Independent Artists: Rethinking Major Label Deals

Independent Artists: Rethinking Major Label Deals

Being an independent artist has become a more popular, and industry-acceptable, option for bands lately, as many artists are able to do a lot of the managerial/business work themselves without the help of a label or management company. “Said The Whale”, a popular Vancouver-based band has succeeded independent of a label in the industry.

A lot of times, independent artists do have small micro-companies that they work with, but they usually never get a record deal with major labels. These indie labels are helpful in terms of providing you with connections that you may not be able to get any other way.

We aren’t wanting to slag major records too much though – there is still a place for them with certain artists. They are able to work on your craft from every angle such as writing, playing, recording, producing, and image and sponsor you financially in order to achieve your goal. This could be useful for certain artists, depending on your target audience and your goals. Of course, let’s keep in mind that these scenarios vary from artist to artist, since they may have different levels of professionalism, quality of music and crowd response.

These major deals can affect you more in the long run because money becomes a huge factor. Since they invest so much in you upfront, they expect to get that money back through your sales (CD’s, online sales, merch, touring, etc). This can be problematic if your sales aren’t going so well, and depending on how much input you had in the process, you might not be able to get back much percentage from your sales, with you personally ending up with little next to nothing financially while your label takes home the paycheque.

So why is it better to be an independent artist?

1.     You call the shots. There’s no higher authority to tell you what to do. You get the freedom to choose whichever way you want to go.

2.     Debt-free = Worry free. You will be less stressed out about your sales because you won’t owe anyone anything if the sales don’t go as well as planned, or if they take longer to reach targets than expected.

3.     You don’t need to be on a strict contact. Being tied down by contracts can get really annoying, especially if the services are costing the label more money, which can affect you in the long run (refer to #2).

4.     You learn how to be self-sufficient. The skills you can learn by doing a lot of work yourself can be crucial! For example, learning to negotiate, organize your own tour, or going to local gigs to get connections in the industry. This all can save you a lot of money and stress. If you need help with certain parts of the music business, you can hire assistance in that area only (legal, for example).

5.     You will know more about the industry. The more knowledgeable you are about how the industry works or about the go-to people for various services, the more you can do things yourself, for free, and the more empowered you’ll feel about your own career in the music business.

Major record labels can be very helpful for certain artists, but a lot of musicians find that when working independently, they can do the same things a major label would, but at no, or lower, cost. If you go with a major label, get a second (or third!) opinion on the contract they want you to sign, and ideally get those other opinions from trusted advisors, not people with a vested interest (i.e. other major labels). Remember to negotiate your contract – you can negotiate to strike out clauses you don’t like, or add clauses that are important to you. But first, try being independent without the label… you’ll be surprised how great working for yourself can be!

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