A record label’s job is to market the music of the musicians signed to them. While marketing music is their main job, record labels also function to recruit new talent as well as manage copyright legality of the music they promote.
When deciding whether or not to sign with a record label, it is important to distinguish between the two types of record labels. The main division is between major record labels and independent “indie” record labels.
Major record labels like Sony and Universal Music Group represent the majority of popular musicians and bands today. Their network is wide reaching and they usually receive a large cut of their artist’s earnings. They often sign a wide range of agreements with their artists that get their music into the hands of millions of fans within days. Another aspect of major record labels is that they often own smaller record label companies that manage artists by more selective specifications such as genre.
Indie record labels distinguish themselves by being just that, independent. They are not backed by any corporation and thus, are usually struggling to stay afloat financially. They tend to offer their artist’s lower budget deals that require less of a cut from their earnings. While they might be at a disadvantage financially compared to major record labels, they are often superior in their ability to notice and latch onto up and coming musicians who are on their way to making it big. While they tend to reach consumers slower, they generally have a better insight into what is ‘in’ now and what is going to be on its way in soon. Some extremely famous musicians like Sting and Sheryl Crow were discovered by indie record labels and have made a good name for their labels ever since.
While signing with a record label can help you get your name out there, they will have to assert some control over your music career. For new artists, the label could control many aspects of your musical direction including the type of music you write; even the lyrics and sound. They may also decide on things like album cover and the amount of money the artist earns. The more successful the musician, the more able they are to negotiate the amount of control the label has over their creative direction as well as earnings. While signing to a label should be mutually beneficial for the artist and the record label, if it starts to weigh down on the quality of life for the musician, some reconsideration about staying with the label may be needed.
In today’s technological world of internet and social media fandom, record labels are slowly becoming a thing of the past. It used to be that musicians needed record labels to be noticed by anyone and to get any serious attention. Now that the use of social media and online music platforms is so vast, musicians are able to promote themselves just as efficiently and for a lower cost. Because of this competition, many record labels are starting to require a larger cut from the artists they represent and are taking a hold over more aspects of their careers.
Using the information presented here will help you navigate the often confusing business side of music. Once you get a grasp on these basic concepts, you will be well on your way to a successful career in music with hopefully as few hiccups as possible.