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Editorial: Why You Should Be Aware of '360 Deals'

As independent artists everywhere begin to network, gain attention and receive offers from record labels, it is more important than ever to be savvy to the many tactics that these labels use to get your business.

The 360 Deal has become infamous as of recent for the little freedom it gives artists when it comes to profiting off of their own art. A 360 Deal is distinct from a traditional record contract because the label offers more financial support, marketing, litigation, and cash advances, that an artist would need to take their career to the next level. However, the catch is that the label ends up taking a higher percentage of the artist's revenue streams. The label controls just about every moneymaking aspect of an artist's career, from image to merch, record sales, releases, and tours. If you have a very specific timetable for when you release your projects, a 360 deal removes your say in the process, because ultimately the label will control when and how much music you end up releasing publicly. Not even your image belongs to you, they curate it to whatever they believe will profit.

They'll give you a loaner Lambo for your music videos, put you up in a big mansion just to give the appearance of wealth. But don't take it from me. Take it from Panos Panay, who launched the business Sonicbirds, which links musicians to promoters who book them for gigs. Panos spoke of the practice in an interview:

"I don’t like them at all. If you want to find out the future of 360˚ deals, look at Motown in the late 60s. Motown was the pioneer of a 360˚ deal, this is not a novel concept, it’s existed for years. If you were Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder and signed to Motown in the late sixties, they owned your likeness, your touring, publishing, record royalties, made the record deal, told you what to wear, they told you how to walk … It made for great entertainment and clearly produced a lot of great songs but if you look at every one of those artists, what happened? Sooner or later they said, “I’m not going to go on the road for two hundred shows because you tell me so. I’m an artist! I’m an independent entity. And I’m not going to put out the tenth album in five years because you tell me so. I’m a creative person!” Eventually, all these artists left."

Or listen to indie artist Mac Demarco, who also said in an interview:

"Do not sign a 360 deal. I don’t care how much money they’re offering you, don’t [take it]. It’s an awful, awful idea. It’s a long time, a really long time. And they own your image. They take money from your merch on tour — nobody should touch that. I didn’t know that some bands don’t own their merch, which to me is like — straight up, you’re being robbed. You can make money selling merch at shows, so it’s good if you own it. Thumbs up, bonus for you. Do not give anybody that merch money, or your show money. They’re not on the stage, and they’re probably not even in the city [you’re playing]. Forget about it.”

If you are a fan of Hip-Hop, it is impossible to listen without coming across at least one artist who has taken a 360 deal at one point or another. Notable names include Wiz Khalifa, Lil Uzi Vert, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Mase, Megan Thee Stallion, Chuck D, Lil Wayne, Cam'Ron, Lupe Fiasco, just to name a few. It is not an issue of people outside the culture controlling artists either, it is a systemic practice. Suge Knight was notorious for 360 Deals, and Diddy caused Mase and The Lox to leave Bad Boy Records in anger, only dropping them from their deals years after they requested to go.

The 360 Deal gives business-minded people 360 degrees of control over your artistic output, there are horror stories around every corner in the music industry of artists who have fallen prey to the allure of this particular contract, all the more reason why you as an artist, need to be aware of it, make informed decisions regarding it, and should spread the knowledge to as many people as possible, to break this exploitative practice in the industry for good.

Written by Max Olarinde, @mobeige1 on all social media.

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