Getting a Record Deal Isn’t a Good Idea, Says Joe Bonamassa

According to modern blues virtuoso Joe Bonamassa, getting a good old conventional record deal these days isn’t exactly the best idea for an up-and-coming artist. Of course, as he said in an interview with Tone Talk, it would make sense only if you’re to become the next Taylor Swift. But for the rest of us mortals, it’s something to avoid. Instead, you should be as independent as possible.

One of the fan questions was brought up, asking Joe to share some insight into the business side of things in music today. Joe went on to explain that he’s doing it all “in-house,” so to speak. He replied (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“I don’t have a booking agent, we do it in-house. I don’t have a merch person, we do all the merch in-house. I don’t have a concert promoter because we promote all our own shows.”

Joe Bonamassa on his 550 vintage guitars | On The Record

“We make our own records. And basically, in business terms, we’re vertically integrated, meaning everything’s under one roof.”

Going more into it, Joe pondered whether anyone is actually bragging about doing it the old way. As he added:

“Is it cool to go to the Chateau Marmont and some hip Hollywood party — I never go to that shit anyway, but [hypothetically] — and say, ‘Yeah, I’m signed to William Morris Endeavor, I got to deal with Capitol…?”

Welcome To Nerdville: Inside Joe Bonamassa's Museum and Vintage Guitar Collection |

According to Bonamassa, this isn’t something to be happy about. In fact, he believes that it’s a “disaster.” He continued:

“That, in 2023, is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes, people flex in Nashville and be like, ‘Oh, I just signed with Sony Music, blah, blah’ — like, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’ And I can tell you, that check that you get is the last one unless you become the next Taylor Swift. That’s a guarantee.”

Of course, it’s not all so black and white. Some may be getting the deal of a lifetime and striking gold, while there are also a lot of musicians who lost their careers because of record labels:

“You know, there’s not many testimonials about labels [where] people who have been on labels for 20-30 years say, ‘Man, that’s the greatest thing we ever did.’ Conversely, there’s a lot of people who had their careers completely destroyed.”

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom Electric Guitar | Demo and Overview with Joe Bonamassa

Bonamassa doesn’t deny the need for having an agent, a manager, and all the other usual support that an artist needs at any stage of their career. But, on the other hand, you still need to actually own your business. He concluded by saying:

“Do you need an agent when you’re starting out? Absolutely. But once you start, you want to be very clear about your intentions. Like, ‘I want to own this lock, stock and barrel.'”

It’s no secret that Joe had a different approach to his career as a musician. Although it took some years, Bonamassa deliberately took the slow path, making a dedicated following rather than casting a wide net and hoping to make it big ASAP.

In an interview from earlier this year, he said that he’d rather please his fans than care what critics say. He explained:

I do a very specific thing. I know exactly what the fans want to hear, and the question is, would you rather please the critics at Rolling Stone or please the fans that put you there? My answer unequivocally is — please the fans that put you there.”

Epiphone Joe Bonamassa 1963 SG Custom Guitar - Demo & Rundown with Joe Bonamassa

“So if that means there’s a big sludgy blues rock song with an overblown solo at the end, I’m doing it. Because that’s what people seem to enjoy.”

“I’m not the one who’s going to come out and drastically change the show; ‘I’m not feeling playing guitar so I’m just going to stand up here and sing for you.’ What, are you crazy? This is what these people paid for. This is the experience that you’re selling.”

During the same interview, Joe also reflected on modern social media-based guitar players — all of those incredibly impressive shredders who are building their YouTube and Instagram and TikTok careers:

“I find now, looking at the guitar world in general in 2023, I find it in a state of crossroads. People have learned how to make real money by sitting in from of a camera and putting it on Instagram on YouTube and becoming an influencer.”

Joe Bonamassa | Montreux Jazz Festival 2023

“Which is great. I encourage anyone with a business model to do it like that. How long you can stay inspired doing one-minute videos is up to the individual.”

“And I find that if I feel the need to stay relevant because I haven’t posted something in a minute and I just go, ‘I haven’t played guitar today, but let me tune this Les Paul up and do a one-minute video.'”

Joe Bonamassa full concert live @Backroads Blues Festival 5/27/2023 in Bend Oregon

As he also added, he tried this same path but figured out that it just wasn’t for him:

“I’ve been guilty of this in the past where that one minute where it took me to film something in one take and just throw on Instagram was the only minute of music I had made that entire day. And that’s not for me.”

Photo: Dmileson (Joe Bonamassa – Radio City Music Hall Jan 2014)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.