Irrespective of how you plan to get your music out there, you have a few things to consider beforehand. First and foremost: is your track really ready to be released? Sending a low-quality track to a busy label can only reduce your chances of success and could come back to haunt you when sending any material to that label in the future. In terms of ‘quality’, I’m primarily referring to the technical side of things – your production skills.
Your network can help you judge, though: run the track past people you trust – producers and non-producers, musicians and nonmusicians, and listeners of different genres.
As for production quality, it’s the labels and distribution companies you need to impress here. If all the sounds in your mix sound mushy and indistinct, if there is hiss, if the sound is too quiet or over-limited to the point of total distortion, no good label or distributor will touch it.
A good mastering job can make all the difference here.
To sign or not to sign?
Record labels traditionally handle the marketing, manufacture, distribution and royalty assignments for your music, leaving the artist free to make the music.
Labels come in all sizes, from vast umbrella labels like Warner Brothers Records or Sony-BMG (each with large numbers of subsidiary labels), through successful independents such as Yellow Recordings or Yin Yang Records, right down to one or two person operations.
So-called ‘major labels’ generally sign artists for exclusive deals and handle recording, engineering and mastering costs too, whereas smaller independents might sign finished tracks with no exclusivity.
While contracts vary (especially between major and independent labels), the contract will state the intention of the business relationship from the outset, and it’ll give you a good idea of what’s expected from both parties.
As usual, don’t enter into a contract lightly, and make sure you know what you’re letting yourself into before you do.
If you choose to sign your track to a label, the label will effectively take control of how, when, and even if it is released for sale. Perhaps all you’ll have to do now is sit back and concentrate on the music.
Seting up your own label
Your label is a company like any other, and it’s important to register it as such. Depending on your resources (time, people and money), you’ll need to decide what ‘structure’ your company will take: operate as a sole trader, form a partnership, a limited company or a limited liability partnership.
Practical advice on the mechanics of setting up your label is available from the Association of Independent Musicians, who can guide you through the whole process.
They cover the legalities, your structure, basic agreements, current laws, copyright, and royalty arrangements.
It’s also good to get some branding nailed down! A label website, including a well-designed logo that you’d be happy to display everywhere, now and in the future, can make the difference between you looking like a sophisticated label and a disorganised shambles of a music racket.
Budgeting for artwork and design is money well spent. When commissioning the logo, be sure to look at the competition and remind your designer how it will be displayed.
In dance music, this will normally be on-screen, and on music vendor sites it will also be quite small, so avoid too much fine detail as it simply won’t show.
Next up, you’ll need a way of actually getting the music to people, and it’s at this point that a distributor comes in. In years gone by, distributors moved physical product (CDs, records, etc) to shops around the country and the world, but the rise of digital has made this sort of distribution far less necessary – especially when starting out.
If you are starting a new label, then my advice is to definitely keep it digital. Physical stock is clearly outnumbered by digital sales, and that speaks for itself.
Digital, then, is the way to start, and there are a number of digital distributors to choose from. Your main consideration is in choosing a distributor that specialises in your kind of music.
Their specialisation gives them the right know-how, contacts and connections to ensure your track is sold and promoted in the best way possible.
Distributors (usually) make money from taking a commission on the tracks you sell, so they’re truly on your side. Don’t overestimate the role of your distributor, though – while they facilitate the sale of your music, making sure people actually want to buy it is still your responsibility.
Whatever method you use to release your work, you can’t expect any return if it doesn’t get noticed. Getting pro-active and promoting your release is essential if you’re going it alone, and even those signed to a label.
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