn't gloom. There is a silver lining if you look for it. Depending on your deal terms, the artist wouldn't have to worry about the intricate inner workings of the music biz the label would take care of that and usually cover all expenses surrounding tours, merch, advertising etc. An artist would have to make sure that they deliver because this would be a sort of loan which would have to be paid back. A term called recouping, as stated eailer. Possible access to industry professionals, and well established artists for collabs if you're lucky, very lucky. Unfortunately, this usually doesn't happen unless the artist has their own sizable fanbase and funding. Invaluable industry experience which could be transferable to other professional work within the industry. Invaluable contacts which help build an artist network, useful even if they decided to go the independent route. Having been signed to a major label and gained experience lends credibility which is useful in building a career. After being and becoming a recognizable name can help brand building. Although, the artist development departments at labels are either non-existent or miniscule because, nowadays, they expect an artist to have made their traction and created their own buzz before being considered for a deal.
Artists can cautiously comb through the details (with the help of a lawyer) before signing a 360 deal which could result in a long lasting symbiotic relationship with a record label if the terms and conditions are appropriate. Several singers such as Madonna and rappers including, Jay Z, J cole, Nicki Minaj, Fetty Wap, Migos have signed 360 deals with their respective labels and we haven't heard any complaints so far so it’s safe to say it has worked out well for some although the successes and failures are incredibly disproportionate. (I will explore this in a later piece)
“Sign the dotted lines get your face on the cross/ when your album sits on the desk, that's when you lost” - Brothas Under Madness, Mind elevation.
The 360 Deals, The Frienemy. - eRepository @ Seton Hall
Chis - Co Founder @Bawse