Independent record label, what does this expression mean? Why is it often demonised by artists?
LABEL AND RECORDS, GUARANTEE ON THE WORD, OR NOT?
You often see ‘Tizio Label’ and ‘Sempronio Records’ on social media promising results as if they were a multi-million dollar major. Others present themselves as the founding father of the Spotify algorithm or resellers of streams like it was raining. It all seems to boil down to a board game, not even a compelling one, where you, the artist, are a pawn and the phantom label (or records) clumsily rolls the dice by proposing promotional solutions without any business strategy.
DISCOGRAPHIC ETHICS, THIS UNKNOWN
Wikipedia defines (at least until we wrote this article): A record label (or record company) is a trade mark created by companies specialising in the production, possibly distribution and promotion, of music… in various formats (such as compact disc, vinyl record, DVD, cassette tape, and with the advent of the Internet especially digital distribution)
For insiders it is a simple and concise definition, for those who are just approaching this world perhaps a little less so. Let’s take an example, until 1990 Chiquita (the famous bananas) was just a registered trademark of the United fruit company. Relating it to the recording industry, a music publishing company called Edizioni Musicali Esempio S.r.l., specialising in the distribution of music on compact discs could create a trademark (or trademarks), the ‘Esempio Label’ to distribute its CDs around. So to recapitulate, the company is “Edizioni Musicali Esempio S.r.l., the distribution brand (label) is “Esempio Label”.
In the majority of times when we interface with a label today, the label mark coincides with the company name, so this difference is not always perceived so clearly. For most, the term ‘label’ eclipses everything else, including the organisational structure.
What we want to convey with this explanation is that it is not enough to create a social profile (perhaps without content) by putting the word ‘Records’ or ‘Label’ after a fancy name and you automatically become a record label.
HOW TO RECOGNISE A REAL LABEL
A label with a capital ‘L’ is a company where one of the first guarantees it should give to those approached to have their music assets managed is its legal existence. This means that it has a registered office, a VAT number, contact references, a list of artists, a music catalogue, in short everything you would expect from any serious company… The more up-to-date the references, the greater the likelihood that it is a working label.
Take a tour of the label’s website. Check for the latest publications on social media. How many followers are there? It is true that the label’s priority is to increase the visibility of associated artists, but if there are less than a hundred likes, followers and subscribers on all social networks, I would ask myself a few more questions. Also take a look at the digital stores he uses, which distribution channels he prefers, which commercial partners he has. In short, from his digital business card, it is clear what he actually does to spread the music of his artists?
MUSIC PRODUCTION STUDIO “RECORDS”
In addition to music publishing, there are many recording (hence the generic term ‘records’) and music production studios that also offer record label services. Many of these have been on the recording scene for many years and work extremely seriously and professionally.
So it is not necessarily the case that if a label is based on a music publishing company, it is more serious than one with a recording studio behind it. Professionals and bunglers can be found everywhere.
How do you find them? In general, we are of the opinion that everyone can do the job of etiquette well if they are well structured. Factotums generally turn out to be nothing.
So the question you should ask yourself is whether they have dedicated staff to handle all label activities. In short, can they guarantee that they will look after your music project as if it were their own, with the same care and passion that you put into producing it?
If the person offering you a record deal is the same person who opens the door, offers you coffee, gets behind the console and works on the master… well, give yourself some answers. The work of a label manager is very complex, just like the processing of a song by a recording studio is complex. If the latter doesn’t have people who do just that for a living, how can they work on mixing and looking after the label?
We have identified that the label is the brand name used by an entity already active in the music business (publisher, recording studio, music producer, etc.). There are also other organisational forms under which a label may present itself, such as cultural associations. We write this for the sake of completeness to the topic, but we do not go into detail because we become too bureaucratic and after 500 words we risk boring you too much.
SO? IS THIS BUSINESS DONE OR NOT?
After understanding how to be wary of the worst quality imitations, how can the record label become a business opportunity for you? Don’t think that labels are the benefactor on duty waiting for you to invest their money and make you successful. If after reading on the net ‘success stories’ of artists scouted by a talent scout in some anonymous dive bar you are dreaming that the next artist could be you, get your feet back on the ground. For 99% of famous artists (who you probably listen to in your playlist) it was not so easy. Behind most of them there are record labels that have guided them on their path of artistic growth.
Record labels are there to help you at all stages, not only to spread your music, but also your artist profile. They put you up against other professionals who, like you, are making a difference in the music business. They will help you with promotion, bringing out your potential and giving you the right tips to monetise your music. And it’s a job like any other so it too has its rewards.
Behind the record label are people who work diligently to diversify their business, promote their music catalogue as much as possible, look for new digital and physical distribution channels, create and maintain relationships with radio, TV, trade magazines, etc., and much more. It would be naive to think that all this is free. So if when you contact a label, they plan a publishing strategy with you and present you with costs, don’t feel cheated or almost insulted because you think that if they are interested they must be willing to invest, rather try to give value to people who want to value you.
- Try to understand who you are in front of you and what they can actually do for you
- Be wary of imitations but look for the many serious professionals who still love this job
- Give value to those who want to enhance you