Joining a Label or Staying Independent...What's a Musician To Do

No one can deny that the music industry is constantly changing. As technology evolves, what worked in the past doesn't always mean it will work in the future. The people that are truly successful at forecasting those changes and work with them, have a far better shot at reaching their goals. Right now, I believe that the old music business is dead and that's a great thing for musicians and producers.

There are so many emerging opportunities that never existed for artists in the old model.
In the past the road to success had a pretty clear path to "making it." Now, there are multiple paths and many different ways a musician or producer can support themselves through music.

The way I've done it for the past 6 years is through music licensing, but that is by no means the only way. A lot of musicians I know have many different revenue streams and are doing a lot of different things to earn money with their music. Some are choosing the DIY music path and utilizing different revenue streams while others choose to work with labels.

There really is not a right or wrong path. Just because the major label business model is complete trash, doesn't mean all labels follow it. There are great labels out there that do give a shit about music, and artists. If you are going to to follow the label path, then it's important to understand what they can do for you.

One of the most important things labels can do for you is handle your business. It's so easy for artists to be in creative mode that the business side of shit gets lost. So many producers and musicians get stuck in this mode of "if I release it, they will come" but lose out on opportunities because they don't understand the business.

When it comes to business, it takes money to make money. Labels understand this and should have enough money to invest in the artist on their rooster. Think of labels as a bank for artists.

The money labels spend on you, they want back with a profit. They are investing in you and your music. If they believe you will be an asset for the label, you will be more valuable and they will be more willing to invest more money on you and your music. It's important to keep in mind though, there are a lot of "labels" that are nothing more then a glorified digital distributor. Do your research, they are not all created equal!

Another thing a label can do for you which is difficult to do on your own is creating that "buzz" factor, which is a huge. Buzz gets people interested, buzz gets people listening, buzz gets magazines and bloggers to write about you, buzz gets you noticed, ect. The labels should have an established network in place to make this happen.

In addition, a label can help bring crossover fans from the other artists. A lot of times a label has a vibe or a feel to them. So if person likes the music from one artist on the label, the odds are high they will check out the other artists on the rooster. It's part of the network, that is hard to get when you are pushing music by yourself.

Yes, you can definitely use technology to do it all yourself, but it's very hard to be a master of everything. Not to mention the time factor involved. Just because you can do it yourself doesn't mean that it's in your best interest to do it that way.

*Recommended Reading: Do It Yourself Doesn't Mean Doing It Alone 

Remember though, signing with a label doesn't guarantee anything. A number that floats around often is 75-85% of the musicians on the label fail to break even or make money. It is something to keep in mind, but I would assume the statistics for indie musicians without a label would probably be equal to that number or even higher.

Now I don't want to glorify all labels. Some are shit, and you are better off doing it alone then working with them. Don't blindly go into things, just because they are a label. You have to do your research and understand all the fine print on the contract before you sign it. Steer clear of the 360 deal and locking your music in with them in perpetuity. Make sure there is a reversion clause so you can get out of the deal after X amount of years.

Labels can be a very good thing under the right situation. Odds are some of your favorite musicians are on one and that connection is how you came to discover their music in the first place. On the other hand, there is a lot of freedom for artists that choose to work independently. Everyone in music has different goals. If you have been working successfully as a DIY musician joining a label might not make sense.

Thanks for reading, please feel free to share, like and comment below!

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