9 Things I Learned From Signing To An Independent Record Label

Young adult woman singing to audience

Getting an offer from a label can be one of two things; the best or the worst thing to ever happen to you. From someone who has been signed to a well-known independent pop punk label, here are the top nine things I learned:

1. Read Your Contract!

After seeing a recording/publishing contract for the first time, you undoubtedly feel like you’ve made it somewhere in your career. A record deal thing could make or break you as an artist, but you should still thoroughly check your contract before you sign on to anything! As great as the money and potential career progression might seem, it won’t be worth anything if your mentality, control and creativity gets lost along the way.

You never know what clauses could be hidden in a contract that’ll come back to haunt you. By signing the contract, you automatically give your permission to the label to abide by every condition on the contract.

2. Think About It First

It’s very possible for a label to pick up interest in you early on in your career (potentially before you’ve even made a name for yourself independently). While this can advance you as an artist and put you in the public eye straight away, it’ll all fall through if you aren’t prepared.

Artist Development deals exist before full Recording/Publishing deals do. Whilst an Artist Development deal might not seem as lucrative as a straight-up record deal, you might not be ready. The last thing you want to do is end up working with a label for months and not achieving anything, when in that same time frame you could’ve had a development program bringing you up to speed.

You could be a new act but have all the experience and marketability needed to forego an Artist Development deal. However, it’s definitely something you should consider before you sign on straight away.

3. Budget Accordingly

When working with a label, there’s huge pressure on you to play shows and to write demos at an eye-watering pace. Budgeting accordingly can ensure everything goes smoothly.

Need to book a tour? It’s going to be worth having money to hire out a van, rent extra equipment and hire crew if necessary. Of course, it’s possible to book a tour with a more D-I-Y appeal with the help of promoters and booking agents, but the label might expect a more professional set up on the road.

Money is also vital for for recording, whether that’s just to buy some good quality equipment for home recordings, or to pay a professional studio and sound engineer to record you. The label will expect high-quality product and will almost-definitely ask you to re-record or re-mix tracks at some stage. Make sure you have budget left over at the end of each session for re-records or re-mixes!

4. Make Sure You’ve Got Time

Do you have the time to invest in your act?

If you don’t have much time on your hands and the label’s expecting you to give 100% of your time to the project, you should weigh up your options. If you can’t realistically fit the right amount of time into practicing, writing and performing then it really isn’t the right time to sign into a label.

It may be that what you’re currently doing full-time isn’t making you happy. In this case, you may choose to move away from your current commitments if you’re happy with what the label is offering. That being said, there’s a strong chance that everything could fall through and you could suddenly be left with nothing. There is potential to work with both at the same time, but it takes negotiating and planning to work around it.

5. Don’t Be Afraid To Negotiate

Depending on which label you’re working with, there could very easily be room for you to negotiate the terms of your contract. For example, you may be a full-time student and committed to finishing your degree, whilst also wanting to gain a head-start in the industry. A record deal doesn’t always mean you have to get up and leave your current commitments. If you explain your needs clearly and reasonably, you’ll often find the label is willing to accommodate.

Negotiating terms will ultimately allow you to take control of your own career; if something doesn’t seem right to you or doesn’t adhere to what you’re looking for, don’t be afraid to fight for what you need.

band performance on stage

6. Have A Manager

Having a manager doesn’t always mean spending an obscene amount of money for someone else to manage you! There are plenty options available to having a “manager”.

You can either designate someone in the band to manage the project, pay for an external manager or take on a friend who’s looking for experience.

Management comes with a heap of benefits, the main one being organization. One thing to note is that a lot of labels will prefer you to have a professional manager as it makes things easier on their end!

7. Focus On Your Branding

As a band you need to establish some sort of “look”, whether that’s just a simple color theme or a fully-developed design plan. This draws people in and allows you to hone in on your target market. Therefore, labels will  be much more interested in you if you’ve got a solid foundation for your branding, which they can then take forward and develop.

Figure out what market you’re in and how you’re going to appeal to your target audience. What general style is your music? What sub-genre do you fit into? What techniques do acts associated to both use that could boost your act? There’s no point posting about mainstream music awards if you’re a heavy metal band because it just doesn’t fit to the image of your act. You might use such a topic to engage with your audience, but ultimately it won’t help you sell records to people.

If you’re looking for ways to develop your branding, check out our article on 3 things music fans want from upcoming bands and artists.

8. Retain Creative Control

Have control over what you produce! The label might suggest a new style or genre of music, but if you know you’re not going to be happy with it then don’t force yourself to do it. Music is personal. Music is creative. Make sure you’re able to express what you want to express.

Furthermore, never allow yourself to feel trapped. The rest of your band might be happy with a certain set of arrangements which you aren’t. In this situation, you might feel like you have to “get over yourself” and get on with it, but don’t. This is an industry and a career that should be personal; your mental health isn’t worth destroying by pretending to enjoy what you do and doing something to avoid rocking the boat.

9. Enjoy The Experience!

The most important advice I can offer is to just enjoy it. Enjoy what you do. Enjoy creating your music.

I know that I want a career in music at some point in my life, but where I was a year ago with my career just wasn’t where I wanted to be. No matter how great things could have been going, I wasn’t 100% happy with everything. The most important thing that I told myself and acknowledged in myself was that I wasn’t in the right place, which is perfectly fine.

Nobody wants to follow someone’s career if they aren’t honest with themselves. Be happy. Have control. Enjoy it.