by MATT BACON>
There’s a lot of articles out there about labels ripping you off.
Or how it is all set up in a way that very much dicks over artists and how folks who engage in it are unrepentant assholes. There are also a lot of articles outlining how a record deal works and what you need to be looking for in a record deal. These are both really important things in my eyes and things that have rightfully been documented to death. What I don’t think that a lot of people look at though is why the number you get at the end of the day is so small. It’s easy to complain about not getting paid by labels, but I was hoping to take a moment to look at some of the inherent issues. After all – just because you CAN do everything yourself these days does not mean that you should, nor does it mean that you’re going to get it at as high a quality as a real music industry background might be able to provide to you.
So let’s look at the biggest thing that people ignore, largely because they think that they can afford to, and that’s a blatant lie I’ve gone over many times in the past.
What I want to discuss with this though moreover is the percentage distribution alone takes from a given release. The average distribution company normally takes 25-35% of a cut from a label on top of other costs worked into the deal. Costs that, while negligible for artists selling thousands of copies, will probably screw you pretty badly. Yet all labels worth their salt will tell you that good distribution is a key part to developing your band. Yet they don’t consider any of the real marketing costs of proper distribution. You are screwing the pooch as it were, and again, this is only the first of many key costs that you are going to stumble into as you try and negotiate for points on a record deal with people far more experienced at this whole thing then you are.
Now that’s just the beginning. Let’s also pause for a second and think about PR costs.
What are the PR costs for a big band? Probably something like two to five thousand dollars a month. Well guess what – how much is your band selling? If you’re lucky then you’re making that much on album sales. So wouldn’t it make sense that labels would charge that against you? It’s a huge cost and if your label isn’t charging you for it then you are doing yourself a huge favor. Again – the music industry is a tricky place and there’s a lot of mouths to feed. If you think you can avoid PR then enjoy selling no records. If you think you can properly push PR then you are going to find that it will drain your band of money. That’s fine, it’s a part of the game, but simultaneously you can’t act like it’s not going to have an impact on you. The music industry is not a place of handouts or bullshit, it’s a place where if you don’t quickly realize how to ameliorate you place you will get cut out.
Of course this is just the beginning, another cost that people don’t look at is of course the marketing and artist development team. Now again – these are things that you could probably do on your own, but when it comes down to it you probably don’t want to and even if you did you wouldn’t have the connections to make it truly worthwhile. All of these people need to make a living, even if they are only getting paid a pittance you need to work with paying them for that too. After all – if it weren’t for the foot soldiers at labels and such then you wouldn’t be so excited to sign with a cool one in the first place. If it weren’t for the people going out of their way to work with you and make your life easier then the label wouldn’t really have a point. It would just be an artist curation service. While that’s certainly how a lot of smaller labels work those labels frequently offer different types of deals that help artists a little more.
That being said – you also need to appreciate that just because you are going to a smaller or independent label doesn’t mean that you’re going to get over that customary 10-20% artists cut. That’s because while yes, you’re not getting quite the same services you also probably aren’t going to be selling as many units. So suddenly, some of those static costs, like the PR are a lot more ominous and a lot more threatening towards what the label can be. They need to absorb those costs somehow, which is why they frequently offer you a product deal. This is actually one of the best options for artists because it means your product is going to get distributed and marketed but simultaneously you don’t need to absorb so many of the painful costs, you just get your shit and get to move on, developing your band as you see fit with label guidance when you want it.
At the end of the day, record labels frequently aren’t worth it, because a lot of labels are scams.
People will sell you lies based on heresay from the industry and you’ll think that you’re getting a good deal. Then they disappear on you with your rights and your money and you’re shit out of luck. If you do your research though and take part in a scene though then it’s going to be fairly obvious what is actually worth it and what’s going to drive your career forward. So many ignorant artists have shot themselves in the foot. But the folks who take the time to educate themselves and learn more about the model always end up on top of the game, driving towards beautiful futures and exciting new adventures we all can revel in.