Guest Post: Do You Need A Record Label?

by reverb_administrator on June 1, 2010 · Comments

About The Author: Ben Jacklin is one of the founding members of Method Promotion, offering articles on ways to self-promote online, as well as the Method team’s services in representing artists in the world of music promotion. Achievements to date include getting artists’ music played in Ministry of Sound clubs, on BBC radio, and videos played on MTV channels.

Qualified in Music Technology, Ben also keeps his finger on the pulse of the music business, and his passion for music means that he is equally happy striving to promote artists with ten fans or ten million.

Do I Need A Record Label?

You don’t need me to tell you that the internet has changed the way the Music Industry, and the way us music types think about our business. One of the things thrown into disrepute is the way music is released. We can now reach almost anyone via the internet, and we can network and promote online before releasing in virtual formats online.

Of course this is a major contrast to the industry from, say, fifteen years ago, which has led to changes in the role of the record label. Does your average artist even need a record deal nowadays? And should it still be something to aspire to?

Something that our generation’s new found wealth of technology has undoubtedly changed is the equipment available to us. Music can now be made to a professional standard from the comfort of our smelly bedrooms, and the role of a full-blown studio is becoming less important all the time. Where does this come into recording contracts?

There was a time when you’d need studios, and you’d need money to pay for them, and the only way to get this money was to find a Label to take a punt on your tunes. Nowadays, a reasonably priced microphone and a computer can be the mainstay of your studio, and used correctly, can record music to a standard acceptable in the industry. Labels no longer even have to be involved in the creative process of making and recording your music.

The aforementioned isn’t the only change concerning existing labels. I wont go into excruciating detail, but it’s generally agreed that major labels are on their proverbial last legs. On the one hand, they aren’t putting money into discovering new talent, and on the other hand, smaller establishments are cropping up all over the place.

Small Labels and self-releasing artists are becoming the norm, and more and more resources are becoming available to aid musicians from a grassroots level. Help is available with regards to everything from licensing to releasing music, and available to absolutely everybody. The power is shifting from the big labels to the average Joes.

However, is it power you’re looking for? There are many reasons that labels are even still around and providing a great service. If releasing your own music was easy, everybody would be doing it. If you decide that self-releasing is the path you wish to take, it’s important that you realize that you wont be bypassing having a record label, you will BE your record label.

We’ll cover the more glamorous aspects of this shortly, but one must first consider the administrative aspects of releasing music, from licensing to royalty collection to sales figures and beyond. If you can be bothered to do your research and do all of this yourself, then great, but in my experience, creative types are happy to stick to what they do best and take a back seat when it comes to pencil-pushing.

The time and focus needed to release music goes far beyond crossing ‘T’s and dotting ‘I’s, though — a label needs contacts, and a reputation. By releasing on a label you hand this responsibility to them. Any label worth their salt will have built links to the media, and will be working hard to build alliances at all times. If you don’t work with a label you’re going to need to do all of this yourself, and a reputation is not an easy thing to attain.

My view on self-releasing is — how shall I put this? — realistic. So should yours be too. Don’t expect any favors, and be ready for hard work, but hard work is inevitable in making a name for yourself, and if running a label is your chosen method of working hard then the best of luck to you.

A bit of realism isn’t meant as a deterrent; the fact that we even have the option of doing this kind of thing is completely liberating, and I predict that the industry will start to thrive once again as more and more small establishments crop up. Some people are going to have to rise to the challenge.

We don’t have to be afraid of the industry anymore, and if you’re ready to put the hours in, and you’re confident in your ability, then why not? Do your research, rope in all the help you can, and get releasing!

Comments

  1. Do you need a label? Depends on whether or not you want to be a rock star or a small business. It’s true, anyone can be a small business based around music these days.

    Being a rock star, though, that still has very real barriers to entry. Most of the media outlets that make a national artist appear larger than life are not in the music business, or even the entertainment business, they’re in the advertising business. IFPI’s most recent research report was in March 2010 and their focus was how much it costs to “break” a new artist — their average price tag was a cool one million bucks.

