Label Contracts: Is It Worth It?

Photo Credit to Unsplash Article by Megan Vineberg

As the year of 2020 progresses, I’ve taken notice of the rise in independent artists over those signed with a label. More and more people are finding that distribution services like Distrokid, CDbaby, Tunecore, and Bandcamp are the better option. Kanye West has stated on Twitter about there being a lot more payments to the label than the artist themselves. “There are 5 aspects to the business side of the music industry that artists should be aware of,” he says. “Recording, publishing, touring, merchandise, and name and likeness.” West has made it abundantly clear he intends to get back the rights to all of his own masters as well as those of Taylor Swift. Swift faced a similar battle in regards to her contract and lost out in her masters due to her record label owning them.

For those who are unfamiliar, the mastered recordings control who your music is heard by, and where it is available. This can be an issue if, say, an artist does not own the rights to their song and profits off of it without having paid out to the person or group who does own it.

Swift battled her record label, Big Machine Records, with the likes of Scooter Braun and Scott Borschetta raking in the profits off of her discography. When it comes to making records, whether it is a single or an album, there are a lot of moving parts to it. It’s not just that you can record a song, upload it, and make millions. If there are others involved in the making, they need to be compensated as well for their time and efforts put into it, and if the artist is signed to a label that amount is tripled. This is where the artist advances come in, and why some well-known artists choose not to use services like Distrokid, HRDRV, etc. An alternative angle to this is that a label drives the campaign for you.

As an independent artist, you get the freedom to do as you wish with your own work but you also have to be on a consistent grind. Working from the ground up, you have to constantly network. These connections are those needed to lead you to proper promotion and sales. A label, on the other hand, oftentimes will offer an advance as an investment in an artist. This advance is meant to finance their project, and to eventually pay back those who helped to invest in and promote your work.

With West’s recent tweets, I think the question is if signing with a major label would be worth it for the vast majority of artists today. Of course, it’s clear that it’s much easier to go with a label, and ultimately pays off if you do it the right way. It’s vital to pay attention to your contracts, who you sign them with and what you’re signing your name over. I agree with West in reference to contracts needing to be in terms the artist understands so they know who they’re in business with. This way, everything is out on the table and nothing is held back from either party.

On the flip side, there is much to gain from being and remaining independent. Being an independent artist myself, I have learned how to do my own artwork. I started with your average photo-editing apps like Facetune and VSCO to create interesting filters, keeping in mind to take photos from unusual angles to capture the listener’s interest. I’ve worked on my songwriting, going over lyrics that need a bit of fine-tuning and scrapping what doesn’t work. I’ve learned to be tougher on the outside and more gentle to myself on how I perform, the projects I produce.

I’ve gained the knowledge of when to step back versus when to take action in a situation. I spend countless hours researching on YouTube and Google about marketing and branding. I’ve learned how to gather insights by using the Business and Creator profile settings on Instagram. I only invest in people and things that will further my art or form a connection with someone. If I’m lucky, I get to experience both. Either way you go, I think it’s important to discern for yourself which would be the best course of action for you as an individual.

Record labels help bring you in front of the people who can make your work most successful. They have the reach to promote your music to a large number of people and generate sales. In much less time and with less effort, you’re able to work smarter—not harder. A label offers you the invaluable experience of making contacts you wouldn’t have otherwise come across on your own. They also invest in your work upfront whereas independent artists like myself may be financing their career out of pocket. I’ve enjoyed being independent because I’ve learned so much, and it is rewarding for me to have to work to gain knowledge, insight, and praise for my work.

I’m not an artist who would like anything handed to them and I think it’s important for artists to have that sort of mindset coming into this industry but there is always more to learn. There’s so much that label executives like A&R consultants and branding consultants can teach artists today. My advice to artists trying to decide whether or not it’s worth it to sign with a label is to learn as much as you can about the industry on your own before you sign your name to anything.

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