To be signed or not to be signed…
That is the question, perhaps it is not always a case of which choice is better but more a question of what opportunity arises first. For instance, how many aspiring artists actually get discovered by a major recording label and turn into an overnight celebrity? I mean yes this is or might I say was the dream for most aspiring artists, however with times rapidly changing there are now multiple ways in which people can listen to and discover new music, this has created a “do it yourself'' type mentality among the music world. With social media, YouTube and various major streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music musicians now have the opportunity to showcase their music independently. Building your own fan base, publishing your own music whilst having creative licence over your sound couldn't be easier! Well so they say. This article intends to take a closer insight into the pros and cons of signing to a recording label compared to being an independent artist.
Your Music Career…
How much talent does it take to be signed? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. First It is important to distinguish the difference between music as an artform and the music industry. There are many talented musicians and recording artists across the world however few actually get the opportunity to showcase their talent to the wider world. So, the question arises, what if you are musically talented and want to get your music heard on the main stage! How do you go from a solo act to potentially a superstar? It would seem virtually impossible to market yourself to the extent that a major record label such as Universal or Sony could, where would you find the budget to get your music into the right spaces at the right times. This may have been the case a few years ago and possibly the deciding factor that deterred many aspiring artists from pursuing their lifelong dream however with the introduction of social media, the popularity of YouTube and the numerous streaming platforms artists now have a silver lining.
With the correct use of all these modern-day tools it is now extremely plausible to take sole control of your music journey and showcase your music to millions of listeners across the globe. You are now able to build your network with fans and other prominent figures within the music scene through social media applications like Instagram, distribute your music through streaming services such as Spotify and showcase your music videos and performances via YouTube. With all this at your disposal many would direct you down the path of being an independent artist however there are many different aspects to consider before making such an important decision.
An independent Artist…
Yes, being an independent artist has many benefits, but have you analysed the entire situation? Having the ability to distribute and upload your own music in your own time is a great advantage, however are you able to effectively manage your career? The music industry is a business and like every other business it has a structure, rules and requirements that must be adhered too. This may be things such as booking shows, negotiating contracts, scheduling projects and appearances etc, all key factors that a signed artist would generally be obvious to due to the involvement of a record label and/or management. The most talented artist is virtually nothing without the right direction and guidance. Are you able to secure live bookings, push your music via radio and wider audiences, arrange and pay for consistent studio time, organise and prepare your upcoming projects i.e. project artwork, organise listening parties, create advertising and promotional strategies the list can be never ending. It is important to understand that in order to be a successful independent artist you must also have a serious and disciplined outlook on managing yourself and seek to gain as much knowledge and experience in the music industry as possible.
Releasing Music As An Independent Artist…
Creative control: Independent artists have complete control over the direction of theimusic. This allows the artist FULL control over distribution, advertising, networking, artwork, release dates, and more. An independent artist has the free will to make their own decisions regarding their creative vision.
Ownership over your music: Independent artists generally own the master rights to their music. This allows them the freedom to negotiate music licensing, publishing and distribution deals.
Online music services to independent musicians: The digital era brings a variety of music services for independent artists. Recording artists now have access to music distribution, advertising, streaming, merchandise creation, and so many other services. Artists can now deliver their music to digital music stores, music platforms, and streaming services without the need of a record deal. Household names such as Spotify, Apple Music and Deeza are just some of these amazing services that you may be familiar with.
Paying for mastering, distribution, advertising, merchandise, touring, and other expenses can all add up. Many independent artists just simply don’t have the desired resources and money that a record label could provide. This could have an effect on your ability to release your music as often or to as wide of an audience as desired. It is also important to take into consideration that most Independent artists who are starting their music career only have a limited network of fans and industry contacts to begin with. Recording labels and management will always have a much larger network and reach within the industry.
All in all, Pursuing the independent artist route can be time-consuming. releasing your own music can sometimes seem like a full-time job. It requires a lot of time to set up distribution, develop a good marketing strategy, book shows, and everything else associated with releasing music. All this extra work also takes away valuable studio time ruining the passion and enjoyment of being an artist.
Releasing Music With A Record Label…
Although there can be a negative stigma attached with signing to a record label it is by no means a lesser alternative. It is important to remember the success that a record label can bring to an artist which can easily be shown through the elevation of many of our well-known mainstream Greats. Artists like Eminem, who became globally successful under Dr.Dre’s Aftermath entertainment label, Ed Sheeran with early success under Atlantic records along with other major successes like Bruno mars and wiz Khalifa and the famous Def jam records home to many legendary hip-hop and R&B acts such as Rihanna, Ludacris, Pusha T, Kanye West, Young Jeezy and many others. Record labels can be a great benefit however it is key that you completely understand the contract you are signing into.
Better resources & Bigger budgets: Established record labels will have the resources you require and the available funding to provide you with some if not all the necessary support in order for you to further your music career. The budget and resources available will always depend on the size and success of the record label; therefore the larger the label generally the more budget and resources you'll have access to. This can help with things such as studio and production costs, live bookings, radio plays & TV appearances, social media promotion and much more. It is important to know exactly what your label has set out for you as this will allow you to utilise it most effectively. Popularity and/or expectation can play a big part in this also. Labels generally invest more into artists who show more promise or have more of a buzz about them.
Existing network and connections: One significant benefit to signing with a label is their existing network. This can present major opportunities for the artist and their music. Without a label, your network and reach to larger audiences can be limited. Record labels will often keep good relationships with booking agents, music venues, publishing companies, PR companies, and other music industry professionals that will help further your music career.
Reputation and influence: Many record labels, especially major labels have well-established influence and connections in the music industry. They are better positioned to secure licensing and publishing deals, shows at larger venues, festivals, media coverage, radio play, and other major opportunities.
A good marketing strategy: Signing to a record label with a robust marketing strategy will definitely increase your music sales, help you reach new fans and even boost your music career further than imagined. In addition to this a label would have key music industry experience which would give them the knowledge on how best to effectively market your sound.
Signing with a record label generally gives them control over your music. The label can therefore make deals and decisions regarding your music without your approval. They also have FULL control over your distribution, marketing, artwork and more. This is why It is important to understand the terms and conditions of your contract as control over your image and music are key and can be exploited if not correctly controlled.
Less Profit: Records labels take a percentage of the profits generated from music sales, streams, licensing deals, and other revenue sources. Some labels use the royalties generated from music sales to pay for expenses such as mastering, promotional campaigns and other expenses associated with the release, this could make the creative work you've put into making your music seem devalued and your worth as an artist less appreciated.
Copyright ownership: Record labels generally own the master rights to your music when you sign a record deal. They have the freedom to negotiate music licensing and publishing deals without your approval. As a result, they can negotiate a greater split to themselves leaving you with less than you would even know.
Varied contract deals: There are many types of contracts that record labels can offer an artist. Many independent record labels offer artist-friendly contracts. However, major record labels are known to have contracts that give the artist a lesser percentage of their royalties. Signing with a label means that you have to accept the idea of agreeing to share your potential financial rewards in exchange for furthering your stage-name and music career.