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Staying Indie Vs. Getting Signed

Hello once again and welcome back. It’s been far too long since I’ve posted here But sometimes life can demand attention and cause huge distraction from the things you want to do with your time. But I’m back and am looking forward to continuing to provide content to help you, The independent artist create your dream career in the music business.

Should I Sign with a Label?

Let’s face it. trying to make a living and have a career as a musical artist has always been a tough, challenging road to travel. There are no guarantees and plenty of pitfalls along the way. Having a career as a recording artist wasn’t even something that really existed Before the mid – late 1950’s when Elvis came along and poisoned Americas youth with his “Sinful” brand of rock and roll. There were the rare exceptions of course as there always were and always will be But as an industry, The idea of being a “recording artist” Didn’t really exist before Elvis and then the “British invasion” of the 1960’s. 

The Music industry has been through many changes for such a young industry and as most of you are aware, it is once again in the middle of yet another transitional phase; One the ‘industry players”, the labels and big time artists, did not seem to be prepared for…  Independent labels and artists are now a Viable share of the market but market behavior has changed. People aren’t buying CD’s and Going to concerts en masse’ like they used to thanks to internet based technology like streaming.  Industry Players have been screaming from the rooftops, “The music Business is dead!” for years now. but despite all that, The music industry managed to generate 40 Billion dollars in sales in 2015. 

Ok enough backstory…

So as a new artist or even a veteran artist hoping to make it in the Music Industry 2.0 you have to make a choice and the sooner you make that choice the clearer your career path will become.  “Do I stay Indie or take a label deal”.  I’ll be the first to admit, I am a hardcore advocate for staying independent. I am not in any way promoting the idea that being an Indie artists is “easier” than being signed but I do believe the rewards for building your own Business far outweigh any advantages that signing with a label will afford you early on in your career and there’s always the question of whether or not you can completely trust the label to have your back and protect your Business and Brand Interests as your career grows. That being said however…. There are Pros and Cons to each possible path and It is my hope to do my best to provide a fair and balanced Look at  choosing a career path for your Music.

Indie Vs. Signed: The pros and Cons of each

Indie Musician, Labels, Music Business
Stay Indie or Get signed, it’s a big decision in the life of a Musical artist.

For the sake of this Blog I am not going to Put a Lot of energy into talking about signing with a major label. For the vast majority of us, a more likely scenario is that your band/act will be approached by an Indie label owner Long before you ever get any kind of attention from a major label. The decision to Sign with a major label is not a different process than choosing to sign with an Indie label, The stakes might however, be significantly higher.

Whenever I speak with a young artist or any artist really, I always advocate for development of a plan AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE.  It simply makes no sense to me to just hang around on the fringes of the Industry dabbling for years if you don’t have to. Part of that plan should include the decision to be indie to to Solicit Labels. You can always change your mind later. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each Path and which one you choose will depend completely on you, your career goals and your personality. It is my hope however, to provide information so that you can make a well informed decision and ultimately get on the path to achieving your career goals.

Signing with a label

Getting signed to a label has always been thought of by artists as the “brass Ring” of the Music Business.  Getting Signed by a label meant that you are accepted into the industry and have an advocate to help you advance your career. The Role of the label is to become the Business management aspect of your team. They oversee creation of the products (CD’s and Merchandise), Handle marketing and distribution of those products. and promote you the artist. 

Pros:

  1.  Funding: depending on how big your Label is they will have Financial resources at their disposal to get you started on producing your album and getting it distributed and marketed.
  2. Connections: Many  indie and mid level labels already have connections into the Local and regional music scene and may also have connections with larger music agents and promoters.
  3. Manpower/Womanpower: If you are struggling to keep a handle on all the moving parts of becoming a Successful musical artist, Being signed can help with some of the heavy lifting by getting you a producer and someplace to record your album, They can assist with promotion and Marketing (although not as much as you might think) They can help with networking and they can help with booking tours. 
  4. Keeping you on task. A good and dedicated label rep can be an important part of your overall success strategy team, Part of the team; They can assist with branding decisions and keep you to deadlines which become important when you are trying to succeed on a Business/financial level.

