A Guide On How To Get Signed To A Record Label and Jumpstart Your Music Career To Stardom
Record labels. Probably the only thing that is flooding the minds of millions of upcoming artists year in, year out and with the illusion that getting signed will be the spring to toast them to stardom.
Well, the truth is, getting signed by a record label- big or small, can make or break your career. This is especially true if you don't know what they do, what type of labels make sense to your career path or even how best to cooperate with record labels.
The reason that budding artists want to get signed by major record labels is probably supported by the fact that the entire October of 2018, Universal Music Publishing Group - one of the leading labels, held the entire top 6 album positions listed on Billboard 200.
That’s not a small feat of achievement. In fact, very few record labels- if any, have come close to dominating such a coveted playlist. The independent record labels have also impressed in the recent past.
Taking the case of Ben Haggerty, (famously known as Macklemore), who released his debut single through his independent label, and by 2017, the same had spiraled him to a net worth of up to $18 million.
These stories give hope to upcoming artists and inspire them to put in more effort into the music and hope for the best. But do they really know how record labels work? How about the benefits of getting signed up by a record label?
This guide looks at these and more about how to get signed up by a record label.
Why record labels?
There are so many reasons why an upcoming artist may want to get signed up by a record label. Here are some of the main reasons why record labels still exist.
- Record labels have money that you don’t have as an artist. Music production is expensive, let alone shooting the video. If you are just starting out in your music career, inadequate funds to produce and distribute your music could be one of the reasons why you are still below the water surface.
- Record labels have connections that you can only dream of as a budding artist. We are talking connections to radio and TV stations, music blogs, playlist curators, streaming services, bands, producers, etc. These are people upcoming artists need to get to superstar status.
- Of course, record labels can perfect the quality of your music given all the infrastructure and knowledge they have at their disposal. Producing good music beats is easier today than it was in the past, thanks to equipment such as Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). However, your music must deliver the right content to your audience, and record labels know how to match content to consumption needs better than an individual mind.
- Record labels can give you the credibility you wouldn't have achieved on your own (unnecessarily struggled to get). Although anyone with a laptop and internet access can release music to the public, getting signed to a major record label can boost your credibility as people will perceive you with the hard-earned reputation of the label you are signed under.
- Record labels can help you perfect or boost your PR. It’s no secret some of the top-performing artists like Kanye West have had serious rants that were potentially career-threatening but in one way of the other, they survived. The secret is in the work the record labels behind these artists did to safeguard their artists. Record labels have PR teams amongst them who have perfected the art and can save an artist from scandals they would never have gotten past without surrendering their careers.
Are Record Labels for everyone?
Well, yes and no.
- You are still building your career or just started
- Have a small to non-existent fanbase
- You don’t make money from your music (or very little if any)
Why no? Because most of the deals you'll get are crappy deals that won't take you anywhere that you wouldn't reach or surpass on your own.
And yes if:
You have genuine potential and is ready for the world. That's subjective but given all that record labels offer, this combination can be a real force to reckon with for signed artists.
Record labels come in different shapes too. They can be indie or Major record labels. Major record labels are basically big companies run by a corporate umbrella company which could be a music group or sort and has their own publishing and distribution companies.
These companies are seriously funded and have enough budgets to cater to marketing, production, etc. for their musicians. They also have the connections that artists need to get their music and career on track.
Major record labels include Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group.
Indie record labels also called individual or boutique record labels, are small companies that are not affiliated with the major labels, and neither do they get their funding. They have their small networks and smaller companies that publish and distribute music for their artists.
As a budding artist, it’s imperative you understand how record labels work so that you can decide whether to go indie or major.
How Do Record Labels Work?
Although there’s a heated debate whether one needs a record label in 2019 or not, the fact of the matter is that record labels can’t be wished off. Record labels also don’t sign artists just because you're a new or a superstar.
If it makes no business sense to them, they won't get you the papers. They must see real potential in you, and the evidence of that is the traction your music has gathered, the numbers in your social following and promises your brand indicates.
So, what do they offer you in return? Or how does the whole arrangement work?
Well, it's simple. First, you establish a conversation, reach an agreement, and sign the contract. Once that is done, then everyone gets to work. The record label will use their resources to produce, distribute, and collect revenues for your music and share the percentage agreed on the contract.
Most times, record labels will offer their artists:
- A&R support and funding - irrespective of how well you are doing independently as an artist, it's impossible to clout the money record labels have. Record labels will as well get your music produced by the best team of producers, sound engineers, studios, and directors to plan your videos. These are things not ordinarily available to an independent artist.
- Marketing and promotion - record labels not only get your music produced in the best of environments but can also give it a vast international exposure. They can get hold of the best publicists and influential connections in media, broadcasting as well as exclusive advertising and PR. They even have the means to get your music to top-performing playlists.
- Specialist support - record labels have the requisite expertise to help you understand and navigate the complex administration and legalities of partnerships as well as rights-based music. These teams help you take care of things which include tracking, collection, and distribution of royalties.
- Distribution - Although music distribution is no longer a reserve of the record labels, there's still a lot that record labels can help with like managing the complex, large-scale distribution for both physical retailers and digital services.
