Why a lot of albums never get released

What you'll learn in this post:
  • How many artists majors sign per month
  • Why they do not release the albums
  • What to watch out for when signing a contract

When artists sign a recording contract, they are understandably excited and can hardly wait to present their music to the masses with the strong support of a major record label. But many don’t actually get to that point. A good number of artists will release a few singles at best, while the album is withheld. But how can things come to this pretty pass where a record label can keep musicians from sharing their music with the world?

The needle in the haystack

An analysis from a few years ago shows that on average, major labels sign 2 artists per day, which means they have around 60 additional artists on contract by the end of the month. Some articles will tell you that 99% of these artists never publish any albums afterwards. Even worse, only 0.2% of signings stay with the major label until the end of their contract without being dropped.

Even if these numbers may be exaggerated, it is no secret that record labels always look for the needle in the haystack. A small fraction of their signings become global superstars and the profits they rake in make up for the less successful artists – or those that can never make a release. But what are the reasons why so many artists can’t release their music? Very rarely are things down to any unwillingness on the part of the artist or the quality of their music.

Lost in the shuffle

Most artists get a contract because an A&R believes in them and their potential for success. But if the A&R leaves the record label, nobody is there to recognize this potential. The priorities of the label could become a problem, as well. If these shift, maybe due to changing musical trends or a similar signing within the label, the music is held back. Sometimes the situation doesn’t even have anything to with the music, but rather with a merger where the artist ends up getting lost in the shuffle.

Oftentimes, record labels will present a contract when the artist is not even ready for an album yet (e.g., after one of their songs goes viral on TikTok). Upon the signing, the label will then have the artist work with all kinds of producers, in the hoped that a hit song will come out of it. If the record company does not find this to be the case, they will simply continue producing more and more songs that never get released. Sometimes, labels will also sign artists for the sole purpose of preventing them from signing with anyone else. If the artist is unlucky, the label will lose its interest as soon the ink is dry on the contract.

Caution when signing a contract

This all wouldn’t be half as bad if artists could simply terminate their contract. But often, this is exactly what they cannot do, even if the label makes it impossible for them to release music. Or, it is precisely because of this reason that they can’t: ironically, the artists still owe the label an album or even multiple ones. This is why there should always be a clause in the contract that lets the artist terminate the contract if the label doesn’t release the album within a reasonable timeframe (one to three years).

So, before you sign a recording contract – regardless if it’s with a major label or not – it is imperative for you to have some experienced management behind you and to get legal support on board, as well. Or, you can decide to remain independent from the start and keep your masters. If you work with an independent distributor like iGroove, for instance, you can always decide for yourself when you want to release your music and what that music will sound like.