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Career Corner
Do You Need a Label to Make It?

(By Richard Morales)
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Can you survive out there without a record deal? Does any band stand a chance in the music business jungle without a label…?  Now all of these are tricky questions, so let’s first examine the way music and more particularly, the music business is working in today's world.

The Music Industry:
We all know that music has become in the 21st century one of the biggest empires of capitalism... meaning money. There are huge record companies, enormous record deals, artists receiving ridiculous amounts of cash for a gig and so on. But what's underneath the eye of the public is how this system works.    

Music is driven by people, believe it or not.  You still have much to say about who is hot and cold. The Internet band phenomena (like the Arctic Monkeys who were the first band in history to reach the top due to an Internet release) is changing the music business as we speak.  So it means that the concept of the regular label is changing and companies have to adapt this emerging world of technology or risk missing the boat.    

Typical record labels operated in different markets.  Majors operate world wide. Labels like Warner, EMI, Sony, BMG and so on.  National labels operate within one nation and have few or even no exportation at all.  Regional labels that are particular of a certain geographical area and local labels, those more or less independent labels that have less profit and work in smaller regions.  

Musicians often try to move up the steps.  Jumping from one label to, hopefully a larger label, but as you'll see in this article, with the changes that are occurring nowadays, you can get global from your home!   

CD's, LP's and Mp3's:
The new millennium came along with a revolution in the codification of data, and it was applied to music, so the mp3 was born. Obvious to say that it has changed the face of the music industry, the way we buy and consume music and the way we search for it.   

The CD/LP transition period was marked with huge changes but it is microscopic compared to what the mp3 changed. People rarely go to the stores nowadays, they use Google and online music shops (iTunes and many others) and that's the best case scenario.  On the other hand they are illegally downloading the music, at no cost, to their computer.    

So the whole marketing scheme had to be moved from the shelves to the web, from the music papers to pop-ups and emails.  An interesting result from the changing music landscape is music is being sold once again as a “single”, which reminds me of the 45rpm vinyl records of a bygone era.  Nowadays every major music artist on the planet releases their singles on iTunes before hitting the conventional stores.   

Internet revolution:
So the revolution that began by connecting computers all over the globe struck the music industry, and they’re trying to respond.  Now the music is moving to a virtual world where the records exist in a series of 0's and 1's instead of inside our bedrooms. They lie within laptops, pen drives and iPods instead of dusty shelves. Music is everywhere now.   

The Myspace Phenomena:
At this point you maybe wondering: “What does this have to do with needing a label or not!?”... Well everything! To fully understand how you're going to make it in today’s concrete jungle we call the music business, you'll have to have a presence in today's marketing places.  What does that mean?    

Let's look at a phenomenon on the web, called Myspace (we all know it... right?). 

Myspace was the first huge site to offer a different view of music, it shows not only bands that want to advertise their music but connects an absolutely enormous network of people that are linked because “they listen to this music”.    

What this concept brings is music closer to the people, so now every band can get seen everywhere as long as they are on Myspace! You don't need a record deal or a super bowl commercial to be spotted. You just have to widen your network.  This is called social networking.    

So we get back to what was stated before: “people are in command”. Now we are seeing that a small band can get noticed very fast, just by having some friends on myspace, then expanding your network at a high rate and the next thing you know you get a call from Warner records U.S.A.  This is today’s market.  So the fact is to make it, you don't need a record label, but it helps if you already are signed up by one.    

Let’s take a closer look at the advantages of being on a record label, even if it's a small one.  

You'll see that it’s very helpful to have someone getting gigs and concerts for you instead of you having to deliver promo discs to every pub in town. Also when you're signed, you are frequently asked to join onto a tour of a bigger artist, if that's your case... I advise you to accept. Opening a concert for a well known band might be a good launching ramp for your musical project.   

When it comes to recording, being signed makes a difference too: someone will book studio time for you and financially help you launch and make your recording. It's even a good marketing tactic as these companies have good contacts at radio and are trying to get your music more airplay and advertise your band.

When we speak of labels, we speak of all labels. Even independent/small labels can perform this advertising work. So you do not need a big label to get noticed in today’s market. There's also a new type of label, The Net Labels.   

Internet Labels:
As we’ve seen the Internet changed the music business, and the record labels too. Today a very popular label type is the Internet label.  There are mainly two types: profit and non profit. But the two of them have the same foundation.  Create an online or virtual label that distributes music and signs artists.    

The non profit Net Labels are usually distributing music for free (under a free share license, for example Creative Commons license) and this doesn't mean you won't receive money from your music, just that you are giving you mp3 freely.  

An example of this is the huge website Jamendo.com.  Artists share music under Creative Commons or other free sharing licenses.  

Increased awareness of your band’s music will generate earnings from concerts, CD purchases at the concert, merchandising, and many other forms.   

But... can I make it without a label?   

By now you should have guessed it... Yes, you can.    

Having a label is of course very helpful, but the world is definitely changing.  You can make a quality recording at home, you can create your own cover art and flyers in your laptop, you can spread the word and your music online using Blogs or MySpace.   

Everything is out there and you can freely use these tools.

But be ready, doing it on your own is tough... but also rewarding!

Updated: November 03, 2008

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