Most artists believe they can do most of the above given the technological advancements in this century, but record labels can take every service listed above, a notch higher. They have all the resources and connections to up the game for you and introduce you to audiences you never imagined were possible to reach.
Back in the days, record labels could make money by just getting an artist's music to play on TV or radio, which were not accessible to artists. Today, that's not a priority anymore.
Types of Record Label Deals
Label deals are legally binding agreements between the record label and the artist. The agreement allows the record label to pay for the making, distribution, and marketing of the artist's music. Also, you will enable the record label to collect revenue and only share a percentage as agreed in the terms of the contract.
Record deals come in 3 different types. These are:
- Licensing deals. These are a reserve of the artist and guarantees the artist money whenever his or her music is played on any platform. The money is known as royalties. If a record label licenses your music, they essentially take over your album's logistics right from the manufacturing stage to promotion and distribution. And because they have licensed your album, they will pay you an agreed fee and act as your album's label in all the territories or areas they have licensed the album in.
- Distribution deals. It's sometimes called a manufacturing and distribution (M&D) deal. This agreement is between a music distributor and a record label. In such arrangements, the costs of manufacturing an album right from the very first stage of pressing process to the printing of the labels are catered for by the distributor. When sales are made, the distributor gets back his money as well as a percentage of the profit pre-determined at the signing of the agreement. The challenge this kind of deal faces is the fact that digital music distribution is wiping off the physical album distribution.
- The 360 Deal. This is like the new kid on the block. It's been deemed the future of music recording deals that offers a comprehensive approach to the artists and record labels. This kind of deal covers all the aspects of the artist's management, development, touring, and overall brand growth. The artist surrenders a large percentage of the revenues collected not only from the music sales but from across all sales channels. Most artists opt for this type of deal because this arrangement binds the record label to be 100% on your side and uses all their resources- both contacts and money, to develop your career.
It's the deal that's expected to be the trend going into the future and features a pseudo-manager style of relationship and covers the entire career of the artists as opposed to others that focus on music sales only.
However, just like any other deal an artist signs with a record label, not all see it as a perfect fit. Some think it's exploitative on the financial aspect, but it undoubtedly remains a common trend that will decorate the future of record label deals.
Of course, record labels will still market themselves to achieve maximum exposure for your album. In some way, they are always right given the resources they are exposed to as well as the connections they have had to build over the years.
The major recording labels that are still predominantly ruling the music scene are explained below.
A Brief History of The Famous Record Labels
The major record labels that most artists target are:
Sony Music as it's commonly known is an American music recording company headquartered in New York that was founded with its original name as ‘American Record Corporation in 1929. The company has changed names twice, the first time in 1938 calling itself as Columbia Recording Corporation and as Sony Music Entertainment in 1991.
In 1995, Sony Music formed a joint venture with one of the greatest musicians- Michael Jackson, who owned ATV Music and named it Sony/ATV Music Publishing.
Some of the current artists under Sony Music from across the glove include Adele, Avicii, Avril Lavigne, DJ Khaled, etc.
Often abbreviated as UMPG, Universal Music Publishing Group is undoubtedly the second-largest music publishing company and has some of the top superstars of this century. UMPG has also produced some of the record-breaking hits like "Gangnam Style" by Psy, "That Don't Impress Me Much" by Shania Twain, "Born to Be Wild" by Mars Bonfire, and "The Way You Look Tonight" by Kern/Fields.
UMPG boasts of some of the most exceptional artists like Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Halsey, J Balvin, Post Malone, Nicki Minaj, Justin Timberlake, Florence + The Machine, Imagine Dragons, Adele, Elton John, Billy Joel, Coldplay, etc.
UMPG was started in 1972 and specialized in Classical, Christian/Gospel, and Production Music.
Another top music group headquartered in New York. Warner Music Group is a conglomerate for entertainment and has given birth to several other flagship labels like Warner Bros Records, Rhino, Sire and Atlantic Records.
A lot has happened to this recording group including the latest scandaL involving YouTube and price-fixing for CDs, but it still boasts some of the greatest artists of our time including Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Jason Derulo, Madonna, Linkin Park, David Guetta, Wiz Khalifa, and Rita Ora.
The Warner Music Group was founded in 1958 by the Warner Bros- Harry Warner, Albert Warner, Sam Warner and Jack L. Warner, and has about 11 divisions.
Of course, these three are the leading music recording labels, but they have also given birth to reputable contenders like:
- Island Records
- BMG Rights Management
- ABC-Paramount Records
- Virgin Records
- Red Hill Records
- Atlantic Records
- Def Jam Recordings
With all these labels marketing themselves all around you, how do you make sure you get signed to the right record label and how will you know you’ve signed the right deal?
Being an up-and-coming artist is tricky not only because of the dynamics involved in jumping out the newbie box but also because of the analysis you have to do when faced with the decision to choose a record label.
How To Choose A Good Record Label And Get A Good Deal
If you are one of the lucky chaps around who is ready for a record label, it's high time you sat down and had a critical look at the process of choosing the right record label for you. Five of the essential considerations to weigh are explained below.
