If you’re looking to sign with a record label, either major or indie, it’s important to first understand what your needs are. What is that you will actually need in a record label? Are you sitting on a pile of beautiful new music and still need a production budget to record? Or have you already recorded your album and simply need the network (for marketing) so your music can get to all the right ears? In either case, record labels are best known for two of their major resources: money & marketing. Both of which can easily help you shoot your career to the next level, but only if you’re willing to pay a price.
Signing With A Major Label
In most cases, when signing with a “Major” record label, the label will offer you a large cash advance that can be used for anything and everything in your music career. Recording, marketing, visuals, merchandise, clothes, you name it. But it’s important to understand, ALL of that money is expected to be paid back in full before you will receive even one dime from the royalties that your album produces. And since these, album sales are fairly low, even for the biggest artists, many people never get out of debt with their labels. This is a part of their business structure. Meaning that if they never recoup what they’ve invested in you, then you will never see any of the money that you’ve made on your own music. Think of them as an investor, they have the money and the connections to make sure your music is successful, but in exchange, they’re going to take an agreed percentage of everything that you own.
Signing With An Indie Label
“Indie” labels on the other hand have learned to become much more lean and conservative in the way they they do business, usually offering “distribution deals” as opposed to recording deals. A distribution deal essentially means that you record your own music, and they will distribute that music for you. As simple as that. This allows you to keep the ownership of your sound recordings, while still being able to benefit from the network, PR and marketing that a good label should already have in their arsenal. Indie labels these days are heavily connected with blogs and can typically get you in rotation on most public and/or college radio stations.
In either case, these days, record labels have become somewhat obsolete to the independent music industry. Platforms such as SoundCloud & Bandcamp, have made it virtually effortless to produce, record and distribute a record completely on your own. Whereas in the past, when recording equipment was a small fortune, and the only way for your music to be bought or even heard was through radio and retail placements, labels were actually the most critical resources for any new artists. But in the last 20 years, with the advent of home recording equipment and digital distribution platforms, music has become aggressively independent, and has left many (if not most) of the biggest studios and labels out of business or struggling to compete. Nevertheless, there are plenty of good reasons why a label can still be a great solution to you and your budding music career if that is the route that you choose to take.
The best way to sign with a record label, is to do the work yourself! Find a way to build a small budget, record an album, build an audience, make a music video, play as many shows as you can, and THEN, once you’ve already proven yourself as independent artist, engage in a mutually beneficial discussion that will allow you to leverage the work you’ve already done, so you can get the deal that you deserve. If you don’t go this route, and you allow yourself to depend entirely on the investment of a record label, then you can easily find yourself with little to nothing to show for yourself, and a lot of debt to back it up!