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Between a Rock and a Record Label (Record Labels Pt.3)

Last week, we saw how the dream of getting signed to a record label is far from an artist's only option in order to ‘make it big’. Instead, musicians are increasingly choosing to stay independent as they realise that a major record label deal isn’t always a good thing, and is always dependent on its conditions.

For our last post of the record label series, we’ll be taking a look at how the musical landscape is shifting towards new kinds of different arrangements between record labels and artists. It’s not just the traditional ‘give us all your songs and ownership rights and we’ll make money for you’ model anymore—a lot more nuance and middle ground has emerged in the form of new kinds of deals.

In a broad sense, these new deals include things like more equitable revenue splits between record labels and artists, artists regaining their master rights after a certain number of years, and more manageable expectations in terms of output. Here are a few examples of arrangements that are gaining in popularity:

  • “Distribution Only” Deals have become increasingly sought after because of the benefits they provide artists over signing a full contract with a label. In this arrangement, an artist allows a label to distribute their music for them, but retain the master rights to their songs, and sometimes receive an advance. This is especially useful for artists who have songs ready to go but may not have the resources to distribute their music widely.

  • Single or Selective Song Deals happen when a label sees potential in one or more, but usually limited to a few, songs in an artist’s catalogue. The label identifies a song that they see having the ability to do well, and negotiates for its publishing rights for a certain time period so that they can earn money off any prospective future success. If a song has already made it big, and an artist needs money on a short-term basis, record labels will usually buy the publishing rights to that song and make their money back on the subsequent royalties that it earns.

  • Net Profit Deals gamble on the fact that a song or album will recover its production and recording costs quickly and go on to turn a tidy profit. A label will fund the costs of producing music, and once all costs are accounted for, they will split whatever surplus income they receive with the artist. These splits tend to be much more equitable: a 50/50 arrangement isn’t uncommon in a tie-up like this. Since these are typically lower risk than other kinds of deals, they can tend to be useful for artists to gauge how successful their music will be. As a result, these deals can be more flexible, short-term, and easily renewable.

We hope that this series has helped you understand where you stand as an artist, and what potential moves you could make in your career to grow your music to its full potential. Whether it’s signing a traditional deal with a label, staying completely independent, or somewhere in the middle, artists have more freedom than ever before in deciding their musical trajectories.

Where do you stand on the record label-independence spectrum? We completely understand how overwhelming all these options can get, so if you ever have questions about what’s best for you, get in touch with us at Taaqademy! Many of our faculty members are very well-versed in these processes, and there’s no better place to get the much-need advice you’ve been waiting for :) Label or not, go and show the world what you’re capable of!


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