Almost every artist in the developed world has direct access to the basics of the record industry—home recording, cheap duplication, audio downloads and online retail. No one needs a record label to make and sell records today. And there are many reasons you might want to do it yourself:
You don’t have to form a company or register your label, and unless you set up a partnership you probably won’t need any contracts.
So, why not do it yourself?
If you had a record contract you’d pay for everything anyway, it’s just that you wouldn’t control the services or the bills. Someone else would decide what to do and how much it cost, and it would get subtracted from your earnings before you saw a penny (gross? I should say so). I wouldn’t dare to say that when the big cheques come in, industry oiks hire their mates and buy things they can’t afford for themselves—but maybe they do.
Big record labels can get artists on the radio and into high street shops better than you can, but most of the artists they sign never even get released.
If you take charge yourself, you only pay for the independent services you use. Banks may not be very straight but when it comes to lending money they’re straighter than record companies. Banks won’t claim the rights to you singing in the bath just because they gave you a loan. You can get your own finance and everything you need. Maybe not this afternoon, but you can do it.
You can run the whole business yourself, or hire:
You can make records from start to finish yourself, or hire:
You can sell your records:
You only need to make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford, and don’t get CDs or T-shirts made that you can’t sell.
Maybe you prefer someone else paid for everything up front and you paid later? Well, that’s exactly what the music industry does, but they’d expect a big say in what you’re doing with all their cash.
Of course you don’t need everything on the list. You can record your own stuff unless it’s orchestral and you might know someone who can do art-work, someone who plays the zither or someone with a CD pressing plant. And do you really need an image consultant anyway?
You’ll need to learn something about business and the music business for yourself, but you’d be wise to do that before signing contracts in any case. There’s a lot more about how it all works on this site and elsewhere on the Internet.
There isn’t much difference between an independent artist and a small independent label, so if you find an independent who respects your rights and does a lot of the leg-work it’s worth considering. Otherwise, do it yourself.
These days, a web site can cost less than £1 a week and CDs for mail order can cost less than £2.
There are problems. The conditions for traditional distribution are almost impossible if you aren’t producing club vinyl or retailing CDs by the truckload, but the Major label route also has a downside. Once you’re signed the odds are well over 80% you’ll come out with nothing, the publisher will own your songs and the record company will own your recordings.
When all is said and done, this is all you need to do:
I don’t talk about how to do promotion on this site, because if you have to ask you don’t get it. DIY promotion can be, and should be, a lot of fun.
Can you afford 6 months in Abbey Road with Hugh Padgham? Can you afford Bob Clearmountain to do your mixes? Probably not. It’s a bugger isn’t it.