Labels and artists have access to the same tools. Why should an artist consider signing a deal with a label? It’s almost a philosophical question, and it depends on what they are trying to achieve, and how much of their time and resources they are willing to invest in the project. It’s a question of compromise.
This is by no means a comprehensive analysis, it’s a blog post intended to provide enough clarity to, at the very least, spike curiosity on the readers so they go dig deeper before engaging in any kind of record deal.
Do it yourself
The artist can, and oftentimes does, take care of his business entirely. Is it worth it? Is it effective? It depends, really. What does the artist want? And what are they willing to give in return?
Sure, there are other benefits of doing things yourself, but it’s easy to sell the case that this is the main enchilada. If the artists own the rights to their songs, all income resulting from the exploitation in the market of those tracks goes to their bank account.
Basically you’re looking for a record company to handle very specific things like promotion and marketing and things that I don’t really wanna have to deal with. If we go completely independent, that will be my life, morning, noon and night is going to be having to have a record company.”
You’ve done everything yourself, and all that cash is now yours, allegedly., Are you able to get it? Do you know how or where? Is your aggregator enough or are there other income streams you should be monitoring?
Then, your time will now be split in managing the operations of the release, the creative activities, and family and personal commitments, to say the least.s
It's a lot to take on, and it's a lot of responsibility. As we're fond of remembering:
Excuse me, but didn't we all get into this to avoid responsibility?"
DIY cons are NOT Record Deal pros
Just because it would suck to lose the freedom in your schedule, doesn’t mean that the alternative is preferable, record label deals have their own set of pros and cons that need to be considered before choosing.
Do people need labels? Some bands don’t, but some bands do just because they don’t want to worry about what we do. They don’t want to do what we do. They just want to make music and play shows and make records and write songs. They don’t want to have to worry about finding a distributor and calling record stores and making sure they’re stocking the record when they’re coming through town.“
You’ll probably get a cash advance, some budget for video, promotion, marketing, and sales, and you’ll get the label’s network of professionals which may actually be worthwhile.
As an artist, you’ll have to worry about recording a good product, preparing a good show, being assertive in any interviews, and overall complying with whatever the label is setting up for you to do in order to promote the release.
In a standard deal, you’ll get somewhere between 5% and 25% of sales after the label recoups their investment.
Record deal cons
Most record deals, indie or otherwise, are going to take full control of the rights of the songs within the scope of the contract. For all practical purposes, those songs belong to them, most of the times forever.
Now, the thing is that record deals usually include “first option”, which means that the artist needs to present the next release to the label, and they get to decide whether to invest or not in the release. If the artist has another offer, and the first label matches it, the “first option” clause binds the artist to go with the first label.
Now, to tie my point up: The songs within the scope of the contract can’t be played live unless the label authorizes it.
Setting aside bruised egos because their babies are no longer the artists’, there’s a real risk here, the so-called “shelving”.
If you buy anything, it’s yours, and you are free to do whatever you want within the legal framework of the place you live, so if a record label buys the rights of an artist’s songs, those songs now belong to the label for all practical purposes, and the label is legally entitled to placing those songs in a "shelf", for as long as the label feels like it, and because of the first option and the live gigs clauses, the artist would be pretty much unable to play live, nor record another album with another label, unless the first label passed on their “first option”.
For artists who aren’t so well known, however, there’s a chance that without marketing and promotion no one will ever know they exist. Others will not find the DIY route attractive because they don’t have the time or inclination to get involved in all aspects of the business. It isn’t for everyone.”
Metric was the first band to break Top 100 without a label, but their manager at the time did mention that in the absence of a label, they just built one themselves, and it was hell.
It doesn’t have to be hell anymore, if you have the budget and know where to look.
There is a growing population of project managers (PM) in industries like IT, who could easily spare 4-10 hours a week to work on an independent artist record release. We're talking about hiring a professional in charge of the success of the project. Literally, the PM is directly accountable for the success or failure of their project.
The PM would analyze the status of things, understand the goals, determine the realistic possibility of achieving them, and if achievable, propose a plan to get things done, including management plans for (but not limited to):
An independent first release wouldn’t take more than 4 hours, for some 6-8 weeks, to plan and set everything up for execution, which would achieve:
It's about being smarter, about using the resources at hand effectively, about setting realistic goals around what really matters (vs. vanity goals such as followers, comments and likes in social media).
Please, by all means, join the conversation, let's all help keep the music playing.