“Do you still need a record label?”
According to Portia Sabin (president of Kill Rock Stars and host of ‘The Future of What’) and all three of her guests on episode #46 of that podcast — John Shepski of Fluff & Gravy, Aaron Meola of Tender Loving Empire, and Blake Hickman of Good Cheer — the answer is YES.
At the very least, you need a person who can perform all the tasks of a label. Is that you? Do you have the time and energy to effectively act as your own label?
What does a record label provide for artists?
If you have a good relationship with a label, here’s just a few of the things they can help with:
- Knowledge and expertise — You know music, but you might not know the music business. A good label will give you support and guidance. Plus, when you encounter a problem with your music career you’ll have multiple people to turn to for ideas and solutions. A label can help you plan strategically for your release and act as a kind of hub or headquarters for coordinating all the various aspects of your music career.
- Money and resources — The money part should speak for itself; cash is usually scarce when you’re trying to tour, record, promote, eat, and keep a roof over your head. A label is like the bank. As Portia says, labels are the risk-takers of the music industry. “It’s our money; please use it wisely and don’t break up!” As for resources, labels can either handle or connect you with the right publicity, distribution, photography, and videography. They can help you write your bio and press releases, and much more. That frees up a lot of time for you that, without a label, you might’ve had to spend on research, logistics, writing, and scratching your head. Of course that’s time you should now apply to all the other work that goes into your music career.
- Validation and clout — As each of Portia’s guests (all label heads) agreed, getting signed to a label isn’t a magic door you walk through and all your woes vanish. It’s the BEGINNING of a long period of hard work. BUT… you now have a team with you who’s co-investing in your music. That can speak volumes to others in the industry, including the press, booking agents, etc. A label has vouched for you, and that endorsement may have currency in an increasingly crowded music space.
So, how do you attract a label’s attention?
As Portia says, you need to look like you’re going to make it all by yourself. Play awesome shows. Build a fanbase. Put out great music. Create buzz. THEN other people will want to jump on board the cool train you’ve been driving.
So to simplify things: do you need a record label? No, you don’t need a label in order to get started. In fact, you probably WILL and SHOULD get started without a label. Once you’ve built a name for yourself, then ask yourself the same question. At the point, the answer might be different.
What do you think? Are you looking for a label? Are you happily signed to a label? Want to gripe about your bad experiences on a label? Let me know in the comments below.
Chris Robley is the Editor of CD Baby's DIY Musician Blog. I write Beatlesque indie-pop songsthat've been praised by No Depression, KCRW, The LA Times, & others. My poems have appeared in Poetry Magazine, Prairie Schooner, The Poetry Review, & more. I live in Maine and like peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, a little too much.