10 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Signing With a Label
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Over the past seven years, I've signed several songs to plenty of record labels. Some of my songs are signed to labels that are out of business due to mismanagement; some of my songs have reached two million streams with the right label.
Record labels (especially small ones) try to make you feel special by sending you personalized e-mails lauding you and your music. Their goal is usually to sign with an artist that will help them make loads of money, in return for them providing you marketing for your music and brand-building services for you as an artist. Once you get past the admiration stage, it's time to sit down and ask yourself if signing with the label is the right opportunity. You've put hours of hard work into your music, and you don't want it to go to waste if your record label doesn't follow through with its promises.
Question of the day: should I sign with a record label?
Here are a few important questions to ask yourself before you decide.
1. Does the label release music of a genre that matches my own music?
Before pitching to a label and considering a deal, make sure that the label focuses on releasing music in the same genre as your own music. Record labels normally focus on one or a few genres, not all genres. A record label focusing on electropop won't be able to effectively market your country song; people's taste in these genres differ too drastically. You won't get many new fans from the label's marketing audience.
2. Does the label have a good following?
Record labels need a strong social media following and playlist followers to help promote your music. Check the label's following on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify. Is this record label well-known? Do they have a large number of playlist followers, likes, and/or engagement on their posts and releases? If not, they might not be worth working with.
Ask the label if it has connections to other labels or playlists. Labels that have built a good rapport with other labels will likely have more resources to help you market your music (like sharing playlists with other labels, cross-posting content, and more).
3. Are you signing a single song deal, album deal, or long-term deal?
What type of label agreement are you signing? If it's for one song, your cost will be low if the label ends up falling through with their promises. If it's for an exclusive, long-term deal for all of your current and future music, your costs are very high. Negotiate with the label to make sure your music will be released, or will allow you to terminate the agreement if they don't release within a certain time period. Make sure to take a very close look at the contract and do your due diligence (by asking yourself everything on this list, for example) to check if the label is the right opportunity for you. Don't lock yourself into bad deal that will negatively impact your music career for many years.
4. How many artists does the label have on its roster?
A record label seeking an exclusive deal with you needs to be able to give you enough attention to help you succeed as an artist. Record labels with a small number of staff and a huge number of artists on its roster won't be able to focus their efforts on any of their artists. Look for labels who are genuinely interested in investing their time in you.
5. What do other artists that have worked with the label say?
Send e-mails to artists currently on the label's roster, and ask them for their honest opinion on their working relationship with the label. Have they had a good experience overall? Is the label responsive to e-mails? Have the artists been paid on-time by the label?
6. How have the label's previous releases done?
Find out what other songs the label has released before, and check how well they've done on Spotify and YouTube. Do these songs have a large amount of streams or views (preferably upwards of six digits or more)? If not, the label hasn't properly marketed their other releases and may unfortunately do the same with yours.
7. What will my royalty split be?
You'll want to know exactly what cut of the revenue you'll be making from your music. If the label is only offering you a 30% split of earnings, they better have the marketing know-how to make sure your music will get heard. Negotiate with the label to add termination clauses that will allow you to terminate your deal if you don't get paid within a certain time frame. It can be very costly to litigate, even in cases of non-payment and contract breach.
8. Who will own my music?
Who will own your music: is it you or the record label? Make sure to read every single word of your label contract before deciding whether or not to sign it. If you'll be transferring copyright of your music to your record label, you'll need to ask them permission first before doing anything with your music in the future (including making music videos, licensing your music to third parties, and even performing your own songs at shows). Always negotiate for owning your own music.
9. Does the label have a clear vision of how they plan to market you and your music?
How does the label plan to help you succeed? Do they have proven marketing strategies and tactics already in place? What innovative ideas will they use to promote your music that you can't think of or do yourself? Do they have a graphic designer to help you with marketing assets (promotional banners, cover art, music and lyric videos, etc.)? These are all good questions to consider before signing with a label.
10. Can you do it all better?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the goal of a record label is to help you promote yourself a musician, and more importantly, make money through your music. If you know you're good at promoting your own work on your own socials and are already making money from your fans, signing with a record label could actually lead to you earning less money than before. Ask yourself - can the record label do things that I can't on my own?
Hope you guys enjoyed these tips! If you have any of your own tips to add, please leave them in the comments below - I'd love to keep building on this post with your feedback.
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