Two weeks ago, we broached the all-too-familiar topic that artists, fans and individuals in the music business have fun debating – stay independent versus signing with a label. Last time we covered the reasons to sign with a label and what they should be offering an artist. While that may be the traditional avenue for artists, the internet has made it much easier for artists to opt out of that and go independent, using third parties as radial partners in their career without seeding control to a label. Now we look at why it is smart to stay independent and what that can mean for an artist.
1. Creative Control:
This is the number one thing artists talk about with being independent versus signing to a label. Labels have their own ideas on how music should sound with them and some have very pushy A&Rs that can reject outright songs if they don’t think it will work for monetary reasons or otherwise. If you are independent, you can put out the music you want without compromising on anything. You can bounce from a project that fits in your traditional lane to something in a completely different genre, to a project that likely won’t sell, but satisfies a creative need all within a short period of time. You don’t have to worry about someone else telling you that you can’t release those songs because it won’t get lots of streams or sell well.
2. Control Of Release Schedule:
We often hear artists say they have loads of new music ready to go, but can’t release it for some reason or another. Sometimes it is because it wouldn’t be a smart move in terms of marketing and strategy. Other times it is because their label is sitting on the music and there are differences in how to approach the release or even if it is worth releasing. Having a label in control of your release schedule can feel powerless. Their attention comes and goes with who is the priority of the moment and if your release doesn’t fit with their schedule or if there are a lot of bigger releases at the moment, your music may get kicked down the road until a later date, despite your wishes.
3. Control Of Masters:
This is a MASSIVE point many new artists may not be as attuned to, but who controls the masters is a huge point. Labels will want to have control of the masters of the song, meaning in effect they have control of the rights of your music for a period of time that is negotiated. Your deal can give you leeway with what you do with your music, but they want the masters for monetary purposes and so you can’t just walk away at any point. Controlling your own masters gives you freedom to take your music anywhere you want at any time and to do what you want with it. You are the master of your own destiny.
4. Build Your Own Team:
This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. At a label they have their own in-house marketing team, A&Rs, connections to other artists, distribution, PR for various mediums and potentially publishing and sync, depending on the size of the label. This can be helpful if you want them all to take care of it for you, but then you are beholden to their people. You can hire some outside help, but that costs more money (those label employees aren’t free) and can lead to confusion and miscommunication over your career.
Building your own team means you can choose the experts you want in distribution, publishing, sync licensing, PR and marketing. They will all be coordinated by you and your management, working towards your goals, not your label's.
As much as you don’t want to cede control of your music to a label, there is another factor in having a label – they are making money off of your music in return for their services. If you have control over your own music, you don’t have to give a cut of your sales to a label. Selling music online will still mean that distributors and the digital marketplaces will take their cut, but now you will know what you are earning by distributing your own music yourself.
6. Cachet Among Fans & Industry:
Being independent has a certain cachet to it. People love Chance the Rapper for his music, but he is respected even more because he has built his empire independently without the help or been shacked by a label. He often credits his freedom for the ability to do what he does and as an independent artist you can use that as well. If fans know their support is going directly to you and not to a slew of third parties in between, they may be more inclined to support you. There is something cooler about being independent. Many labels have a level of “cool” themselves, but going about it yourself earns you respect for taking on the challenge and being your own boss.
7. You Are Always The Priority:
In the label business, they say that some artists are a “priority.” They don’t necessarily define it, but it generally means those are artists they are focusing their time and money during a certain period when the musicians are set to release music. On a label with a lot of artists, that can leave others lost in the shuffle. If you aren’t a massive artist who wants to suddenly release a new project you made quickly, then you may have to get in line and submit your EP, single or even “surprise” album to put out when the label wants. If it is something that is super timely and it doesn’t get released when it needs to, then it may never get released. As an independent artist there will always be people who take too long to get back to you and there will be issues with publishers, streaming services, PROs etc. That is the business and people can be slow in any business. However, you can always make yourself the priority when you are the boss and not worry about others who don't make you the priority.