Indie Labels Vs. Major Record Essay, Research Paper
Indie VS. Major
A good thing to remember, there are (of course) pros and cons to both major and indie labels, and questions you should consider before signing any kind of deal. Before signing any kind of contract, consult an attorney. KNOW WHAT YOU ARE SIGNING. This is especially true when signing a deal with a major label. You must have, at least, a general knowledge of the workings of a contract (i.e., options, publishing, merchandising, coupling, etc.) to even THINK about signing a deal. (Major label contracts can be up to hundreds of pages in length- complete with payment responsibilities for every portion of a band’s albums and videos: But that’s a whole other article in itself.) Without proper guidance you could easily end up with a label owning you, and your songs. A label that leaves your band in limbo forever (or until you eventually become disenchanted with rock-n-roll, and become an accountant or janitor). Of course, this is worst case scenario, but a lot of unpleasant things can happen (and HAVE happened) if you sign a record deal without representation. Lack of proper representation makes it that much easier for you to get screwed.
Of course, major labels are not all out to exploit innocent garage bands, and gobble up everything in their path. In fact most major labels are very supportive of their acts, especially in monetary terms. On the down side, majors usually expect results much quicker, and much more visibly, than an indie. Indies tend to be more laid back and much more into artist development, and more long term promotion. The difference is simple. Major labels, especially now, are more singles-based than ever before. Larger labels tend to look for the quick return on their investment- a hook heavy hit radio song they can feed to the masses.
Indies, on the other hand, are artist based. Meaning that while the major wants the quick gain, and the quick return on their investment, independent labels tend to be more about building careers for their artists. Indies tend to be much more prone to stand by artists who do not show significant results out of the box. At the same time majors have a much bigger publicity, marketing and radio staff, not to mention significantly more leverage with press, retail outlets and program directors. These tools can have a significant impact on the success of a record.
The most important thing when making a deal with a label is to never ever think, “Wow we got a record deal. We made it. We can get lazy now, and just let the label do everything.” This tends to happen a lot, especially with bands who land a deal with a major label. Just remember, The hardest work is yet to come. The record deal, although it is a good step in the right direction, is just another step in the process. You still have to get out there and SELL those records.
Although some independent labels will accept unsolicited (non-requested) materials, most labels will not. The reasoning behind this is as follows… A major label A&R rep (Artist and Repertoire: the people at labels responsible for finding and signing new talent, and dealing with that artist afterwards ) listens to all solicited submissions. They have hundreds, even thousands to deal with on a weekly basis. If they accepted unsolicited material, they would be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week just listening to demos. (For many labels it is also a legal issue: to save themselves from plagiarism suits. If they do not accept your material- they cannot be accused of stealing from it down the road.) So you must always contact the label first.
But don’t expect to be able to just call up Geffen and say “Yo, listen to my tape, OK.” It’s not quite that simple. In fact, the majority of major labels will not accept material, or even talk to you, unless you have representation of some kind (Either management, an agent, a publisher or a reputable entertainment lawyer) that is presenting the material to the label for you. There are several other factors in how seriously a major label will deal with your submission. Other variables weigh heavily in the equation, such as history of regional radio, sales, live success, and a substantial draw or following. All are key in any potential record deal.
So, let’s say BAND X has been together for 4 years. They have released 2 CDs, maybe a few 7 inches, by themselves or through an independent label. They have sold a few thousand, opened for Paul Westerberg, Live, and The Verve Pipe when they came to town, and draws a few hundred people consistently. Any label will be much more willing to talk to BAND X, than garage BAND Y, who has never played a show, and are shopping the demo they recorded in the basement on the 4 track. As with anything, there is a right time and a wrong time to shop your music to labels. You must give yourself and your band a chance to grow and mature as musicians first.
Sure you might think, “Oh this demo is awesome. These new songs are the best we’ve ever written.” But assuredly, six months down the road you’ll listen to the tapes and think “Uh, what the fuck were we doing?? God, my guitar tone is shit!” Bands, like wine and cheese, get better with age. If 6 months from now, you still love those songs, maybe, then you should think about shopping.
Of course all this applies mostly to major labels, and bigger so-called ‘indies’, (who are usually owned and or distributed through some kind of partnership with a major). The true indie label is usually a much better place for our friends in garage BAND Y to get their start. An indie label is usually run out of someone’s house. It has a staff of maybe 3 or 4 people, if that. The staff is usually the owner and a few of his unpaid friends. The indie can serve as either a stepping stone to bigger labels, or a home for bands with no desire to be on a major label. It’s really all dependent on your goals and needs as musician (which are good to determine within a band very early on to prevent confusion and misunderstandings later). But, indie labels are infinitely more responsive and friendly to the younger bands, ones just getting started. Indies also give bands a place to grow, while working towards those bigger goals in a much lower pressured environment.
Arguably, the most important factor in snagging a major label deal, is success on an indie. Consistently, majors scout soundscan on indie releases for bands that sell big numbers, or consistently sell in big markets. Major label A&R reps look for bands that come as a complete package: the less work for them, the better. Basically, as a rule of thumb, the best way to be noticed is to make as much noise in your hometown as possible.