    That’s obviously out of the reach of 99% of ReverbNation’s users and, no offense y’all, always will be. Nothing against any of you personally, just saying: those are the numbers, that’s the math. That’s why everyone wants to be huge — it’s rare and insanely powerful. It calls to the human ego like nothing else.

    Every year, more and more small acts are making a name for themselves, though. Maybe the future is ultimately bright…we can all be small-time rock stars for a couple thousands somebodies. Some of us can even turn that into a sustainable career.

    But I think labels will always exist in some form — at core they’re Gate-Keepers for the mass media entertainment complex. Whether their future form is a simple publicity/management company doing invasive 360 deals with top level artists, or LiveNationWal-Mart controlling the entire sick nightmare, we’re always going to have gatekeepers.

    Every revolution just creates a new regime to overthrow.

  2. Hi agree with Justin. It always give a big impact to write that musicians in this “era” don’t need contracts anymore. However, this is only a partial truth. Most of the “conventional” channels have big “entry barriers” that can only be breaken by “real” music business professional. And think about getting live gigs: i don’t know what is the trend abroad, but here in Italy it even more difficult than in the 90′s to get live gigs venues give you a chance. So, yes, it maybe be true that in the future a contract won’t be the key factor for our success in music business, but in this “transition” period it’s still a good way to try to make it.

  3. I believe the big record label will always have a place in the music industry. But at least with the major changes that have happen a small time recording artist has a chance to sell their music. And be successful at it if you do the research and work that is involved in promoting oneself.

  4. Personalyi think it’s just a matter of choice.Most of the artists have good reason to fear big record label but partnership between artist and record label can be better than being independant.In other words like Ben Jacklin said it ” Music can now be made to a professional standard from the comfort of our smelly bedrooms, and the role of a full-blown studio is becoming less important all the time ” but when it comes the administrative aspects labels can provide prolific services that could help to reach efficiently their goal…The good change that occured with internet shows that majors no longer have a total control of the business which is good for artists!

  5. Jed says:

    Record labels add a ton of value to the music landscape (and maybe always will). But the way that they add that value is changing.

    As Justin pointed out, the one thing that hasn’t changed is ‘record label as filter’. Record labels are still points of ‘influence aggregation’. They represent portfolios of Artists, and access to the fans that engage with those Artists. The best labels make it their business to work with a portfolio of Artists that command the most attention from fans.

    If one looked at just that aspect of the value that labels provide, one could ask the question quite simply:

    “Am I better off becoming part of an already-powerful syndicate, or staying solo?”

    Many Artists are asking that question. I do not have the answer for any of them, unfortunately. It depends on too many factors, many of which were pointed out by this post.

    But it is fair to say that many of the services that Labels used to perform, like digital distribution, are no longer unavailable to the DIY musician. So labels are being distilled down into their core value propositions.

    In the future (and perhaps present), I suspect that Labels will begin to expect Artists to have taken on many of the functions that the label used to provide PRIOR to them coming to the label to get signed. ReverbNation is trying to arm Artists with the data they will need to present in order to have the opportunity to make that choice.
    http://blog.reverbnation.com/2010/03/30/new-feature-free-printable-artist-reports/

    And what Artist doesn’t want to have that choice?

  6. Great Article ! This a must read read piece for all musicians that are ready to get a Major Record Deal,. The process of getting a Record Label has changed over the last few years, and for those who are not up to dated, ( READ THIS ) and become Enlightening !

    JOJO TAYLOR

  7. Rasuz says:

    My comment is that we artists need to be surprised sometimes by a website that professes to showcase our efforts. This could do by just picking up an artist at random, by a surprise invite, audit record. Mix or remix his job produce and promote him. That is what Sony music does. I would love such to happen to me as a poor artist from Africa. All I have is my music and I expect Myspace, reverbnation. National geographic, discovery and a host of the to give it to some of us. You could be pleasing the UNESCO and World Music by a surprise invite to produce a good song. Just one good song from Africa.

