Thanks to the internet, everyone has the ability to publish their own content and put it out into the world, but that doesn’t always mean doing so is the right move. While there has been a lot of talk in various industries (especially the music industry) about the benefits of going independent, it’s important to remember that going independent also has its drawbacks, so let’s get into the pros and cons of being an independent artist.
Pro: Full Control
One of the most common reasons people give for wanting to go independent is so they can have full control over their content. When a record label invests in you and your music, part of the agreement is that they own the publication and distribution rights to all the music you created in their studio because they paid for all the time and equipment that was used to record that music, as well as the investment in marketing the music in many cases. It’s understandable that artists want to maintain control of the art they create, but it’s important to remember that it comes with a cost.
Pro: You Get to Keep All the Proceeds
Record labels take a percentage of every record you sell. If you decide to produce your own music, you get to keep all the money from every sale you make, but that requires you to pay money upfront to record and produce the album, which leads to our first reason not to try to make it as an independent artist. In the past, the cost to record music was extremely high because of the expensive and bulky equipment required to record, mix, and master music. Advances in technology have minimized that deterrent, but as a result of the drop in costs associated with recording music artists now need more money and expertise in marketing in order to promote music effectively. A label can provide the resources and expertise to accomplish that goal.
In addition to the sales from your records, you can also keep any derivative income generated from your music. This may include any royalties due from licensing components of your music in movies, commercials, or other platforms. Additionally, the merchandising of the your name, image, and likeness is all yours. These sub-parts of your music, in many cases, are more lucrative for the artists than any completely packaged song they may create. Labels understand this potential, and that is why they are willing to risk investment.
When a record label signs a contract with an artist, that contract involves a significant financial investment from the record label. Not only are they paying for the equipment and production costs associated with recording, editing, and distributing the music, they may be also paying the musicians for their time so they can pay their bills while recording their music.
As an independent artist, you’ll have to find ways to pay for all the equipment, studio time, costs of editing and production, etc. while also paying your rent and grocery bills. If you can’t afford all that and you don’t want to work with a record label, you can kiss your music career goodbye. Independent artists frequently have to create multiple revenue streams in order to keep their dreams alive. Dividing your time means that you may not necessarily be mastering your skills as an artist.
And, while you can record on your phone, the difference will be noticeable. Low quality sound can be difference in receiving tens of streams and tens of thousands. Many labels require artists to pull down any content that is not professional grade because low quality content could damage the artist or label’s brand. As an exchange for the standards required by the labels, they are willing to pay money to ensure that the final product is to their liking.
Recording and publishing your music is one thing. Getting it in front of an audience is something else altogether. The good thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice. The bad thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice, making it exponentially more difficult to make your voice heard. Yes, you can use social media to promote your music, but so can every other artist. The marriage between data and content has made social media platforms heavily dependent on algorithms to feed users and consumers the content that they “want”. If you don’t understand how the different social media platforms prioritize content, then your masterpieces may be buried in the sea of creator’s purgatory. In addition to money, labels have personnel whose sole purpose is to position artist’s music for optimal exposure. If you don’t have the expertise, you better have a lot of money to spend while you learn from your mistakes.
Artists are now more informed and more capable of creating their own music, than ever before. The relative ease of creating your own content and the potential profits, versus the risk of getting caught in a dreaded “360” deal, make the independent route very enticing. However, overnight successes often take years to take place. An artist who has no desire to run a business must consider all of the work that comes with running a music business, as opposed to simply recording music. You can own 30%-40% of a watermelon-sized opportunity, or 100% of a grape-sized opportunity that could grow into a watermelon with the right combination of luck, talent, and execution.
That said, there’s a right way and a wrong way to work independently and to work with a label. An important part of making sure your rights are represented is to make sure that you have advisors and subject matter experts (i.e., accountants, lawyers, advisors) who truly represent your interests. The record label has a team of attorneys representing their interests, but they don’t work for you. If you’ve been talking to a record label about signing a contract, make sure you get a qualified attorney on your side before you sign anything. Call now to learn more!