Not too long ago. Labels, record companies, distribution companies, press and marketing. Today, one-man operated labels incorporating many if not all of these expertise tasks. Is it wise to be independent and: what does it mean.
Being independent: running your business.
In episode 1 you may have answered your own question ‘Are you an artist?”. And quite possibly you are an independent artist. It is about you taking on the world, and performing all these multi-disciplinary tasks. By choice or by necessity, you are your own boss. How does that compare to major labels?
Major record labels are basically about industrialising mainstream music. They focus on optimizing their business operation. And of course, revenues are essential. An approach which is driven by, above anything else, huge numbers. The bigger the exposure, the better the chances. Maximize profits. And exactly this limits their scope when it comes to signing and developing artists. Major labels generally don’t seek out ‘niche audiences’ or, special interest groups. Independent labels however play a vital role, globally, in discovering and nurturing new talent.
A big name artist can be signed to a major label in the US, but be independent to other markets. Like Adele for instance. As an (aspiring) artist these days, chances are you are unsigned and thus independent. However, you may find yourself, for instance, being signed to a record label that label operates only on the Asian market. You then are still independent to other markets. So a more easy to understand definition of what independent is, might be:
As an independent artist, you will make the vast majority of your income directly from your fan base, without working through an intermediary like a (record) label, publisher or studio.
We all need to make a living and pay our bills, right? Now if you are signed to say a record label, they will demand from you a certain amount of work like albums. Set a timeframe, and carefully safeguard the quality and style of your work. Including your artistic profile, and get you on stage and touring.
Being a slave to the rhythm.
A label might pay you in advance for (future) royalties. Distribute and market you and your work. Now, pun intended, but how’s that for being a slave to the rhythm?
So maybe an even more simpler definition of being independent is: you have no boss (other than your bills, or girlfriend). And by being signed, thus dependent, you effectively would have one. And a schedule plus expectations. And maybe some benefits, like an advance on royalties.
When you do get signed to a label, you should know about all details of the contract. Is the label only operating on a local market segment, specific countries? Or maybe a continent or part of the world? Do you get royalties in advance and, because of that, what is demanded of you. Like how many releases, your music style and tours. And they, the label, will most likely own mastering, puiblication/distribution rights. Today it is very common to be signed for only one single. If they like your work, maybe that contract is for a few releases.
This can mean you get signed to two or even more labels at the same time. Or it may be a combination of being signed to a label and specific market, like Adele for the US, and be independent on others. You should understand that labels are about business. Maximize business potential and thus revenues. They will only nurture you as an artist if they see a relationship to increasing revenues. Effectively this may mean if you want to go off making an experimental album, you will not be able to do so. Or your label could demand specific terms and requirements. So why would you want to be signed then? Continued on page 2.