How to Sell Your Soul to the Music Industry (What It Means Now!)

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

So, this topic hits close to home for me. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredibly talented artists who were on the fast track to stardom. However, they ended up “selling their soul to the music industry,” made some poor choices, got big heads, and took bad financial advice. As a result, their careers went downhill quickly.

Although I haven’t spoken to some of these people in years, I’ve bumped into them occasionally, and it’s heartbreaking to see who they are now. Don’t get me wrong, none of these folks are inherently bad, but as sensitive artists, we’re all a bit vulnerable and insecure. That makes musicians easy targets.

As my old manager used to say, “Always be careful, because if you sell out and don’t sell, that’s even worse.” It’s pretty true. But selling out and achieving financial success also has its downside.

Here are the most common red flags:

Being Fake

I once saw this TED talk by the amazing motivational speaker Simon Sinek, and he said something that made me think. He said, “We lose our way when we lose our why.” I thought, “Wow, that applies to the music business and artists!”

I think all musicians, especially those who want to become singers and recording artists, start with a vision or a dream that’s so powerful it makes them ignore the difficulties of the entertainment industry and just go for it. Pursuing a music career is a powerful experience because those who are passionate enough about it to become professionals cannot envision doing anything else.

That is, until the hardships and sacrifices you have to make start taking place. When you’re getting into debt to fund your records or tours because you believe in them so much, that can lead to some pretty desperate situations for artists. At that point, they start believing that if they could just get signed to a major label, all of those problems will go away.

Most of the time, however, the truth is that even though record labels are important in a musician’s and artist’s career, they are not designed to support your dream. Like a lot of things in the music industry, they’re designed to sell records and make money.

So what happens a lot of the time is that an artist may get an opportunity to be part of a label, but that label might want to completely change everything about them as an artist.

We’re talking about your appearance, your sound, your producer, your songs, and even your social media, which is supposed to be the “true you”, get manipulated. Is that really why you got into music in the first place?

I think that’s the literal definition of selling out and selling your soul. It means you’re almost unrecognizable to the fans who supported you when you were starting. And for the most part, the change is not for the better.

Being Greedy

Starting with selling your soul and losing all your artistic integrity, many things tend to spiral downward from there. Why? You’re already a fake to some of your fans and maybe even to yourself. So, why not sell out and make money?

The next thing that happens is that you have to quantify everything in your life. How many records did you sell? Did you sell more than other artists on the same label? How many Instagram followers do you have? How many YouTube or TikTok views do you have? Everything becomes about more, more, more.

So, what ends up happening is that at a certain point, nothing is enough. Therefore, every deal you sign is based on how much more you can get out of something or someone.

In many ways, you’re a commodity, like an item on the Wall Street Stock Exchange, and one day you could wake up and say, “Wow, I don’t even make music anymore. How did I get here?”

Nowadays, this is very relevant with the rise of music influencers and brand partners.

Consider the Kanye West and Adidas debacle. Kanye was so far off the reservation of making music that his main business was endorsing shoes. And we all know how that turned out.

This trickles down into many areas, especially songwriting. Songwriting is kind of the holy grail of truly showing your authentic self and your creativity. When you sell your soul, songs become so formulaic that they’re just jingles.

Many songs get created solely to sell something else, like a movie trailer or a product, and you just happen to sing on it. This is pretty far off from the dream life you expected when you loved making music in your teens, right?

Following Bad Advice

So, you’ve gone and sold your soul to major labels and corporate brands. Next thing you know, you’re surrounded by a new set of people – managers, agents, and music producers who are even more manipulative.

These folks are there to make sure you bring in the cash because if you don’t, neither will they. They serve as your brand’s marketing, legal, and sometimes even board of directors (also known as a lawyer, business manager, and artist manager). The Weeknd is a good example of this corporate structure.

In this new age of music, streaming is king. It’s how songwriters, producers, and record labels make their money. The bigwigs will tell you to focus on your art and not the money, but what if your art doesn’t generate millions of streams?

