Record labels are frequently kind of grumpy. After all – they are supposed to work with entitled artists, that’s going to be an issue no matter what your relationship to them is. While I discussed before why this makes you less likely to get signed I also want to take some time to go into what behaviors out of being untrustworthy makes it difficult for labels to be genuinely interested in articles. It’s the synthesis of inaccurate expectations and entitlement. It leaves labels in an uncomfortable position and suggests that there is a lot of other weirdness to be picked apart here. They need to balance between artistic credibility and delivering a product that actually looks okay and will sell. This is obviously a tricky balance to strike, especially for independent record labels who have to deal with folks obsessed with DIY ethics as well as trying to make this entire industry work in a reasonable and (hopefully) sustainable way.
Now a lot of labels try to balance this out by going the traditional route of basically saying anything goes as long as they get to approve the final product. This actually makes a lot of sense and can ensure a decent amount of artistic freedom while maintaining the labels ability to move units. It means that the labels can make sure that the artists aren’t shooting their chance at moving units in the foot while simultaneously giving them a chance to express themselves as purely as possible. It’s a delicate balance to strike, and sometimes it can lead to artists trying to rebel in the most obnoxious ways possible. Some artists see a limitation and do whatever they can to fight it, even if it goes against their previous artistic direction and hurts them financially, just look at Van Morrisons classic dud, the so called Revenge Album. There were a lot of reasons he made that record, but a big part of it was definitely the restrictions he felt from his label, which is a big part of why labels have changed how they treat artists.
There’s a lot of secondary reasons why labels just want to approve the final product. In the days of post label bands and groups who think they can get by without any major involvement from the label front (Which can be true if you know what you are doing) they don’t want artists running away from controlling figures. Labels have a bad reputation after all of the fiascos of the late 20th century. They don’t want to have to tell you how to shoot your videos or who to use, because they don’t want to deal with megalomaniacal musicians freaking out about the labels being fascistic and controlling. I know that sounds crass and frustrating but that’s just how it is. Beyond that – record labels often don’t have the time to get their fingers deep into how you are putting together your music videos. That’s just not in their modus operandi anymore. Sure they might have a guy they can connect you with, but odds are barring total trash, things are going to work out okay for whatever you want to do with the label.
Record labels dedicate all of their time to, in some form or another, move more units and develop their artists to be as big as possible in there relevant scene. This might not be so explicit with all of them but that is essentially what they are trying to do. They don’t really have the time usually to pick apart everything that you ‘feel’ and help you feel better about your art. They aren’t interested in sacrificing their time for picky artists to tell them that their connections aren’t good enough for them. I mean – it’s worth it on very high levels for people like Dr. Luke, where the label is all but guaranteed to pull hundreds of thousands of dollars off an individual release, but on a smaller level the general attitude is ‘why bother?’ Odds are no one really cares that much about an individual artist on a labels roster so they need to spend their time maximizing opportunities and helping the artists out as much and as in utilitarian a manner as possible.
I hope you see what this means – you as an artist need to realize that there is a balance between marketability and artistic integrity. If you can find it on your own then you are going to have an easy time sticking with labels that believe in you and finding a way forward that is going to be easy to get involved in and move forward with. However if you’re a dick and you insist on putting out stuff you know won’t exactly work or sell well and leave the label losing money then you’re going to find that no one wants to work with you and are going to end up frustrated. You need to understand how to play nice if you want to move forward in a way that makes sense and will be effective in the long run. I know that can sound harsh but that’s just how it is – you need to win you r way forward and get behind some of the more challenging sides of the industry. I know that sounds rough but there ya go – it, like everything else in this world – is a process.
So embrace the record label system but realize they aren’t going to coddle you along but that you don’t need to coddle to them either. Odds are a good label has seen just about everything under the sun and you are going to need to spend time with them figuring out the best way forward for you together. That can sound like a lot and at times even be an overwhelming clusterfuck but it’s a harsh reality that we all need to turn and face. Record labels these days are all about striking an appropriate balance, demand too much and they will be frustrated and drop you, don’t do enough and they will get frustrated at the lack of income and… drop you. But if you can find the balance which is, to be sure, not that hard to find, you will find peace.