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A dollar and a dream - what does 'getting signed' mean?

Man, gettin signed is hard and every time I hear a song on the radio I just wish it was me rappin my songs on the radio Doin my thing already u got any advice to a youngsta wit a dollar and a dream?

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"Man, gettin signed is hard and every time I hear a song on the radio I just wish it was me rappin my songs on the radio Doin my thing already u got any advice to a youngsta wit a dollar and a dream?"

Well you already have a great title for a song. Hang on a minute though - let me type it into Google... er... 15,500 references to "a dollar and a dream" already, so maybe not. It raises the interesting question of whether there is copyright in a title. Normally no, so it doesn't matter that your title is the same as someone else's song, but I suspect that if you wrote a song called Enter Sandman, you would find out differently!

OK, back to the question. Yes, getting signed is difficult. But what exactly does 'getting signed' mean?

As an artist, the problem is getting your work to the market. You can perform live in small venues, you can press your own records and sell them in local record stores, but the trouble is, well, everything's so small.

What a record label has that you don't have is a channel to the mass market. Anything they put into that channel will sell. Whether it sells enough to pay back its marketing costs is another question, but it will indeed sell and get played on the radio.

But record labels exist to make a profit. So they have to be damned sure that although some acts they put out won't make a profit, those that do succeed pay for all the rest, and the A&R manager's vintage Mercedes SL roadster.

Now remember the relationship between record labels and record companies. There are only four significant record companies in the entire world. And they own the vast majority of the labels, which are like 'mini businesses' within the company structure.

So the record companies rule the market. Every time a new musical trend comes along, sponsored by small, independent labels, the majors take over and turn that new style into fodder for the mass market.

So when you get signed by a label that is owned by a major record company, you are basically signing up to be fodder for the mass market.

OK, so you stand a chance of making a lot of money, and certainly fame, at least temporary, will be there for you if you capitalize on your opportunity. So it isn't all bad.

Now consider the position of an A&R manager working for a label that belongs to a major. He has spotted a new sub-genre of music emerging in the clubs of downtown Coolsville. How can he turn that new style into mass market?

The answer is to take one of the successful acts working in this new style and make it mass-market friendly. This could happen to you! You'll be sanitized, have your rough edges smoothed over, and you will spend more time at the hairdresser than you ever thought possible. And the makeup artist.

So there it is, a way to get signed. Get in at the ground floor of a new musical style or sub-genre, generate local excitement, get spotted by a major, become mass market.

Oh, you'll have to get lucky too - extremely lucky! It doesn't work without that.

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By David Mellor Thursday November 3, 2005
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