In the good old days being signed meant the artist got paid by the record company. Today it means the artist pays the record company.
The music industry has radically changed in the past years. You probably know that already. Same thing has happened with the job of a musician and a producer. And yet, people still listen to music, so there’s music to be made, and money out there for making it. Do you as an artist need a record label or can you do this job yourself?
There’s not much demand for printing music onto disks and getting it into stores across the world using mail and trucks, but isn’t there’s plenty of work to do online?
To put the tracks on Spotify, iTunes, Tidal and all the others streaming services. There’re about fifty major ones out there. Isn’t that a job only a record label can manage? Answer is no. Just register on a distributor such as TuneCore, DistroKid or CD Baby and they’ll do that job for you for practically nothing. They all have your track on Spotify in less than a week. The payment models differ. Some charge you per single or album, some charge you a yearly fee and some charge you a percentage of the royalties. But they all do the job.
But what about putting the metadata of each track? Who is featured on the song? Who produced? Who played Marimba? All that credits and other metadata about the song? The Distributors take care of that too.
Social Media and PR
This is something we all want to leave to someone else. You just want to write an produce that hit song. When the world hears it you have a banger. Problem is there’re 50 000 songs uploaded to Spotify! EVERY day! You have to be very noisy to be heard in that storm. Maybe this is the role of the record label?
But this is often one area many labels will leave to the artist. And actually the most powerful way to communicate with fans, and to understand what drives them and makes them happy is what the artist does on the social media. The artist’s personal “legend” is best told by the artist and not by a PR machinery. It is a vital way for the artist to stay current and keep their feet on the ground.
Register on Spotify for artist and they will guide you through your release, your social media share and your release rate.
Each artist must have a good web presence and must be easily found by fans and potential fans alike.
But before you give this job the record label. Check if the record label has a website? Does it feature its artists? Do they appear on Google when you search them by name? Are they on Wikipedia? Is their Soundcloud Bio accurate? Does it give links to buy their music and their live gig dates? Do all the above things link to each other as well?
Most distributers like CDbaby DistroKid and TuneCore provide artist pages. There’s also Spotify for Artists that provide more and possibilities to promote you songs. There are also sites like Reverbnation that works as social networks for artists and musicians.
Rights and Wrongs
Have you sampled a piece of copyright material? How do you clear the sample with the copyright holder. Do you want the release a cover song?
Do you need a record label to clear this? You already know it. No, not necessarily. Your distributer (CDbaby DistroKid and TuneCore) will clear this when you upload your song. The fee is only a couple of dollars. The distributor takes care of it all the legal work
On the other hand, what if you have been sampled by someone else? Or uploaded to and monetized by another person? Register on a PRO (Performance rights organization) and they collect and pay you your royalties. Your distributor also checks if someone uses your music on Youtube or other sites and ensures that the money goes to you and not to that third party.
Royalty Collection and Registration
You might be registered with a rights organizations (PRO), but a label might ensure that your released music is properly tagged and classified in order for you to be able to collect any of the proceeds. But it’s not hard to register your songs and tag it properly. Most PRO’s allow you to do that online. And why have an intermediate taking a cut of your royalties.
In the US there are ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, SOCAN, and GMR. In other countries there are other organizations. Just register online on any of them and you’re done. Here’s a helpful guide Live Music Royalties
Recording, Producing, Mixing and Mastering
The music business is flooded with artists and musicians producing in their bed rooms. Gears like microphones, sound cards, DAWs (Digital audio workstations) is constantly getting better, smaller cheaper and easier to use. YouTube tutorials help you to be a mixing engineer without any college graduation. Collabs with other musicians can be done online and you don’t have to be in Nashville to play with a world class guitarist.
If you still want to hire someone to do the job there’s fiverr, freelancer and truelancer where you can hire technicians and session musicians for affordable prices.
To make a TikTok movie you just need a phone. If you want tom make something more fancy maybe the record label will help you.
Live Shows and Touring
A record label can help you with show bookings and tour planning but that’s not always their business.
But then, when the gig is upon you, the label can help ensure that everything runs smoothly – from tracking down the right cables to filling bowls full of brown M&Ms, but that’s also what your mother can help you with.
If you want to book gigs yourself enlist in services like Gigmit.
CDs and vinyls
Lots of services offer CD and vinyl printing online. You only upload your masters and they’ll print it with different covers like sleeves, jackets or booklets with your artwork and ship it to you. Most services have a minimum order quantity like 100 CDs but at Kunaki.com you can actually order just one CD or one vinyl. Shipping cost will of course be higher per item for just one CD or vinyl.
Graphics will enhance the music expericanse and will be part of your legend and brand. This is an area for the label to step in, connecting you with creators that are good enough to work with you and other artists.
Contracts and Legal
When dealing with artists, percentages and responsibilities, it’s almost vital to have an agreement in writing. This doesn’t mean you have to fork out loads of money on a lawyer who will draft a perfect contract for your label based on your own situation – although that is indeed the best option for those with money.
For those without money, it’s possible to find template contracts online that you can use, making sure you’ve got one that deals with your own situation as closely as possible. These contracts can’t be an exact match to protect both you and the artist in all circumstances, but they can get closer than your own in most cases.
At the most basic level, it’s possible to write your own contract. This will technically be legally binding in most countries, but if any disputes arise, you’ll know that you’re on weaker ground to fight your corner, having not had every eventuality agreed to by a trained professional. Make sure to store and save emails regarding the agreement, so that you can access additional written communication if anything ever goes wrong.