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  •  The EvO:R-Pedia Musicians Tips Section

    Welcome to the EvO:R Tips Section. We call this section EvO:R-Pedia because it is like a complete reference library for Indie musicians...Just about every tip has been used so you won't find false promises and a series of books to buy after reading each tip. This section was put here by musicians so that people that followed can take this knowledge and use it's power.

    Pros and Cons of Signing to a Label
    By Jef Peace

    For the purpose of this article, I'll split "Label" into three categories; "Independent Label," "Major Label," and "Private Label (unsigned)." The three cross the gray area on occasion, but for the most part, independent labels are like major labels because the generally aspire to be major labels and conduct their businesses accordingly.

    Independent Label Pros:

    Independent labels are generally very artist friendly. They are generally owned by one person or a couple partners. Independents tend to be owned by musicians and they can really empathize with the difficulties involved in making a living with music.

    Independent labels will not be inclined to sign a band and then "put them on the shelf." They need to make every band they sign a money-making proposition and will generally work very hard to get the band into as big a spotlight as is possible with their limited resources. Successful independents have learned the fine art of negotiation and diplomacy and are quite effective in marketing you to select groups which can often develop into a very large following of loyal fans that will buy almost anything you produce.

    Independent Label Cons:

    Independents do not have large advertising budgets and the majority of their marketing is done through rather intimate networking via email, telephone and cooperatives with other independent music industry businesses. This means that word of your music goes out to a much smaller group than the majors can offer. You won't get any MTV airplay or 30 second spots during the Super Bowl if you sign to an independent.

    Independents generally work with finished cds rather than put you in a studio to produce cds and when they do negotiate production, it is usually charged to you. This means more out-of-pocket investment for you than with a major.

    Independents don't have the clout the majors have. They can't force your music on the public, you have to earn whatever fame you achieve by producing music that is worthy of attention.

    Major Label Pros:

    The main benefit to being signed to a major label is that the majors have huge sums of money at their disposal and they spend rather freely to promote their star clients. The trick is being a star client.

    Even if you don't fit into their prima donna category, you will still enjoy the benifits that come from being in their catalog, including easier access to gigs, discounts on equipment (even free stuff sometimes), and much greater chances of having your music used in commercials, movies, etc.

    Major labels tend to take care of all the details for you. Things like production, touring, legal issues, etc. As long as you trust your manager and that trust is deserved, you'll usually have the best chance of huge success if you sign to a major label.

    Major Label Cons:

    Being noticed by a major is difficult at best and being noticed only assures a possibility of signing. Even signing doesn't mean a thing unless they actively promote you. There is more than one band out there that is signed to a major label and the members are working at fast food jobs because the label is "sitting" on them. It's even a fairly common practice among the majors to sign bands because they fear the competition with a band they have put a lot of money into.

    A significant number of the bands a label acquires is for the purpose of shutting them up because they are considered competition for one of the label's stars. No, this is not paranoia, it happens all the time. A band will be signed and then ignored for the term of their contract. Majors are concerned with the profit and that is generally all they are concerned with. If you sign to a major label and you are making money for them, you will be treated like royalty. If you sign to a major label and do not make money for them, you will be, at best, ignored.

    Last, but certainly not least, major labels are generally operated by people who couldn't begin to write a song of their own and wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a melodic song with strong hooks and a two-chord droning mantra. They simply have no concept of music other than its potential for making money. They rely heavily on A&R people to tell them what's good. A&R people are generally so concerned with keeping thier jobs that their judgement is clouded by what is the current trend rather than what is really creative.

    Private Label Pros:

    The biggest and only real advantage to being a private label is that you are in total control of every aspect of your music. You answer to no one but your bandmates . . . well, them and your significant others.

    Private Label Cons:

    Imagine climbing a huge mountain of tempered steel coated with vaseline completely naked with no tools and a whole crowd of people below you telling you what a stupid thing it is that you're trying to do . . . that's easier in most cases than becoming noticed as a private label. You will face skepticism almost constantly and abject apathy more often than not. You'll have to prove yourself again and again and even then, it will be a struggle.

    Sure, there are many examples of successful independents and it is possible to make a decent living with your music if you spend a lot of time researching the stories those successful independents tell. Be prepared to spend hundreds of hours promoting your music; it is a grueling task you face.

    Summing Up:

    Obviously, the most logical choice would be to sign to a major label, but only if you can be one of their prime groups. Otherwise, it could kill your music, not support it.

    If you want the benefits of being signed to a label, but don't want to risk being shelved or told what music to make or how to dress, take a look at PeaceWork Records. You will retain artistic control and their agreement is non-exclusive, leaving you free to promote your music in other ways at the same time PWR is hard at work getting you noticed.

    If you want to go the independent route, there are two publications I would strongly urge you to obtain immediately. "The Indie Bible" ( http://www.indiebible.com/peacework) contains an incredible list of contacts you'll need to promote yourself and "How To Promote Your Music Successfully On The Internet" (http://www.musicbizacademy.com/bookstore/htpromotemusic.htm) is a practical, step-by-step guide written by one of those successful independent musicians.

    Keep reading articles like this one to get little gems to help you on your journer, but above all . . .keep making music!

    (c) 2003 - Jef Peace - all rights reserved.

    About the author: Jef Peace is the co-founder/Director of Service/Senior Partner of PeaceWork Music Net, founder/owner of PeaceWork Records and the co-founder/main writer/main vocalist for the band Jazza Diction. He has been writing, composing and performing for over 20 years and has been involved in the business side of the music industry since 1999.


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