Being an Independent Artist vs Signing with a Label – Which One is the Best Option?

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New artists are often faced with the dilemma of going indie or signing with a label. Labels have been vilified for a while and it’s understandable when we hear all the horror stories about artists getting stuck in predatory contracts. But being an indie artist is not the easiest route, and depending on the type of artist you are, going with a label might not be a bad idea. There are also ways that you can sign with a label without getting taken advantage of. Let’s take a look at whether signing with a label or going independent is the best option for you.

Labels Have Resources

The main benefit of going with a label is that they have the resources to market you as an act. They also have the money and connections to bring in outside talent to perfect your work. Labels can hire session musicians, mixers, sound engineers, and producers for you. They might be able to get you the type of production you’ll never be able to get on your own. If you don’t have a great producer yourself and don’t produce your work, this alone would be more than worth it.

Labels Demand More Control

With that being said, labels will want more control in return. How much control they get will depend on your contract. Some contracts will allow the label to make money from every single stream of income you have, may it be shows, sales, licensing on shows and commercials, merchandising, etc. Others will give you much more leeway and work more like a partnership between the label and the artist.

You can always work with a great lawyer and try to come up with a contract that will be beneficial for you, but you can expect the label to push back. They may also be less invested in an act with a difficult contract than one with a contract that is more beneficial for them.

Labels Give You Access

Labels have a wide network and will make things like booking venues much easier for you. This is a major advantage you will have over an indie artist. Depending on which genre you are in, trying to get top venues to book you will be much more difficult and will put a cap on how much you can earn. Even if you get very successful, some venues will simply refuse to work with acts that aren’t attached to a major label, so this is something you’ll need to think about.

Being Independent Gets You a Bigger Piece of the Pie

The biggest advantage of being an independent artist is that you get to keep most of the money for yourself. People are often surprised by how little artists get from record sales. Some artists literally get pennies on the dollar and make most of their money from shows. Most labels will also require you to give up your publishing rights and your masters. 

Giving your publishing and masters away is much more serious than many people think. Owning your masters allows you to have full control over how your music will be used in the future. You’ll be free to license your music to anyone you wish without having to notify or give a cut to the record label. Publishing allows you to get a cut anytime your music is being used, may it be on a TV show, commercial, or on the radio. 

If you produce most of your work yourself, know how to market yourself, and have a large following, going with a label makes little sense. But, if you want to be profitable, you will need to start learning the business side of things and start building a team. You might want to start looking for booking agents, a good studio, and a good sound engineer. 

You will also have to find ways to spend as little as possible. This might mean that you’ll need to relocate. Most artists would love to live in New York or LA, but talent and studios there are much more expensive and aren’t necessarily better. But, if you move to a smaller but still vibrant hub like Houston, you could cut your rehearsal and recording studio costs significantly.

If you’re looking for a great music studio in Houston, you should give Pirate a try. This is a great place to go if you want to tighten up your performance before a show or work on new compositions. They also have recording studios with a great cozy ambiance where you’ll be able to get comfortable with your team and work on creating.

Labels Give You Legitimacy

If your goal is to become an international star, this will be very difficult to achieve as an independent artist. There has never been a major superstar that wasn’t attached to a label, and if you have lofty goals for yourself and think you have what it takes, only a label will be able to get you there.

Being with a label, for instance, will make it much easier for you to get nominated for awards. There are many great indie artists out there who are ten times better than those winning Grammys, but awards are not only about talent. Most artists who get nominated or win have serious push without them. And you as an independent artist will never be able to get the type of reach a label has.

Being Independent Gives You Artistic License

One of the toughest parts about being on a label is that there will be limitations on how you create your work. This might be very difficult if you don’t like to be constrained. Often, you won’t be able to choose which songs will be on your album. This means that some pieces that are dear to you may never get released. Not only that, but you might not be able to release them on your own even if you wished to unless your contract allows.

Then comes the pressure. You will have an agreement with a record label to produce X number of records, sometimes as much as five. This means that the label may pressure you to release work even if you don’t feel like it or aren’t ready. This leads many artists to release sub-par music that is not well-received. Their sales suffer and the label stops investing in them. This can turn into a very vicious cycle that can ruin an artist. If artistic control is very important to you and you care more about your art than money, go independent.

Being an independent artist can be great, but it’s not for everyone. Before you write labels off completely, look at the pros and cons of both options and be careful before you sign anything.

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