    Cheers. I am Rasuz

    Musician

  8. I agree on almost everything posted thus far. One thing that has not been terribly focused on is what a label can do for you that you are unable to do for yourself. Some of it Justin touched on with distrobution and national touring – but validation is something that is out of our control.

    We are an independent touring act and we do multi state tours to multiple regions regularly. We independently write, produce and record (both in home studio and professional studio). We sell merch through our social networking and websites and are consistently active. Yet no matter where we play or who we play with there is always the question -

    “What label are you on?” or “Are you signed?”

    The general public seem more willing to listen, support and discuss a band that is on a major label. Of course there are tens of thousands of independent music fans that will listen to music just because they enjoy that particular artist but the average Joe is looking for someone to validate you first.

    I believe it is a double edged sword and we have a few more years to see how the consumer handles this shift of power.

    Thanks for your insight everybody! Great input.

  9. Keith Pole says:

    I found your article to be informative, encouraging and so real! As one who has stuggled in the business for over 30 years professiionally, I have seen the industry changed as stated by the advent of the Internet and digital recording. There is now room for every aspiring musician, singer/songwriter, producer and Indie CEO like myself.

    Thank you for your words of wisdom that have given me more of an incentive to be independent and self-sufficient in the industry. Invariably, I ask that you view my site and provide any feedback regard my music and and career.
    God bless you!!

  10. Keith Pole says:

    I found your article to be informative, encouraging and so real! As one who has struggled in the business for over 30 years professiionally, I have seen the industry changed as stated by the advent of the Internet and digital recording. There is now room for every aspiring musician, singer/songwriter, producer and Indie CEO like myself.

    Thank you for your words of wisdom that have given me more of an incentive to be independent and self-sufficient in the industry. Invariably, I ask that you view my site and provide any feedback regard my music and and career.
    God bless you!!

  11. Joe Sabatini says:

    It all depends whether your trying to eek-out a modest few hundred dollar a week income or if your shooting to be the hugest rockstar in the galaxy. If you want to go big-time , you need to handle the business of publishing, marketing, touring etc. It’s not only the fact that a major record company can physically distribute a recording artist’s musical works into the far reaches of the globe. It’s also about business on a fundamental level. In one sense if you (as an artist) record and consign your albums… then you are (in a business model sense) a record company (or doing business as one). If you produce/record your own album and then manage to get that CD into a local record store on consignment (toss in some marketing)… you are essentially functioning (in a microcosm) as a label. But if you want to sell a bazillion CD’s… you need a major to do it. have a great day… :)

    Joe Sabatini

  12. BUCK50 says:

    Your article hit a sore spot but its the absolute truth. As an artist thats been in the indie industry for bout three years now, I discovered who needs a label when you can get your own mney off your own music.Why get pimped out by a label and get $.85 off my CD being sold in stores for $12.99? As long as there are entities like ITUNES,SONGCAST,SNOCAP,RHAPSODY,AMAZON and many other companies that allow you to sell your music online for a mere setup fee. Marketing yourself as an artist is way more important. The great thing bout that is that, when a record label sees that you have this already going on for yourself, you dont have to look for a label anyore. They will come looking for you. They want artists that already have fans and that are already moving units before they make a major investment in you. I think artists should focus more on getting publishing and distribution deals rather than trying to get signed by a label thats gonna pimp them out and take everything the artist worked so hard to build. Not making a proper contract can have you ending up sellion millions of albums and being completely broke anyway like T.L.C, Lauryn Hill,or anyone who ever signed to BADBOY REDCORDS. BUCK50 RAHMIER

  13. I disagree with the assertion that recording an album is as easy as getting an average microphone and a computer. This is an oversimplification. If it were that easy then every studio in the world would be out of business and there would be wonderfully produced music coming from everywhere. Just like major labels can provide services that the average artist may not be able to as well on their own professional studios and engineers deliver the same in regards to production quality. The article is supposed to be based upon reality and it is not realistic to assert that an average microphone and a computer will be able match the industry standard for recording. To attain the real professional gear costs ten of thousands of dollars. Any indie artist who’s been to a music store will know. Furthermore to attain the skills and ears to reach world-class productions levels engineers and producers spend decades constantly perfecting their craft.

