While being able to say you’re signed to a label sounds awesome, are they essential to make it in the music industry? With more artists making it under their own steam, combined with a myriad of artists publicly fighting with their labels it’s a question that is becoming more and more prevalent.
Benefits of a Record Label
Although they’re sometimes demonised, many record labels do come with a lot of benefits.
The primary one is to provide artists with the time to work on what they do best, and that’s making music. A record label can handle a good portion of the labour intensive work, like promotion, production and distribution of the music you’re making. They also already have the connections and contacts in place to get you gigs, airtime on radio, merchandise deals and tours. What’s more, they’re often able to provide the finance for all of these things upfront, something that you may not have been able to do yourselves (or at least not in the early days). This combined with their experience in the industry is just a small portion of the benefits that they bring to the table.
We liken a band having a big label to a startup getting investment, yes, some make the big time alone, but having investors tends to add rocket fuel to process of getting there.
If you’re small, new, or just don’t feel a label is for you, in this day and age there are other options. Chance the Rapper is a success story known for being independent of record labels, showing that it is possible to make it without one; albeit possibly a little harder in some respects.
Our tips if you are looking to go it alone are as follows:
Long gone are the days where you’d need to buy at least 50 products of each of your designs. Now in the age of micro manufacturing, you can buy very small quantities of products, allowing you to start small and gradually scale up when you know what sells. You can buy as little as one budget t-shirt at a time if you wanted to with A.M. Custom Clothing, printed with your design or logo. Or you could even go to the next level with organic t-shirts.
Technology is also playing a role; now in the ‘on-demand’ world, you can really take things outside of the box. Who needs a table with 100 t-shirts on at a gig, when you can have a couple of t-shirts for people to see the quality and then take orders via an iPad, to then be fulfilled after the gig. Again reducing the need for you to hold stock before an order is placed, and in turn reducing the initial financial outlay.
This is all about building relationships and having the time to do so. If you can build relationships with the right venues and booking agents, you then stand a shot of getting booked to play at events and venues. In the digital world this is becoming a lot easier as places like LinkedIn allow you to strike up a conversation with the right people, and in turn get yourself a gig landed!
Marketing & Promotion
If you’re a creative this will be something again you can work on yourself. Whether it’s churning out content for YouTube and social media to garner the attention of potential fans, or a great website & online shop with a cleverly executed marketing strategy behind it.
This can be very time consuming, and have a steep learning curve, but if you’re willing to put in the time and effort it can work.
We often hear of small bands trying to build up their online following just by playing small gigs. When asked about their numbers, most say they gain about 1-5 new followers on social media per gig. Let’s assume you play 1 gig a week, that means it’ll take you 3-4 years in a best case scenario to gain 1000 followers. Your numbers may be slightly different, but analyse them, and use the data to work out whether your strategy is effective & in line with your goals.
We say work smart, not hard. Maybe a great social media or Youtube campaign is better suited for gaining fans in mass. Yes there is value in gigs, and it can help you to be spotted by a label; however, a good online strategy could help accelerate the growth of your following and in turn make it easier for you to book gigs on a national or even global scale. Plus it’ll help you sell more merch and music, enabling you to finance endeavours like a tour. It’s not as fun or glamorous as making music, but it may work.
Recording your music can be expensive, which is why things like merch & gigs are vital to a bands success, as the revenue can help you to finance getting great recorded material. Although, in the early days we’d say record on whatever you have. It might not sound perfect, but it’s better than nothing, it’s the minimal viable product. Some of the greatest stars to have been spotted on Youtube & other platforms often start with budget equipment and garner an audience with this. This audience then helps them to generate the funds & viewership to then invest in better equipment. That is then your own equipment, which you can use again and again, rather than having to pay by the hour in a studio.
We think labels do still have a worthy place in the industry, they provide invaluable insight and help bands navigate the complex music industry. However, we think if you’ve got the patience and creativity to go it alone, then it’s totally do-able.
If nothing else, using these tips early on may well help elevate your band, making it more appealing to labels when the time comes that you do need or want one to help you. Stars like Ed Sheeran started out without a label, only to join one when he’d made some traction on his own.
Or alternatively, if you find you’re awesome at all of the above and you enjoy doing it, you may find yourself starting up your own label.
One take away from this should be to treat your band like a business. Like with a brand, your product (that being your music) is the most important element; but if no one gets the chance to hear it, then it’s going to be far harder to live off of your passion. So marketing yourself is critical.
That being said, being in a band should be fun, don’t let this side of things take away from that!
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