My band just finished recording a full-length record and since it’s our first and we are unsigned, we have printed 300 copies of it independently. We have booked a big CD release show with bigger signed bands in a large local venue. We have enough CDs printed to last us a while, but we’re stuck with the hassle of having to get everything pressed and packaged at our expense. We’re attracted to the additional organization, promotion and “backbone” that a label can offer us, but the few deals we’ve been offered don’t seem proportionate to the amount of work/money we put into this record. What do you think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age? Do you think it’s worth singing with an indie label that’ll “loan” us the CD printing, but take a lot of our profit and get us slightly better tour packages? Or do you think it’s better to keep it DIY until we find the “perfect” deal, without the hype factor and resources that a label has to offer?
Unsigned and in a Bind
Dear Unsigned and in a Bind,
This is a very interesting and complex question. In an effort to answer this in some kind of reasonably short fashion let me just preface what I am about to write by saying there is no one correct way to release a record (regardless of the era or state of the music industry). Different bands choose different paths and, just for the record, this Dude does not judge. That being said to DIY or not to DIY has always been a burning question. In 2008 a lot of the rules have changed and doing a record on your own can be both profitable and easily obtainable. So lets dig in!
I’m afraid there are really two questions: one – what do I think the best approach to formally releasing a record in this day in age is, and two – what do I think you should do in your current situation. Since the latter is more important, I’ll just get the first question out of the way. I believe that in the 2008 music industry climate current artists can have success releasing their own material or playing the music industry game. It’s almost an open market, I have seen bands have success both ways and both have their advantages. With the exception of Fugazi, I have yet to see a band self release material and sell more then their contemporaries who are signed to labels (sure bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are self releasing records but these bands have already reaped the benefits of the label game). At the same time I can tell you for a fact that I would have made more money in the long run if I had not signed to a record label and rather self released all the material. So, in a sense you have to pay to play the game. Both have their distinct advantages but this brings me to my answer and more importantly my advice for you. My suggestion isn’t to pick a side but rather play both games. I think that the best way to grow a band in 2008 is to follow both routs and in turn use the strengths of both systems.
Look, you already have your record recorded, laid out, and pressed. You even already have a CD release show set up. At this point a record label can’t do much for you except promote the release. Honestly you could hire an outside promotions company to do the same thing and probably make more money. The real thing you don’t have that a record label can offer is distribution. You are not going to be able to get those CD’s in “real” stores and honestly it really shouldn’t matter that much at this point. To me the CD is a dead medium. You got to start thinking MP3’s if you want to move into the future and get your record up on the internet! Release it on iTunes, Music Exchange, or shit, even build a way to buy it right of your myspace page! You have to make that record available to as many people as possible, and with no record label involved you have to cover all the basses yourself. As a DIY artist the MP3 digital version of your record is way more cost effective. Think about it, no more pressing CDs, its all virtual and that means a bigger profit margin for your band.
I think your best bet is to continue playing shows and selling your self produced record while also pimping the music out over the web . The worst thing you could do right now is sign to a record label out of desperation. This has been the downfall of many a band. I say take your time, keep playing shows, sell your own product, and most importantly create that buzz! Because it’s that buzz that is going to attract a record label who will offer you a deal to do it right.
Don’t be afraid to do things for yourself in the beginning, you may just find the skills you learn are going to help make your band bigger but also keep you from getting taken advantage of later. There are many advantages to being a signed band and working within that world. You mentioned touring that is probably the one place that being signed is the most helpful. Not to mention the built in promotion that comes with record labels advertising your band along side of other established bands. But it’s by building your band, its fan base, and its integrity that you will be able to survive and take advantage of the things you will be exposed to and offered when you start playing the “signed band” game. The DIY skeleton you build is going to work as a base for everything forward and your going to need it to survive life under the iron fist of a record label.