Is there a role for an indie label in the 2020s?

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 an indie record label? What’s left for the record label to do in the 2020’s?


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.

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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.

Register on sites like Submithub or Playlistpush if you want to get in touch with and recognized by influencers and playlist curators.

Register on sites like Radioairplay, Taxi or Songtradr if you want get aired on the radio or if you want to sell or monetize you songs.

Web Presence

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?

You don’t have to be a web designer to do your web page. WordPress and Wix has readymade templates for you and you’ll be online in minutes.

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.

Collab sites like Kompoz, Bandlab, HitRecord also help to get in touch with other musicians, technicians and artiss all around the globe.

If you want to buy readymade beats there’re plenty of sites like Airbit or Soundee where you can do that.

Let’s make music!

Music videos

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.

But there’re sites like Rotorvideos or Vizy with stock video material so you don’t even need a camera.

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.

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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.

But of course if you’re talented enough you create your own artwork for albums and other releases. If your not you can sign up on sites like Placeit or Canva and design great artworks online.

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.

What is left for the record label?

Isn’t there anything that a record label would do for you? The major labels of course does all the above and more. They’ll have a complete control of everything from production to merchandise. And the artist has to confirm to that and eat the whole concept. And an indie record label will probably also be able help you with everything of the above and will also probably be willing to do it. But you will pay a lot for quite easy things that don’t require much skills or knowledge. Pay in terms of a cut from your income or actually that the artist is paying for this.

There’s still one important role for the indie record label in the 2020s.

A task left for the indie label: Curating the artists

Choosing the right artists is not only a question of who’s popular at the moment. A label needs to be a hub for people to find great new artists.

When you consider finding a label you’d like to work with you will also become part of a bigger roster of musicians. If you’re a smooth jazz pianist and join a label that got three techno artists in the ranks, probably you won’t get the right attention of the label and your future fans. When the biggest labels sign a new talent, existing fans can be sure that they’ll be interested, and everybody’s happy.

Great curation also includes grooming the artists. Does the label have an artist development program. Or at least a plan how to develop an artist.

Finally there is developing relationships for the artist. Major labels will of course have all the relations there is and may open any door. Indie labels function on a smaller scale which makes it easier to build relationships with more trust and they will have opportunities to co-ordinate with other artists on the label.

Is there a role for an indie label in the 2020s?
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