    Its not the arrow. Its the archer.

    Aurin Lahiri
    OhmSessions Music Production

  14. I agree that it is not the arrow, but the archer.

    Mostly because I have heard some pretty impressive sounding stuff produced by some guys with average (still not cheap) mics and DAWs.

    I think quality music production is more about the ears and less about the gear.

    Great article, by the way.

    Thanks,
    Danny Skinner

  15. GB says:

    I AGREE THAT THE MAJOR LABELS WILL ALWAYS HAVE THEIR PRESENCE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, BUT IT’S NOT THE ONLY WAY TO GET HEARD. IT ALL COMES DOWN TO WHAT THE ACTUAL ARTIST OR GROUP WANTS TO DO WITH THEIR CAREER. SOME PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR THAT MAINSTREAM EXPOSURE WITHOUT GOING THROUGH THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF TRYING TO MAKE IT. THERE ARE LOTS OF ARTISTS WHO WANT TO STAY COMPLETELY “UNDERGROUND” AND NOT WORRY ABOUT ANYONE TELLING THEM WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC TO MAKE OR HOW THEIR APPEARANCE SHOULD BE OR HOW MANY ALBUMS THEY MUST RECORD IN ORDER TO BE RELEASED FROM THEIR CONTRACT. IN MY OWN OPINION, I FEEL IT’S BEST TO TOUCH YOUR FANS PERSONALLY. DO LOTS OF SHOWS TO GIVE PEOPLE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO. NOWADAYS, PLENTY OF MUSIC IS SPREAD AROUND BY WORD OF MOUTH. PEOPLE ENJOY JUST A GOOD OL’ SHOW BECAUSE IT LEAVES THEM WITH A NEW EXPERIENCE. PROMOTE YOUR MUSIC AT YOUR SHOWS. DISTRIBUTE YOUR SINGLE, MIXTAPE, OR ALBUM BY HANDING OUT SOME COPIES. I CAN ALMOST PROMISE YOU THAT THEY WILL BE BLASTING YOUR CD ON THE WAY TO THEIR DESTINATION AND WILL BE TELLING A FRIEND.

    SO YES, A MAJOR LABEL AND CONTRACTS ARE IMPORTANT IF YOU ARE NOT LOOKING TO DO A HUGE AMOUNT OF WORK OTHER THAN RECORDING. IF YOU’RE A GOOD OLD FASHIONED ARTIST WHOSE WILLING TO GO THROUGH THE STRUGGLES THEN MAYBE YOU CAN TRY A DIFFERENT APPROACH.

  16. Ksk says:

    The Kids Saving Kids Campaign and Becca Levy are still looking for a few good musicians in California. If you want to help raise awareness of drunk driving prevention with your music, visit http://www.ksk.stopddnow.com. You must be the age of 18 or under and have an original recorded song.

    Get more information and submit your music to http://www.ksk.stopddnow.com

    For more on Becca Levy, visit http://www.beccalevy.com

    Save Lives with Your Talent!

  17. Great article.I agree that it is not the arrow, but the archer.

  18. promise Austino says:

    a gospel singer wonna be a part..

  19. I want to be your artist I got whatever it takes me and my crew.Get back to me plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  20. I think that self releasing is very much difficult or approximately impossible for most of the people. If I buy a record label, that would not be so cheap too, as they would charge a fixed percent from your sales, but that is rather cheaper then self releasing. As the label providers take care of many of the facts like marketing, risk assessments, arranging concerts , selling concert tickets and many more. So I really need a record label .

  21. jolen says:

    I would really love to record a label. But don’t know the procedure. Can some body guide me plz??

