I just want to establish now and in perpetuity that you shouldn’t expect much from your label – especially if you are at the level that you need to be reading an article like this one. I know that sounds kind of shitty but it’s frankly true and sometimes a harsh reality that we all have to deal with. Record labels, even the big ones can often make you feel unappreciated and leave you wondering why you signed with them in the first place. I want to take a look at all of this and encourage you to embrace that record label life and realize that there are ways forward despite the burning brutality of it. Remember this above all things that the record label most likely doesn’t have any malice towards you. Sure music industry politics are a thing but the desire to make money oftentimes trumps a whole bunch of that. Record labels need to make money, but they are not trying to specifically fuck you over. If we go from there we are going to find a lot more success,
Long story short, what I’m trying to say is that don’t be surprised when you don’t get any attention if you are the smallest band on a label with a bunch of artists. That’s not your fault. That’s just how it works. The odds are that label has a lot more money to make (And with which they can fund you) with their big name artists. Sure they might have a licensing or radio branch, but if you’re a tiny band on that roster don’t expect to be the guy making money off of that. Sure they might get you a placement as a fluke because of a superfan or something, but nine times out of ten they will be concentrating on the big name artists. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s almost always better to be a mid or high level band on a small dedicated label than the smallest band on a big corporate one. At the end of the day, the big corporate labels are trying to chase dollars and they need to make executive decisions based off of that.
Again – this is not because big labels are evil. Quite the opposite. If anything they are probably utilitarian. The major labels are able to pay the big bucks and provide the best and most expansive services to their clients because they have a large staff. In order to have that staff they need to pay thousands if not millions of dollars to keep them yknow… alive and happy. In order to do that they need to make a butt ton of money off of their artists. From that perspective it sort of makes sense. They aren’t hiring lazy bums, rather they are trying to find the people who will give them the most bang for their buck, which is exactly what you get with small labels too. Sure it might feel more personal and intimate at a small label, and that’s because it is – but it also means that you’re not necessarily going to have access to the same resources that one of the big boys would be able to provide you with – this is obviously a decision you need to make on a band by band basis.
So from your average small label you can expect to get some sort of press, maybe a little distribution and if you’re lucky radio and licensing – but odds are those last two are nothing you’re going to get to take a bite of. You can expect the label CEO to always be willing to get on the phone with you and to be enthusiastic about your projects and willing to connect you with the people he knows but also limited in what he can do. The odds are your average small label doesn’t have an A&R guy who can really go in and try to help grow your favorite bands. Now of course at a smaller level having a proper A&R guy isn’t necessary but it also means that you have one less person on your team working to help give your band the best opportunities that they can have. Obviously not every label has access to this sort of thing but you get what I’m trying to say – not having one can be a serious limitation but also a luxury most can’t afford.
That is not to say that small labels with bosses who are truly dedicated to the band and have a bunch of connections don’t exist it’s just that most of those record labels are also very aware of their own limitations. They can only do so much relative to the size of their roster and they probably have an upper limit I n terms of the people they are able to get you in touch with. Still – you can probably expect more from a seriously solid one or two man operation than you can from a label where you fin yourself a slave to countless layers of corporate bullshit. I know that’s really bitter and frankly kind of unfortunate but that’s just how record labels are going to work – at least for the forseeable future where we haven’t quite come to terms with what they can offer in a post scarcity world. It sucks a lot of the time, but piracy is the new future and we need to sit down and embrace that motherfucker.
Long story short if you expect shit from your label you are probably going to be disappointed so just take what you can get and embrace it for what it’s wort. You can probably get some cool stuff going in the long run bu don’t expect that to be the norm. These sorts of things are built up over years long relationships with labels and cultures of dedication to a music that oftentimes leaves us choked out and frustrated. If you can’t sit down and accept them for what they are worth then you are going to have to deal with the nihilism of an industry that failed. But if you accept these people are just kind of doing their best then you will realize there is a positive future here for all of us.
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