Do you Need a Record Label?
As an independent artist there is always a voice saying “gotta get signed, gotta get signed!” I know. I’ve been there.
But if you are fixated on getting signed, you are focussing on the wrong thing. The road to musical success is a long and challenging one and it’s the passion and enjoyment of making and performing music that will keep you going through the difficult times.
But do you need a record label?
I am the first person to advocate the DIY option. You are your biggest fan and the driving force behind your music career. (See my article on “Find the 1 person who will launch your music career”)
In order to succeed as an artist you need to love what you do and work hard at it. A record label can’t influence your passion and determination. But they are attracted to it and will look to exploit it.
With access to Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud etc. it couldn’t be easier to release your own music. Hyperbot reckon that there are around 24,000 pieces of music released everyday.
So the challenge is actually getting people to listen to your music. How do you get heard above all the other noise? And that is where a record label can be invaluable.
What does a Record Label do?
Record labels generally coordinate the production, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos.
They have marketing teams with years of experience of promoting bands and artists.
They have radio pluggers and press teams that have a huge network of contacts around the world.
They have contacts in publishing and synch to further exploit your music across all media.
They have networks of great music producers and mix engineers
Record labels provide a professional and experienced support team with a vast network of industry contacts.
Now you can do all of the above on your own and if you are starting out, you will probably have to. But ultimately, as a creative, you want to invest your time and energy in your craft… which is making music.
I could potentially fit a new kitchen. But I’d rather bring in an experienced team of professionals who will do a better job more quickly.
A good record label should be able to accelerate your exposure and growth and give you access to people and opportunities which might otherwise be out of reach.
The Cost of Signing with a Record Label
When you sign to a label you hand over the master rights to the recordings. You may also surrender full creative control of your music. The record label is paying for the recording and plans to exploit it and so it stands to reason that they will want a say in how it sounds.
And whilst they are funding the recording of your music, filming of videos, marketing etc. It’s important to realise that they will recoup those costs (and any others) from the money your music earns.
So when Justin Bieber gets flown around in a private jet… he’s paying for it. Not directly, but the label deducts that cost from any money he is due.
With the prevalence of 360 deals, Record Labels often take a cut of publishing, merchandise, live performance etc.
Being an Independent Artist
When starting out it’s not even worth thinking about a label.
You should take 100% responsibility for doing it yourself. It may take several years to hone your craft and find your sound but if you enjoy the journey then it will be worth every second. I became so fixated on getting signed or finding a manager that I stopped enjoying what I was doing. Everyday that passed and I wasn’t signed felt like a failure.
If you make great music, the word spreads and your fanbase grows, record labels may come to you. And the more hard work you’ve done, the more bargaining power you’ll have.
Think about it like going in to The Dragon’s Den. If you have an established fanbase, a back catalogue and a finely tuned stage show you are an attractive proposition and a dragon might be more likely to invest. And a record label generally sees an artist/band as an investment opportunity that will yield them a return.
I’ve recently signed a couple of acts on a production deal. My intention is to spend the next couple of years honing our sound and live performance, releasing music regularly, building a small but highly engaged fan base (quality rather than quantity) and building as much buzz as possible.
I will put the music in front of labels, publishers etc. wherever possible to put it on their radar and get feedback. But I intend to “break” the acts myself and if a record label comes calling, assess whether or not they might be a good fit to help take the music beyond what we can achieve on our own.
So do you need a record label in 2020? No. But if you put in the hard work and get your music to a point where a record label can’t ignore it, they will generally find you.