Trust me, they won’t keep you on the label if you’re losing money.

Nowadays, artists aren’t even signed to record deals until they have enough fans, streaming numbers, and social media followers to show their worth. So sometimes you have to sell your soul even before you sell out to the higher-ups!

If you’re not bringing in decent cash already, powerful managers won’t even bother to give you the time of day. And just imagine the advice they’ll give you for your vision as an artist. It’s an understatement to say they don’t have your best interest in mind.

Narcissism, Ego, and Following Trends

Now let’s get to the topic that really sets the new music industry apart from the old: social media.

I read a horrifying article about how TikTok is changing songwriting. Today, TikTok clips are so important for an artist’s relevance that many artists and songwriters are writing songs that are 30 to 45 seconds long and mainly chorus-based, just to test them out with their audience and see if they want to continue writing the full song!

I mean, that goes against every ounce of integrity I have as a songwriter and producer. I’m not saying every song that comes to me is via divine inspiration, but come on!

To me, songwriting is about pouring out your heart, musical knowledge, and imagination to craft something that your audience is not expecting and haven’t heard before. So now the new norm is to ask them what you should write? It’s bonkers and backward, and I think it’s disgusting.

That’s not just selling your soul; it’s depressing and dumb. But unfortunately, that’s how desperate artists have become, and it doesn’t stop there.

I can’t count how many times I’ve discovered a talented artist on Spotify, clicked on their bio, and found a link to their Instagram account. I eagerly anticipate learning more about their creative process, their inspirations, and seeing pictures of them recording in the studio or writing songs.

To my dismay, the first 10 pictures on their account are of them in bikinis or practically naked, and in the case of male artists, they pose in front of sports cars and private jets.

I thought that was reserved for the Kardashian world. I’m talking about indie artists I find!

What does their appearance or lifestyle have to do with their music? They’re just shameless trend-followers.

This reveals the mindset of some artists who have sold their souls to the new music industry and become hardcore narcissists on social media. It’s not anything new, but it’s shocking how widespread it is now.

I just watched 10 minutes of that ridiculous new show “The Idol” on HBO and realized just how warped the image of the recording industry is to most people. Artists are more sexualized than ever before.

That’s the soul-selling industry at work.

Tunnel Vision

Okay, so the last category is the deadliest. And let me tell you, I’ve seen it happen to so many promising artists, songwriters, and producers. It’s called tunnel vision, and it’s basically when you’re so close-minded that you think you’re the best and have nothing left to learn.

Or, you’re so insecure that any constructive criticism feels like a direct attack. It’s like a mental block that can seriously mess you up, even after you’ve achieved success.

I mean, we’ve all seen superstars implode because they won’t listen to anyone on their team.  They’re so convinced that they’re geniuses and can do no wrong that they lose touch with reality. It’s kind of sad, really. It’s like a mental illness that isolates artists and makes them think that they’re living in a fake world.

And you know what? This happens to a lot of artists who become famous really quickly. It’s almost better to make peace with being a billionaire corporate artist like The Weeknd than to end up completely isolated and on the cover of the National Enquirer due to public mental breakdowns.

Final Thoughts

Here’s my take: I think the main reason why talented artists sell out to the music industry is because they’re scared of rejection.

We’ve all been there, sending out demo songs hoping to get picked up by an artist, only to be hit with the bad news that they passed on it. It’s even worse when you’ve spent all your savings and years perfecting your masterpiece, and barely anyone streams it.

That feeling of not being good enough is what makes people start looking for quick fixes. Selling your soul to the music industry is the ultimate shortcut, where you give up your whole career for others to decide what to do with it. In essence, you’re selling your freedom.

Here’s a piece of advice from one of my early mentors that has served me well: “In the face of rejection, always remember why you love making music and keep doing it with gratitude.”

I start every day thinking about how lucky I am to make music for a living and it sets the tone for everything I do.

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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