It is getting easier by the day to release your music and build a music career without the backing of a label. That's an exciting thing for musicians, and for a lot of people, it's the best choice. On the other hand, there's a tendency for the DIY route to be romanticized. In reality, like any other kind release, the choice to self-release your music comes with pros and cons (just like a major label deal and an indie label deal). Before you decide to self-release your album, don't forget to weigh up these factors.
The Pros of Self-Releasing an Album
- You Keep Your Rights: Forget worrying about confusing contracts, expensive lawyers, and accidentally signing over your music, your vision, and perhaps your first born child to some record label for life. You're not very well going to trap yourself in a bad deal now, are you? You decide how your music is used when it is used, and how much people have to pay to use it, end of story.
- You Keep the Cash: Ever marvel at the way that some extremely successful musicians are seemingly flat broke? Sure, sometimes they're in that position because they bought things like, say, gold plated gates, but often they're in the position because they're last on the list to be paid. Every person that comes in to help with your career gets a cut, but when you're doing it yourself, you get to eat the whole pie.
- You Make It (Or Don't) On Your Own Terms: Even the most laid back and artist-friendly independent label is bound to have a few limitations in mind when it comes to projects they're willing to work on with you, and major labels can be extremely demanding. Some labels may want to send you back to the studio when you decide to change musical directions, or they may demand you adopt a "look" for marketing purposes. There are lots of ways you can clash creatively with a label, and depending on what kind of deal you have, sometimes the label will win. When you're the one putting out the music, you release the music you want, and only the music you want, when you want to release it. The marketing, the touring, and all of the decision will be made by you, so there will be none of the typical conflicts.
The Cons of Self-Releasing an Album
- You've Got to Foot the Bill: One of the main reasons many people want a record deal is so there is some money behind their release. A major label deal may bring a nice advance, and even a small indie label is going to pick up many of the costs associated with releasing a record, like PR and pressing. If you release it yourself, the financial burden will be yours alone, and that can be limiting when it comes to accomplishing everything you want to get done. It could also mean you will be facing a mountain of debt if you don't sell as much as you anticipate. Also, labels will have established relationships with manufacturers and PR companies that often translate into credit agreements and reduced rates, since the labels throw a lot of business their way. When you're establishing yourself, you may be asked to pay upfront for your orders, and you can expect to pay full price.
- You May Not Have the Contacts: Labels will have a stack of contacts in place that help them promote their releases—media, promoters, agents, and so on. If you're new to the music biz, you'll have to build your little black book from scratch. Of course, everyone has to start somewhere, and if you keep plugging away at self-releasing your music, you'll have your network of connections soon enough. Don't underestimate the time this can take, though. Not having these contacts in place from the outset will make your job a little harder.
- You'll Be Learning While Doing: If you don't have much music industry experience to speak of, you'll face a learning curve when you start putting your music out there. There are a lot of different parts to manage and tend to. It will take some time to figure out what works —and what doesn't—for you. It can be an expensive lesson.
- It's a Full-Time Job: Depending on your goals for your music, promoting a record can be extremely time-consuming. Arranging press, keeping track of sales, promoting the album, and booking shows are all a full-time job. When you're doing all of this work, you're not concentrating on your music. So, it's easy to find yourself in the position where you've made some good headway with the promotion of your first release, but you don't have anything fresh to follow up with because you've been consumed with the business side of things.