Cons:

  1. Short end of the Stick: if you know your Music History you know that there are Numerous examples of artists who have been screwed By their labels. The list is too long to go into but a little bit of research will quickly reveal a long list of artist who have been signed and then found themselves on the bad end of a poor business deal and the relationship between artist and their labels has suffered significantly. Some Famous artists who have made headlines due to battles between themselves and their labels include: Prince, Johnny Cash, Pink Floyd and Tom Petty.
  2. “Riding the Pine”  Every artist that signs to a label believes that they are going to make it to the top and become the MVP  in their labels stable of artists. However, most artists find that many decent sized labels will sign multiple artists in order to ensure that one that will succeed. Artists often find themselves In the role of JV player on a team they thought would be their greatest advocate in the Music business.
  3. Losing rights and creative control: many artists come to the table to sign a contract with stars in their eyes and sign deals that they do not, at the time, know just how much they are conceding to the labels. Some artist deals give up control and ownership of the master recordings, The graphics and even the brand and merchandising to the labels. My own experience with negotiating with Labels Left me believing that the best path for any artist is to remain independent. from one contract requiring my band to pay for all of it’s own promotional materials to our offer from the Now Defunct “Scotty Bros records” which required that half of our first two albums be made up of Cover songs that the label would pick for us…
  4. Passion and commitment: When it comes to Indie labels artists often find that the label owner is as passionate about music as they are However, when it comes to bigger labels… Many Labels are passionate and committed to THEIR OWN success and Not necessarily yours. Artists who have been signed by major labels find that Turn over in the staff can be high and they may be assigned reps that do not have anything in common with the artist.  Major labels are committed to the success of the label first and foremost and even if you are the “Next Big Thing” at the time you get signed things can quickly change and the excitement over your band or act can fade with artists finding themselves in musical limbo with No legal way out because you are under contract and don’t have the financial resources to fight the Corporate machine.
  5. Debt: many artists do not realize that everything the label does for you is a service that is billed to you. recording and producing your albums, Marketing, promotion, Branding all of these things come off the top of every dollar you make. and you the artist may not see much money, if any, from your album or single sales, streaming rights or performance royalties. Your best bet for getting paid is negotiating to keep all of your publishing rights.

 

Staying Independent

Pros

  1. Complete Creative control: Who knows your Vision better than you? Staying independent lets you be the capt. of your ship and guide your career in the direction that YOU want.
  2. Control of your Finances: There are enough People in this world trying to get their greedy little fingers into your wallet. Staying independent means you get to keep all of your royalties, yep; performance royalties, mechanical royalties, Publishing, Merchandising so on…
  3. Direct relationship building: Being independent means that you are in charge of developing whatever kind of relationship you want to build with fans, peers, business partners and so on.
  4. Learning the business from the Inside out: While it may require time, effort and work, Learning every aspect of your bands business makes you a Much more valuable commodity in the Music business world and less likely to get screwed by a middle man agent of some Label.

Cons

  1. It is WORK: It’s a lot of work to run a business and make no mistake your music career is a business. if you don’t like to work or thought that becoming a musician meant that you would not have to work hard then you are in for a big surprise.
  2. Personal Responsibility: While Many of today’s gurus talk about personal responsibility as a positive thing, which it is, The reality remains that if your music career doesn’t go where you want it to go the only one you have to blame is your self. 
  3. For the Love of Money: Ah yes, that dreaded concept that mind fucks so many promising artists… Whether you like it or not you have to keep your eye on the Bottom line. managing money is one of the most important aspects of growing your career. Recording and releasing an album, Marketing and promoting, Touring all of these things take money and at the end of the day the ledger has to balance or you will fail. if you are any good at money management however you may soon see your bank account beginning to grow.

It’s your decision

The final decision is up too you regarding the question of, “to sign or not to sign?” But regardless of your decision if you are a new or unsigned artist in today’s version of the music business you will have to build your Music empire on your own until you can get the attention of a label, indie or otherwise. It is important to increase your Value as an artist and an entrepreneur. So…. learn your craft get good, learn Social media marketing, learn how to build a website with a good sales funnel, and get yourself out there and play your ass off and talk to everyone you can and build your tribe!! 

 

My name is Richard Artichoker,
I am The Founder and Creator of the 7th Gen Academy for DIY Musicians. I have been involved with various aspects of the Music Business for 30 years. in 1992 I founded the hard Rock band “7th Generation”. I stopped playing out live 13 years ago but continue to research the music market and digital sales and marketing techniques and I want to share my experience and knowledge with you.