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The Pros And Cons Of Labels

March 31, 2011

Full disclosure I work for a small record label, Diminished Fifth Records and have done publicity for other small labels(No List Records and Year of The Sun) as well as being friends with many label owners and operators. So when I say that everyone goes on and on about how signing with a smaller Vs. major label is the best choice for a band they are wrong.

It is not out of a dislike or vendetta towards any label or company that I say this. A label is not always the best choice but on top of that a lot of them can still be crooked and sign you into a deal that makes you no money and that you can not leave or break even if they are small and independent. For some artists signing to a label is the best choice and can be a huge help.

The idea that a band that wants to become big and do well has to sign to a label is an old school idea that should have died out quite some time ago. A lot of successful bands and smart ones either create their own label or don’t even bother with the thought of one, most labels these days are just glorified middle men between a band and the distributor. On the contrary to this a label can be a huge help, offering help whenever they can and going out of their way to make an album successful. Some even do things like the one I work for where all our albums get a free publicity campaign or a heavily discounted one, free stickers and buttons as well as helping out with booking shows whenever possible.

Until you are a big name band that can easily draw a few hundred or more people in any given city even with distribution your CD will mostly just be catalogued; with the bulk of stores not even putting it on their shelves. What this means is that you are paying a record label to catalogue your album, something lots of other companies offer at a better and cheaper rate such as TuneCore. Digital distribution can be set up by anyone and local stores will probably have a consignment option for you as well. Self distribution is always an option for a band willing to handle their own business.

Even the best small label can not force their distributor to put the album on shelves but they can put up a digital store and constantly help promote the album to keep sales steady, something a lot of bands might not have the time or means to do. It takes a lot of time to always be promoting an album and a label that does this can really help increase a band’s fan base and sales. A record that comes out and then a few months later has no more promoting for the album will hurt your career. The good label’s are always trying to help get song placement and radio play even if an album is old which can help keep a band relevant in between records.

For bigger bands who can draw in a crowd of 500 or more  will likely have their albums in stock most of the time. This makes it fairly easy to get a distributor for your albums with or without a label backing. Contacting them is not very hard and assuming you have previously had relatively high sales figures( even a few thousand records will be enough to entice them) though you may get a worse deal without a label. The downside to this is assuming your band is gone for three months touring and your distributor needs you to send them some CDs you may not be able to. Label’s are great for handling this stuff while a band tours unless you can have someone behind to handle all your business dealings.

The bottom of this is that Labels will be around for quite a bit longer because a lot of artists need the help and they can be a great part of your infrastructure. Don’t always look at labels as the evil guy trying to make money off of you who makes sure you stay poor, some are people who genuinely want to and will help you succeed. Be cautious though and always have a lawyer double-check anything you sign with them.

– Hassan

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