  22. Cathy I says:

    If you want to hear quality music then buy a record label, but the disadvantage of it that it is expensive and you don’t know if that copy will last for a long period of time. But if you just like to listen a particular music because of the trend or just to have a copy then go to the internet, unfortunately, it will make record label industry to collapse. If the industry will collapse the music and the number of artist will also collapse. Therefore I advice people to buy record label even it cost much in order to keep the industry alive. http://www.mailboxandpostshop.com/wall-mount-mailbox-c6.html

  23. sisters wade says:

    Great Article ! This a must read read piece for all musicians that are ready to get a Major Record Deal,.

  24. very nice article, and also very informative reply cathy. Now I will also look to buy my own record label .

  25. You’re bored. Tired of what you do. You’re not even close to where you hoped your business would be by now. You feel like you’re losing ground and don’t know how to get energized and ready for the next round.

    It happens to nearly everyone. Even though we know it takes most people two to four years to get a business off the ground and making money, we somehow believe we will be the exception to the rule. Or we just forget how long two to four years actually is. It doesn’t help that every time we turn on the news, echoes of the declining economy ring in our ears.

    Plenty of people are thriving, even in this economy, and you can, too. More important, you can regain your passion for what you do. Follow some of these suggestions to boost your flagging enthusiasm:

    1.Become an industry insider. Take the next step to becoming savvier about what’s going on in your field. Buy a subscription to that industry magazine you considered a luxury. Become a presenter or simply attend a conference you’ve always wanted to go to. You can always become more involved, whether it’s helping at a local event, writing articles for publication or lobbying for a cause your industry cares about.

    2.Sharpen your skills. You may be good at what you do. But someone else in your field knows more than you do, has more skills than you do or has that extra edge. Nothing chases away a slump faster than learning something new. Government agencies, businesses and schools all offer tons of e-learning opportunities at low cost. Look for training sessions at local universities or interest groups.

    3.Find a mentor. One of the best ways to insulate yourself against business failure is to find and work with a mentor, someone with business experience who can guide and assist you. One place to begin is findamentor.org, a free website with a database of mentors and apprentices–a safe community where people can find support for achieving their desires. Find the right people to give you advice at the right stages in your career, be it one person or 20. Nothing is better than having a go-to person with whom to discuss your business ideas and concerns.

    4.Grow your network. You know you need a professional network of people to help you open doors, get you in someone’s office or help you close a deal. But there are other advantages, too. When you find the right group of people and you click, it can be fun. Group events, socializing one-on-one and even commiserating about similar situations and feelings can remind you that you aren’t alone and that a new day is just around the corner.

    5.Dealing with naysayers. Most of us deal with some clients or customers we can’t seem to please, no matter what we do. Take their comments in stride and see if what they are saying is honest. If it is, take measures to improve your business. If it’s not, focus on the positive testimonials you have gotten. Remind yourself how many people you are helping. Keep a folder of those positive comments and revisit them often. Better yet, add those testimonials to your website. They’re great for attracting new clients and are a real mood booster when you’re having “one of those days.”

    Check out my music at (www.reverbnation.com/michaeljclimaxx) and (www.myspace.com/yungcubdidub) Thanks for your time & attention. It means so much to me

  26. joshua payne says:

    yes i’m a studio drummer looking for a band or studio time with other bands. if your interested let me know. my style of playing is heavy,jazz,country,funk,ect. looking forward to hearing from you.

  27. Jt says:

    Its all been said. MONEY! money is they key i believe. 1 million dollars is the price tag on all your favourite mainstream idiols. If you want to fit in with the glamorous you need money. if you have a few hundred thousand laying around you could build your own lable and promote yourself.

    Who do you think makes the bands what they become? All the internet has done is create a filter for lables to sift threw. which no one really has ever gained full stardom from a myspace page.

    Lables will always be around, its just like a black market there the ones who rule the game. Or is it?

  28. Agreed! With everything ya said!

    Just finished my latest cd, “A Very Jenny Chrsitmas”, for this upcoming Holiday Season and it’s been a full year of long hours, hard work and fun times too…. But just staying on top of every aspect involved from beginning to end, that’s the key. Being independent is a good thing but I would not mind the help of the bigger people. That’s the truth. lol

    In the meantime, with every album I do, I put my best foot forward, get the best people I can involved and learn as much as I can and make changes for the next campaign, next album, next event!