1. Think of the Genres the record label covers
You just don't want to get signed because you are a musician. You have a style and genre of music you've perfected your career on and would want a record label working in that genre (if not specializing in it). If they release music that resonates with your line, then consider them.
Also, insist on record labels that specialize in working with artists in your genre. The success of your music and career has a lot to do with a record label having experience in handling music in your field.
2. Does the record label believe in you?
Belief is very vital not only for the record label but also for yourself. A record label must show believe in you right from day 1, and they should at least show some hype in signing you up.
Insist on discussing year-long plans with them before sticking ink to the paper. It's also your opportunity to ask questions that relate to all your concerns about the record label, their strategies, and approach. Get to know which agencies they use for the other services they outsource like PR.
You must also inquire about the numbers they convert in a year and what their future projections based on variable feedback data is.
3. Start with a local record label
You won't go wrong with signing up with a record label based in your area. The secret is because music is forever rooted to a place, and it only makes sense to sign for a record with experts who have adequate knowledge of the community around you. Motown signed local artists and forced people to travel to Detroit to work with them.
4. What’s the size of the record label?
The bigger the record label is, the more the connection and resources it has to execute the contract in whole and bring both of your success. Massive record labels have future executable plans based on the resources they have and can give your career a boost it needs.
5. Reputation is everything!
Just like they wouldn't consider you if you had a terrible reputation, subject them to reputation tests. Have they done something to an artist or Dj that you admire? If so, then it's time you started linking up with them.
What do the other signed musicians feel and testify about the record label? Because you are just starting and may have been just hearing from afar about a specific record label, this is your perfect opportunity to verify everything they have claimed or others claimed about them.
If you successfully manage to identify and settle on a record label, it's time for the next crucial stage. The signing of the deal. It's actually the most critical stage of your career. Is the deal lifelong or running for several years? Avoid the first time that wants to cover more than a year with variable terms.
How To Sign A Contract With A label
If you have come this far and ready to sign the papers, hold your horses, and have a look at the papers to verify the following:
1. Initial contracts lasting longer than one year.
Most first time contracts run for one year after which the options start trickling in, and the right to extend contracts lies with the record label.
To save yourself from uncomfortable situations, do not allow the first contract to run for more than a year with options in it. Otherwise, you are likely to be tying your life to the record label for far too long, yet it's possible they may mess up your life.
2. Insist on having a release commitment
Otherwise, you'll not have any guarantees that the record label with commit to producing, packaging and distributing your album to the right people for sale.
3. Negotiate a reasonable royalty
Royalties are your take-homes from sales. They are awarded based on many considerations, and you must make sure you accept only reasonable royalties based on how you've analyzed your books of accounts.
4. Make sure there are no hidden royalty deductions.
Record labels can be very cunny at times and may include hidden royalty deductions in the agreement paper, hoping that you won't notice such. Do your due diligence with your team and make sure there are no hidden, shocking, and enormous deductions from your royalty.
5. Ensure you have the ability to audit the record label for your royalties (every aspect of it)
Complaints of how record labels are dishonest with their royalty payments are widespread. You must make sure you have the liberty to hire a third-party audit organization to verify the records and ascertain that they are paying the artist the right compensation.
Once you’ve established the above, it’s also imperative to understand the potholes that may trap you as an artist who is ready to sign the papers.
Mistakes to avoid while signing up with a record label
Mistakes are bound to happen, but let it not happen due to avoidable circumstances. Below are some of the mistakes you must stay clear of.
Don't fail to do your research correctly.
This is a cardinal sin. There’s absolutely no need signing up with a record label you have no information about yet you had the chance to research about the label.
Find out the key people who determine your success in the record label. Look for artists whose story you share and relate to and how they performed after being signed up by the label.
Never submit your music in the wrong format.
Before you set out to get signed by a record label, find out what formats of the resources they need are presented. Different people will demand different formats and specify in the portals where music is submitted via.
Failing to put your best foot forward
Killer tunes may not be enough because records sign people whose music can also blossom and make sales that count in the future. If your music has a killer content and you are showing no signs of being better in the future. You must be able to prove to them that you are good for business.
You can start by making sure that they first hear your best music tune.
Don’t be generic
Generic as in like everyone else's may. If you are going to pitch your music to a record label, you must make sure your pitch answers all the questions the experts at the recording label may have about you or your band/brand.
Keep things short, and be careful not to come out as spammy. If you are sending an email, please customize it to fit the recipient's taste. Otherwise sending a generic email with 80 other recoding labels CC'd is an injustice you don't need to do to yourself at this stage.
If you are writing a cover letter to accompany your pitch, keep it short and sweet. Include great quotes about your work, especially from artists who are signed by the record label.
Getting signed to a record label can be the turning point in your music career life and doing everything to make sure that you don’t miss that opportunity is mandatory.
Make use of the tips and watch out for the mistakes to avoid so that you don't blow up your golden chance. And of course, remember to up your game so that before you even set out to get a record label to sign you, they will come looking for you.
Perfect your music and style and get the following that will push your music to popular playlists. All the best.