At a certain point in my “career” I think I assumed I would never sign a record deal. I had dealt with a handful of industry people and had decided that I would probably never feel comfortable putting my art in someone else’s hands. Beyond the fears of letting anyone else mess up my “pure” way of doing things, I was seeing the record deals my peers were signing and wasn’t sure there was a deal that existed anymore that made sense for a project like mine. My friends would shoot past me in short term success, and then crash and burn after the weight of a large amount of money and a 3-5 record deal became too overwhelming for them to continue.
At some point along the way, my mind started to change. I met more people on bigger and better tours, and I realized that not everyone is out to steal money from bands. Some people actually want to help artists succeed and are genuinely trying to run a legitimate business where everyone wins.
So my friends and I signed a record deal with people such as those, and it’s been pretty wildly different than previous album cycles. Here are ten reasons why:
This is a pretty obvious one, but a lot of artists don’t realize what this means. Yes, you have more money to work with, but you also have more to pay back. While you are able to get money up front for things like studio time, music videos, vans, and equipment, you also have to pay that money back through actual sales – which could cripple any unlucky or thoughtless career. Without strong creativity and planning, it is easy to blindly spend all of your label’s allowed budget and more, with no successful means to secure the return. When I released my first songs independently, I had no idea what I was doing and that was ok because there were hardly any repercussions – so I learned a lot. When signing with a team of people who are putting money and trust behind you, the stakes are higher and it can become a huge win/lose scenario if you aren’t careful.
2. Creative Control
Some labels take more control over the creative side of a project they are paying for. I think that if you stay smart and don’t want those kinds of deals, you can just say “no thank you” and move on. But there are going to be some deals that require you to loosen the reigns on the creation process. Consequently, part of being independent is remembering why you do what you do and oftentimes taking the difficult route because no one is telling you what to do.
You are now a signed artist. It feels good. Your family is proud and the lady at the local coffee shop congratulates you because, in movies, a record deal equals “you made it.”
You emailed this brand of guitar or drums three times when you were independent and heard nothing back. Now they see that you have a record deal and you’re about to go on a big tour and they want to see their product on stage being used by you. This is an awesome thing. You are also attracting the attention of international agents, other bands who want you to tour with them, and industry people who can take you further in your career.
You don’t have to worry about every little thing anymore. You have a small team working on things with you to make sure it all goes smoothly. I haven’t had to talk to a single CD or vinyl printer during this album rollout, which is great. This also means I can’t always keep track of what everyone is doing, and things don’t always happen the way I would have chosen.
People are depending on you to write/record a record that is going to succeed. This can be a bit daunting. I was stressed for a solid year before we streamed the first song off of Absent Sounds and saw positive reactions.
No matter what you do on your label release, people will have their own perceptions of how the label affected your sound. Most people aren’t going to read every interview or press release where you talk about creative freedom and whatever else you want to preface the new songs. The majority of listeners will see that you have a new release, notice that you signed to a label, and will explain to their friends about the difference in your “new sound” based on your record deal. That is something that you will just have to come to terms with.
When you are not signed to a label, you have to do everything yourself. No one is going to do anything for you, so be prepared to be hands on in every area. On the other hand, when you have a label and a team of people getting your name out there with interviews, features, and tours, you have a busier schedule, which can wear you down.
9. Business Details
What started out simply as me writing and recording music and playing it live with my friends soon becomes something that needs to be spelled out on paper in business terms. Artists and bands can slowly fall apart when it comes to subjects like money and control, so it is important to figure it all out before it becomes a problem. If you follow your gut and listen to the advice of those more experienced and wiser than yourself, it will all work out.
As you shift from independence to a label, roles change and the people who stepped into certain positions out of necessity are to be replaced with people who do this for a living. This can be a truly positive step forward for any business, but needs to be guided by communication and with emotional tact. Remember that everyone worked their ass off to get you where you are and don’t leave them by the wayside.
From Indian Lakes’ new record Absent Sounds is available now on Triple Crown Records — grab a copy on iTunes here!
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