    Thanks again for the article!
    Jen
    wwww.jennifervazquez.com
    http://www.youtube.com/madam33

  29. Joey Stintt says:

    These days there are a number ways to get you’re music sounding like the labels and promoted online. Start linking and blogging, create you’re fan base!

  30. Joey Stintt says:

    Finding the label sound….. http://www.sageaudio.com

  31. TRevor says:

    so…what if I want to be recruited by a label and/or producer to play in a new project band?

  32. Chuck Hughes says:

    Rebecca Black. No you don’t need a label. You need a youtube video. Recording is free, distribution is free.

  33. Great advice thank you for keeping it real.

  34. mac-benson. says:

    we need recording label.x-lawz

  35. Kris says:

    If your trying to be heard nationally and internationally you need a record label. If your trying to just be heard on your street or amongst your local friends you don’t. My reasons for stating this is because of the obvious details pertaining to basic promotions & marketing for any artist of group.

    itunes, Rhapsody, napster etc. are all good to sell your music on it. But how do you get a million people to even know that your on the websites to begin with? Most will say at your shows and from your concerts but then how do you establish shows and concert performances that are credible and profitable? All of these questions amount to money. From managers, show book keepers, concert promoters, publicists etc. all want money. The more money you have the better the service. In the long run, the proper tours and shows cost more money and with more money the more your able to be heard. Even with a little extra cash flow that slips into the hands of Deejays your able to be heard within a larger audience that the songs are marketed too (otherwise known as payola).

    In the long run, record labels save the headaches and have a staff of over 200 plus people promoting with the label from street teams to higher end promotional marketing multi-media companies who get your product (the music and image of the artist or group) heard to a super large demographic in the million compared to the few hundreds that pay attention to what the unsigned indie artist or group obtains.

    Even with the over saturation of artists and group now a days in the world of music and Cd sales world wide are less then 60% since 1999. Times tells anyone that labels are needed even more to fund any artist who wants to obtain success in a time that supply is up with less demand.

  36. Gaz says:

    Great article! It’s all about the right ears listening to your music at the right time! A fortunate phenomenom for the lucky few who get the breaks. Have faith in your own music and abilities and keep getting out there!

    Gaz

  37. chinoblaze says:

    i want a record deal pls can any one help.

  38. I very much enjoyed this read, the music industry has changed for both musicians and people who work in the industry at large. The internet has both pros and cons. In any event you still need, skill, drive and enthusiasm, those requirements will never change. I think we are in for some very interesting and productive times as things continually evolve within the music industry.

    cheers

  39. I think it is an interesting and precarious situation. It is an industry and there has been s shift in dynamics for all who are still working within it. Don;t expect too much when you are spending nothing and be prepared to work harder than you ever have done before.

  40. @7DEGREESS says:

    I’m 7DEGREES a music act from Bayelsa State in Nigeria and here is one of my single. Flow like a river. Check it out. http://www.4shared.com/file/5O7H-KOe/7DEGREES-FLOW LIKE A RIVER.mp3.html

  41. ben says:

    Most bands do not have the right equipment to record a quality album. Unless you have $1000 dollar mics and advanced pro tools (not pro tools light) and real arrangement , and production, recording ability-its not he something as $40k to cut a record. Its appalling that the labels would look at you if you and bring it to them recorded it to industry quality.
    Most musicians and bands have home studio that fall in that gray area that are not professional grade and will not stand up to radio play, To expect that an artist foot this bill, and bring ready made, produced material before they would look at it is shameful. It is the industries duty to make sure that good talent and music gets to the people. All I know is the bands today stink, The talent level of the individual musicians is not at the same level. Most bands form and are subpar because of the uneven personnel talent wise. THE negative side to the DIY approach really means their is just more of these mediocre to bad bands. The industry should go go back to the approach that made the classic rock hey day happen in the first place. More quality control for starters

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