VERY IMPORTANT BREAKING NEWS: Local Band is Angry at Sumerian Records for Offering Them a Recording Contract
UPDATE: Lambgoat has made us aware of a back-and-forth between Numbers’ Kyle Bishop and Sumerian founder Ash Avildsen that took place in the YouTube comments of the video below. You can read that exchange here.
For those without the patience to read through an article about a local band complaining, the tl;dr is this: “Young and naive musician is shocked to realize that the music industry is a tough and scary place.” If you’ve ever been in a band that’s experienced even a small level of success, you can probably stop reading right here.
So: first, a little background. Last year Sumerian Records held a nationwide Battle of the Bands contest called “Road to The Sphinx” in which the winner was to be offered a recording contract by the label. Bands had to compete locally, then regionally, then at a final showdown in L.A. in front of the Sumerian staff before a winner was chosen.
A band from Seattle called Numbers won the contest (and from what I understand, some other bands were chosen too). As promised, they received an offer from Sumerian… only they were none too happy with the deal’s terms, and now they’re throwing a fit about it on the Internet.
The band’s vocalist Kyle Bishop took to the web for a mammoth 23-minute bitchfest with radio station Abyssal Lair about just how bad Sumerian allegedly screwed his band, calling the whole situation a “scam,” among other things. Watch the video below — or at least a few minutes of it to get the gist — then let’s come back and talk about it.
Let’s get something out of the way off the bat: I personally think Battle of the Bands are inherently stupid. They pit bands against one another in a competitive, very superficial way, and they often require the bands to buy in monetarily, or to do so indirectly by forcing their friends and family to buy show tickets (although I’m not sure if the latter was the case here), turning them into a local contest of who can begrudgingly drag the most people out to a show. At the very least, offering to sign a band that wins a Battle of the Bands strikes me as a somewhat silly way of finding talent for a label. I can’t imagine that was Sumerian’s motive here; the branding and marketing benefits of running a promotion like this seem a lot more likely.
That said, none of that really matters with regards to the above video, because Bishop and his band bought in to the entire process by agreeing to take part in it. More importantly, everything he’s saying in the above video is complete hogwash, and he comes off like an entitled little ninny that’s whining about his band not getting the recognition they deserve. Which is fine if you’re a famous artist whose work you feel isn’t getting the time of day, but not so much if no one outside of your town has heard of your band.
Bishop’s main argument can be summed up thusly: “Sumerian offered us a crappy record deal, then refused to negotiate.” There are two main problems with this tack:
1) The deal points he details might be tough, but they’re totally standard for brand new bands with no leverage or buzz. Five albums, 13% royalties, A&R approval of all music before release, clauses related to certain band members leaving… thems the breaks kid, sorry, all of that is completely standard. I doubt you would’ve been offered much better anywhere else. And for what it’s worth, since Bishop doesn’t mention anything about merch, we might assume that Sumerian didn’t ask for any cut of that. Most labels want at least some merch rights these days.
2) The band has absolutely zero leverage in this case, and thus can’t expect much of a negotiation on deal points. No other labels are knocking down their door to give them offers and they haven’t generated a significant buzz outside of their home area. Any record contract for a relatively unknown band is going to be very label-friendly because the label is taking on a big financial risk. And let us be completely clear here: no one in heavy metal is getting rich, even record labels that offer supposedly “unfair” deals.
So, I’m sorry Kyle, you blew it. The industry is an incredibly tough place, like it or not. Numbers should’ve taken the Sumerian offer gladly, or at the very least tried to use it as leverage to contact and negotiate with other labels. Now it’s likely too late. Bishop certainly seems like a nice enough fellow, and I’m sure he meant well, but his naivete got the best of him here — I wish Numbers best of luck in the future.