23. Should Your Goal Really Be To Sign A Record Deal?


I am not saying that labels are completely obsolete, but think about it for a second. Do you need a record label? 

For a lot of bands, signing to a major or indie label seems pretty high on their task lists. Being on a label with deep pockets can do great things for a band, but a lot of labels will sign up a great deal of artists and release a ton of music just to gauge where their audience is currently on the spectrum of music tastes.

Think of it like fishing. The more lines you cast, the more fish you're gonna catch, right? Well, as a band, do you want to be just another fishing line? 

But big record labels have connections!

Yeah, they do. I'm not arguing that. What I am saying here is that releasing music is like talking (literally). As an independent artist, not very many people are listening to you when you're talking. But with a label, it's like giving a speech in a massive stadium 

Everyone is listening.

But if you fast forward to September 2016 when everyone has a voice and the opportunity to give speeches in stadiums, the problem becomes less about how many people are listening and more about what you're saying to them.

Picture this for a second: there are hundreds of thousands of speeches going on all at once in your area. Which one are you going to go to? Why?

That's the question that bands need to try to answer, not how do we get our music in the ears of more listeners? That question was answered when streaming and social media came along.

What about those giant pockets that labels have?

Sure record labels have more money than your band. They can get the best deals on manufacturing, advertising and other expenses, but this is almost the entire point of the blog right here. Are those things even necessary?

How many physical CDs, vinyl or digital downloads have you bought in the last two years? 

According to Statista, the average person spends $42.00 per year on music, including CDs, vinyl, casettes, music gift cards and digital albums & singles. That's what? Four CDs a year? Two vinyl a year?

Now, most streaming services, like Apple Music, Spotify or Tidal are $119.88 per year. If that money were spent on physical music, you'd get maybe 12 albums. But, how much do you really get with that money?

Last year, Spotify came out with that website where you can review all of your streaming statistics for the entire year. In 2015, I listened to over 1000 artists on over 2000 different albums, and I only paid $59.88, because I have a student account. 

I'm not very good at math, but I think $60 for over 2000 albums is a bargain. I am also not the only person to pick up on this trend. In fact, I was kind of late to the streaming party. 

In 2013, Billboard.com published an article about album sales hitting historic lows. Then, in 2014, published another article saying that sales dropped even lower.

If you don't think that physical and digital sales are down, please do yourself a favor and read this article published by The New York Times.

Source: Recording Industry Association of America. By The New York Times

Source: Recording Industry Association of America. By The New York Times

So yes, major labels still have massive pockets, but they are not nearly as massive as they used to be, and they continue to decrease in size every day.

Then what are we supposed to do?

Well, you can see streaming services are becoming more popular and powerful. You do not need any sort of label (big or small) to get your music on any or all streaming sites.

But it's a little more than just getting your music on Spotify.

Of course it is. Being a great band nowadays is a lot like running a business, and no successful business is as simple as posting music to a website every few months for pennies on the dollar.

You need to connect with fans. You need to be appealing to your market. You need to stratetgize tours. You need to be original, and most of all, you need to show up every day.

  1. Do you need a label to create a website? No.
  2. Do you need a label to book shows or tours? No.
  3. Do you need a label to make those shows exciting? No.
  4. Do you need a label to create great music? No.
  5. Do you need a label to have an awesome social media presence? No.

So I'm confused as to what you actually need a label for. Labels do have their pros, and I've talked about them. But labels also have a lot of cons.

Labels care about how much money you bring in before they care about you. Labels have a high turn over rate, which is another reason why bands don't last very long on their label. Many label deals aren't too friendly to the artist.

Watch the video below, and you'll get a taste of what I'm talking about.

I need to make it clear that I am NOT saying that ALL LABELS ARE BAD. In fact, read the bold text, and you'll see my point. There are a lot of good, honest labels out there run by passionate music fans.

However, at the end of the day, they are a business.

What else are they?

They are a middle-man between the band and services that aren't really necessary anymore, such as manufacturing, promotion, etc. I.E. things bands can do on their own now.

Yes, it will be harder doing these things on your own. But what isn't? Everything is harder when you do it by yourself. You just need to decide what is best for your band.

All I'm saying is that signing to a record label (major or indie) is not nearly as important as it used to be, and it is not nearly as important as many bands think it is.

Just ask Frank Ocean or Chance The Rapper.


Zach Micklea

| Art Director and Online Content Editor at Urban Geographer | Host of The Oakland Underground on 88.3 FM WXOU | Manager for Prima Vera |