Understanding the Pros and Cons of Label Record Deals

Musicians recording music
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For most musicians, scoring a major label record deal is at the top of their to-do list, and for good reason. Having one of the large labels working on behalf of your music can be your ticket to the big time.

However, there are downsides to being on a major label roster. When you're trying to decide whether your ideal home is an indie or a major, keep the following major record label pros and cons in mind.

Money and Connections at Major Labels

Even with major-label music sales declining and the industry as a whole struggling to keep up with changes in the way people purchase and listen to music, major labels still have a huge financial advantage over just about every indie label.

When your label has a lot of money, that means they'll be able to spend a lot of money promoting your record - which is exactly what you want. It also means they may be able to offer you a large advance and invest a lot in recording, touring, video shoots and other opportunities for you.

Additionally, most major labels have been in the business for decades and have long established connections that help you reach your music career goals.

Major Record Labels vs. Indie Labels

Alas, size can matter when it comes to record labels. Major labels are behind the vast majority of music sold, and this scale of operations can bring many advantages. First, they can get the best deals on manufacturing, advertising, and other expenses since they do business in such enormous bulk (they have way more purchasing power than indie labels).

Second, because of all of the artists on their roster, they can pull some pretty big strings in the media. Here's a common scenario: a major label may call up a big music magazine and say, "hey, if you want to interview (insert mega-selling artist), we suggest you review/feature (insert brand new, unknown label signing)." This is great for you, if you're that new label signing, because you get instant press in all of the top spots, giving you maximum exposure overnight.

Downsides of Major Record Labels

A lot of major labels sign a lot of musicians and throw out a lot of music, just to see what will stick. As a new signing, except in very special circumstances, you're likely to find yourself fighting for attention. If your music doesn't start selling, then you can find yourself with a record out that isn't getting much promotion and a label whose representatives don't return your phone calls.

Staff turnover at major labels can be high and you may wake up one day to find out that the person who loved your music is no longer working at the label. The new person who takes over your album may not be such a big fan, and suddenly, no one is too interested in making your album a priority.

You can include a "key man" clause in your contract to try to avoid this, but often the bargaining power is against you when you sign a major label deal, so scoring this set up is not guaranteed.

Many dedicated music lovers work on the major label side of the music industry. However, not everyone who works at major labels loves music. You'll find a higher concentration of people who are in the business strictly for the money in major labels than you will at indie labels, and that sometimes ends up rubbing musicians the wrong way.