There comes a time in our lives when we go our own way, take our own risks and learn our own lessons, either by hook or by crook. Sometimes our young mind convinces us to do crazy things, but other times it launches us on incredible adventures that eventually turn out to be beneficial.
This is the case of the then young Steve Vai, who started his music career when he was 18 years old, in 1978. When there was no Google who to ask questions about to, and when your guide was either your friends, neighbors, hearsay, or the Yellow Pages. From the very beginning, Vai felt the need to protect his music. In a recent interview with Vintage Rock Pod, Vai explained that: "I didn't want to be subjected to anybody else's decision about anything. I just felt in a position of vulnerability, if I had to depend on a record company."
At the moment, Vai just felt the need to play his guitar, and to record the deluge of songs that were coming out of his mind. He didn't want to deal with anything else, but history had a different play in the books.
When the time was right, Vai started shopping around for a record label who would help record and sell his music. He landed on a label called Enigma, and got the standard record deal everyone else got – and he wasn't thrilled.
"When I read the deal, I was just stunned. It was like a $10,000 advance and they would own the record and they'd give me 25 cents a record. And I had had to recoup the $10,000 advance from my 25 cents, and I'm like, 'What? This is what?' They saw me come in, some stupid kid."
"I took it to my attorney, and he said, 'No, Steve, this is a conventional record deal. And this is a good one, they're offering you an advance. Most people in your position, they wouldn't offer an advance.' I said, 'Yeah, but then they own my record.' 'Yeah, because that's what they do.'"
"And I said, 'Fuck that, no.' Because it didn't feel right to me. Why should they get so much more? There's always been another kind of stumbling block in me. And it was always at an economic level, I could never understand why anybody would get paid more than me for my work. And they never have. Not in my career. I've always made sure that managers, agents, anybody… I get paid the most. The end."
Vai continued, saying it was then and there that he decided to wisely start his own label.
"I did something kind of outrageous. I decided to bypass. I decided to start my own label as a 22-year-old. Because I just started to look behind the curtain, and I'm saying, 'Well, how do labels work?' The only thing we had to go by back then was like, the yellow pages, there was no Internet, there was no computers, nothing. But we figured it out."
"I noticed that labels have a great function, they pay for everything. They give you the money to make the records, and then they take the record, and they it becomes part of their equity."
"Because labels run great risks, and that's how they build their equity by owning the masters. Then what they do is they sell, they manufacture the records. And these were all vinyl back then, and some cassettes. They manufacture the records, and then they sell the records to a distributor. The distributor puts it in the stores. The distributor goes around to all the stores. So that was something I learned, and I just thought, 'Well, why don't I go to distributors instead of labels?' And I did."