Why You Need A Record Label

The mind of musicians and music professionals today reflect a passionate anti-industry mentality. This “damn the man” mindset has rightfully been established after decades of major label extortion, the industries unwillingness to adapt to piracy, absurd lawsuits, power labels controlling the airwaves, and the perceived industry racketeering of musicians. The spill over has infecting musicians minds into thinking record labels are a joke and bands need to take careers into their own hands. “Record labels are dinosaurs” you hear time and time again, but is this really true? Labels represent getting screwed, lawyers equate to money takers, managers reflect worthless leeches, agents represent robbers, and any music professional looking to elevate an artist’s career is indeed “the man”. Don’t get me wrong, some of these are true, but one negative trend needs to be put to bed – musicians DO need a record label and here are 3 reasons why.

  1. Making an album is different than selling an album – Sure recording studios are expensive and recent technology advances make recording an album on your own relatively free, but this also generates a negative trickle down effect.The accessible recording equipment allows for more musicians to put out albums, meaning more albums in the marketplace, equating to more competition, and ultimately meaning higher difficulties in successfully marketing an album. In 2008 Nielsen SoundScan estimated there was 105,000 new albums released.Despite the overwhelming number of releases, only 6,000 of those were able to sell 1,000 albums or more. That is 4% ladies and gentlemen so you can’t hide behind the numbers. In most cases 1000 album sales could NOT provide a 5 piece band a comfortable living. I can already hear the opposing argument, “but if I sign with a label we will receive only a percentage of the sales, therefore our cut is even smaller.”Good argument, but simple not true. Why? As a band you control your own fate, you control the terms of the contract, and the greater level of success you build on your own, the more negotiation ammunition you have with a label in order to establish favorable/fair terms. Labels ultimately specialize in marketing, you don’t. There is a tremendous gap between making an album and selling an album, and marketing fills that void.
  2. Representing yourself rarely works – (Q) What is one of the first things musicians demand? (A) More gigs. (Q) How do musicians want to acquire more gigs? (A) A booking agent.There’s always a progression in a musician’s career. For the typical musician, bands start locally and feel comfortable booking their own gigs- focusing on local bars, clubs, or lounges. Then the bug hits – “man we’ve got to grow”, and to do this you need a booking agent. Booking your own shows on a local level is fine, but when the need for expansion hits, regional clubs will rarely let you in the door if you’re booking yourself. My past included being a booking agent and a talent buyer for a music venue. As a buyer, when a band called wanting to play, I automatically pigeonholed them as a local talent that would not draw the audience for a regional show.As unfortunate as it may be, when bands represent themselves as a booking agent it reflects a minor league level in their career even though they are selling themselves as being in the majors. As an agent, I got past the gatekeepers with ease because bands with booking agents mirror professionalism.This same model applies for musicians who put an album out on their own. Releasing an album has many complicated levels such as: generating distribution, endorsement deals, touring, and marketing (which was talked about earlier). Distributors will rarely deal with bands directly, companies won’t secure sponsorship packages with groups, and developing successful widespread marketing strategies can’t be accomplished if you represent yourself. I understand that many bands can accomplish these things over the internet; but internet promotion isn’t the end all be all when releasing an album. At some point, musicians must surface from the computer screen to make worthwhile face to face contacts, and when that time comes if you don’t have representation your first impression will be amateur at best. I believe Bruce Iglauer said it best in a recent Billboard interview: “In this tough new music business, many smart artists continue to realize that their best opportunities won’t come from working on their own.”
  3. Musicians are creative and businessmen are assholes – a musician’s career is essentially a privately owned business. To run a successful business you can’t operate on fragile friendship feelings, rather you need to have a controlling iron grip on everything. Musicians grow a fan base by being larger than life figures, polite to their fans, and by networking.These principles clash with the qualities needed to be a successful business owner. Businessmen have to make the hard decision, they need to be the soldier on the front line taking the bullets, and they need to be the person who doesn’t care about individual feelings or giving away free music. Sure these parties clash, but musicians need a business partner, and a businessman needs musicians. The second bands attempt to fill this role in difficult business situations; they run the risk of alienating fans and jeopardizing their careers. Labels provide the resources to handle the hard situation, along with having a burning passion to sell as much as possible. Regardless of your stance, this is constantly the primary objective rather you’re an artist or businessman – sell records.

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