Record Labels: For and Against [Part 1]

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Most artists fall into one of two camps: ‘I would saw off my right arm to sign a record deal!’ or ‘There is no amount of money that could ever get me to sign a record deal.’  This is part one of a two-part blog series that will explore both sides: why you don’t need a record label, and why you do need a record label (click here to read why you do need a label).

Here’s why you don’t need a record label.

Of course, you want to make a living doing music.  That’s the dream right?  But at the core, you love music, you love art, and you long to be able to connect with people through something that close to your heart.  Right?  Yeah, labels don’t care about that.  A label is a business and that is their primary goal – make a living off of your art.  They will not be as concerned about ‘artistic integrity’ as you will be.

Just like any relationship, there is give and take.  There are three main things you give up when you sign on the dotted line with a label:  Freedom, Creativity, and Ownership.

Now, there are many factors that influence to what extent you give up each of those elements: the size of the label, your clout as an artist, the kind of deal you’ve agreed upon, etc.  But those are things you have to be willing to surrender to sign with a label.

Here are some examples of what it may look like to give up…

…Freedom

Your label may want you to release a specific song as a single that you didn’t write because it’s the most marketable.  They may want you to go on tour with an artist that you don’t like.  They will want to speak into the kinds of endorsement and sponsorship opportunities you have as an artist, because it effects their vision for your career.

…Creativity

We’ve all seen the movies: struggling singer-songwriter signs a deal, gets turned into a pop music puppet by the big bad record label.  It’s really not that extreme, but most labels are about science not art.  ‘This worked for that artist, it will work for this artist.’

…Ownership

Labels make money by owning something you’ve created.  Typically that is your masters (the final recorded piece of music that you wrote).  When you give up ownership, you now have to ask permission to record, perform, and release the songs that you put your heart and soul in.  It also means, that there is a chance, if you walk away from your deal or get dropped, you’ll never be able to record or release those songs again – bye-bye greatest hits, live record or acoustic EP.

And perhaps the most obvious reason you don't need a record label is that it's 2014.  There are more opportunities, markets and ways for an artist to make a decent living than ever before.  Between being able to record a decent album on your laptop and the internet giving you access to fans that you would have never known existed, with a little business sense to drive you forward there are infinite ways to pursue a career in this industry.

Now, as someone who has and does work for a record label, they are not all bad.  And there are certainly benefits to signing with a label that outweigh doing this completely on your own.  We’ll explore that in post two, coming next week.

What do you think?  Time to pursue this completely on your own?  Let’s talk.  Email me here.