So you want to be in a rock band?: Choosing the right representation for your band
Indie label representation:
Signing to an indie label will provide you with distribution (though it may be limited to the areas in which your act tours), and likely booking and publicity services. However, booking and publicity services may be charged as extra expenses to your act. In addition, you will likely be required to continue to perform several of your own management functions to assist with the label's efforts (unless the label is directly affiliated with a management agency). There may or may not be an offering of upfront money, however, funds are limited, so likely it would not be a large amount.
If your act is unsuccessful, you will be held personally responsible for repaying the upfront fees, plus debts incurred back to the label. Indie labels often book tours and do promotions in which all of their artists are grouped together.
Pros: Less pressure to conform to current music trends. Higher likelihood of getting approved for grant programs.
Cons: Less funding for booking, and publicity than what a major label could provide you. You could get stuck in the stigma of only being successful when in conjunction with the other artists on your label. Competition is very steep.
Major label representation:
With major label representation, you get to focus on just being a musician. Your booking, management and publicity are all taken care of. Your albums are available worldwide and you will be provided with great opening and festival opportunities. However, it's becoming increasingly difficult to get signed to a major label as their funds have diminished significantly due to illegal downloading. Therefore, they are becoming choosier with the artists that they represent, and are more likely to sign acts that mimic what's currently popular on the airwaves producing short-lived careers for their artists. If music is your livelihood, becoming a one-hit wonder would be devastating.
Pros: “Unlimited” opportunities in terms of marketing, and promotions. Worldwide touring opportunities, and distribution.
Cons: Loss of control over the marketing of your act's image and sound. Due to the extensive rosters of major labels, your act may be shelved for anywhere from a few months to a year. If your act flops, you will be required to pay the label back all of the funds with which it provided you for marketing, recording and promotion, plus all debts incurred (this number could be anywhere between the one thousands to millions, hence it's a scary price to pay, literally) etc
Strictly booking or publicity deals:
If an act wishes to continue to be independent, but requires additional booking or publicity services, they can sign agreements with independent firms that will assist with booking or publicity for a monetary fee and/or percentage of your earnings. Please note that most bookers and/or publicists are unlikely to work with bands that are unestablished and do not already have record deals or at least distribution.
Pros: Several venues, festivals, and/or media outlets do not accept unsolicited materials from artists, and therefore having an agent work on your behalf may open up some doors.
Cons: This is often an expensive endeavour and firms cannot provide a guarantee that their services will assist you. Just because your act is offered a show and/or press through one of these firms, it does not mean that it is guaranteed to be favourable.
With any opportunity there will always be upsides and downfalls, but knowing what risks your act is willing to take and what services best suit your needs will assist you greatly in choosing an appropriate career path. Irrespective of what any record deal promises to deliver, remember that just because they say they will provide you with all these wonderful services doesn't necessarily mean they will.
Most acts are so overwhelmed at the very proposition of being signed that they put themselves in a scenario in which they can easily be taken advantage of. As most artists do not have the funding behind them to go through legal proceedings in the event that their label screws them over, labels are aware of the fact that they can away with making empty promises.
Although the workload of self-management is overwhelming at times, I find myself satisfied in knowing that what my band has accomplished is entirely in thanks to all of our hard work. Being a true indie band is something that has worked for us, but don't be fooled into thinking it's been an easy road. However, on the other side of things, I hope that you all now understand that just because an act is signed, it doesn't mean that they no longer have to work hard and/or that their career will be well taken care of.
Perhaps I've become jaded from my experiences in the music biz, but I personally would never put my life into the hands of another to sit back and watch it run its course (again).
My life equals my music, and I don't feel that anyone is capable of truly understanding what that means to me except for me.
Next Week's Topic: Musician Associations, they are there to help