Whether you need a label depends on what you want to achieve, and how much you’re prepared to do yourself
As an independent artist, you might have lots of questions about how things work in the music world. With this in mind, we asked for some insider knowledge from someone who has worked at an independent label for ten years. We creatively call them “The Insider.”
Here, the Insider explains how to put yourself in the best position you can - either to negotiate with a label, or to go it alone.
As someone who works day-to-day at a record label, I see what a label can do for an artist. Depending on the size of the label and what level of your career you’re at, what a label is actually offering you can vary tremendously. From the more mundane to the more extraordinary, independent labels in particular tend to inhabit many roles for their artists. Major labels usually will have a lot more people working for them, so might have a separate person or even a team for things such as PR and marketing, royalties and artist development. Major and indies aside, how do you know if getting a label is actually what you need or want? For the sake of the argument, let’s say you’ve digitally self-released an EP and just finished your upcoming, unreleased, album. The EP got some spins at radio, a handful of decent reviews online and you’ve been working with a DIY-style agent who has managed to keep you busy and booked you some solid shows so far. Your next step is sitting down and working out what your goals are for your album release. You need to be clear of this in your own mind because if you don’t know what you want, you’re not going to be able to articulate that to a potential team – be that a label, a manager, a booking agent or publicist – and work out what is realistic and feasible. If you can’t communicate what you want it’s easy for miscommunication to happen and disappointment to follow.What do you want to achieve? Do you want to be on the road for the next twelve months? Do you want to release the record quickly, tour a bit, then follow it up with another record you already have up your sleeve and ready to go? Perhaps you’re looking to expand your audience internationally – is this something the label could help with? Do they have an infrastructure and partners abroad already in place? Or perhaps you simply want a label to pay for the pressing of a physical product. Having a vinyl album to hold in your hands is a tangible achievement and comes at no small financial cost – if you’ve got someone fronting that money for you, it can alleviate a big financial risk on your end.Do you enjoy the DIY aspects of self-releasing? One positive of this approach is that you have total control of exactly when and how you release your music. Working with a label may mean waiting for their schedule to open up enough to fit you in. If that means sitting on your album for another year, are you comfortable with that? This is a discussion I often have with new artists at our label – fitting them into our busy release schedule often means they have to wait a little longer than they expected. For some artists this is unthinkable. I usually try to explain that they’ve spent X amount of time preparing for this, for the sake of a few months and getting the release plan as finely-tuned as possible, perhaps waiting that extra time isn’t so bad?If you are being chased by a label and are unable to reach a compromise, you have no obligation to work with them on terms you are not comfortable with and you can (politely) decline. Keep the relationship friendly so that you have it as a path to go down at a later date, if you want to. Alternatively, you can search for another label who may be prepared to build a plan closer to what you imagined or assess whether you’d like to go it alone. Self-releasing is completely feasible. You just have to be realistic about what it takes and whether you can negotiate with partners you do choose to work with. Royalty splits, for example, vary considerably between different deals depending on how much money a partner might be fronting – so will usually take a bit of negotiation. Don’t sell yourself short by underestimating how much work this will be – you don’t want to end up in the middle of your self-release and running out of time and energy to promote the album to the level it deserves. All of the tools to self-release are available to you online, and work particularly well if you already have other team members in place, for example a dedicated agent, a publishing deal to front you some money, a label partner in a different territory, a radio plugger. If you have some or all of these things, you can be pragmatic in weighing up the pros and cons of partnering with a label. On top of this, you can certainly put yourself in a stronger negotiating position with a prospective label by being clear about what you want, and asking for it.
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