You don’t have to be a music guru, or fanatic to know that signing a record label isn’t exactly rainbows and sunshine. Artists for years have complained about the insincerity of their labels and how they are insufficiently satisfied with their contracts. Even big name artists, like Kanye West, are taking the stage to complain about record company greed.
Although you should feel bad for the thousands of artists who have been finessed by horrible deals - some earning barely 20% of their overall revenue. With all the information available in this digital age, artists should be thoroughly equipped with the knowledge to navigate the music industry. And for that, we don’t feel bad for any new generation artist that signs a sub-par deal. No artist in the digital age should sign a record deal. It’s just the truth.
"Signing on the dotted line means that you are either licensing your master rights (the ownership of the recording) or assigning your master rights legally to another party, company or person.” - Jon Skinner of Music Gateway
First off, getting signed is not the goal. Making music with impact should be the goal. Being mindful of your goal will allow you to make better decisions. Signing a deal, for most labels, means signing over your main leverage as an artist. That is, your music. The sole thing that every artist has been working for won’t be owned by them. That means they can’t even use their music to negotiate better contracts. Thats like the NBA owning Lebron Jame’s stats, like points per game, or his athletic ability. Imagine trying to negotiate a deal to play for another team and you don’t own your own stats. That is a very abstract concept that goes on in the music industry. Essentially, that control should be left to the artist, not label heads.
2. Digital Marketing Is the Answer
Before the digital age, the only access to marketing involved a very costly investment. Print and video advertising where the main forms of marketing, and they weren’t cheap. To market your music meant spending a huge budget, even on things like cd manufacturing. The only people with connections to even get music out, were labels. However, now advertising has become very cheap, accessible and even profitable. Will the average person buy a physical cd? No. Do you need to spend thousands of dollars on print ads, commercials and billboards? No. So why do you need a label? Therefore artists that invest time in money in digital marketing skills won’t depend on a label. In a simpler terms, you sign a record deal to be marketed effectively. Cut the middle man out and learn to market yourself.
Internet and technology has truly shifted the music industry's balance of power. That means its easier than ever to reach out to music blogs, run ads, and create EPK’s, promote music videos, and reach out to taste makers and A&R’s. You don't need a label to build an audience, but you do need a strategy. For more information on digital marketing, we recommend that you check out Hubspots Free Social Media Course.
3. You Don’t Need To Be Drake
We know, every artists goal is to make it big like Drake. Unfortunately he’s a one and million phenomena. The odds are stacked up against you. At least, right now in your music journey, you have a long way to go.
Instead of focusing on how to get the most fans, learn how to get quality followers. In the digital marketing world we have this term called a “vanity metric.” A vanity metric is any data point that you can measure, that essentially doesn’t matter. We all know that one instagram musician with 10k followers and 100k Spotify listens per month. Those are vanity metrics: follows, and listens. They may say, “I have a ton of engagement,” but how many of those people are willing to spend $1 on your craft.
Thats the difference between a professional artist, and a amateur. A professional artist has a solid fanbase that is willing to spend money on them. The amateur artist has fans but no one to make a financial commitment. Focus on how you can monetize your craft on the small scale, before you even think about the world wide success. And be honest, do you want 100k listeners per month with no revenue, or 1k listeners but they’d all spend $10? 1k listeners times $10 is $10k. If you are just in this game for the clout, good luck trying to get to the next level in this music industry.
Synchronization is a quick an easy way to monetize your music.
“A synchronization license is an agreement between a music user and the owner of a copyrighted composition (song), that grants permission to release the song in a video format (YouTube, DVDs, Blue-ray discs).” - Easy Song License
This means, you can submit your music to be entered into commercials, movies, games, and other media. This may not be the most glamorized approach as an artist, but its an easy way to get your brand monetized. Imagine, getting your song in NBA 2k, or other sports games. That can be huge exposure for your brand. Plus, I think we can all use some side income.
All in all, the functions of a record label seem archaic when faced with the reality and features of the digital age. Much of record companies leverage, that relied on marketing and networking, is now outsourced to social media. This is why labels are taking a bigger piece of the pie more and more through the years. A telling sign which shows that maybe labels aren’t as profitable as they make it seem. This lack of efficacy may allow artists to step up their game and work smarter. In the end, it is up to the artist to choose how they will move. Using a combination of these tools, and introspection, we hope to provide value to all artist in making future decisions.