In 2016, being an “Indie Artist” carries a different weight than in previous years. With albums becoming more DIY than ever before, we are seeing more talent pave their way to success without the backing of a major label. Has the once sought after “record deal” lost its vigor? That Grape Juice weighs up below…
In an era where the 360 deal is alive and well, should artists reconsider joining forces with a major record label? Before we side with either party, let’s break down benefits and the shortcomings of the two.
Maximum Exposure. A label can afford new artists a platform to launch their career into the stratosphere. What countless acts face is the inability to reach the masses. While outlets such as YouTube, SoundCloud, and even Vine provide instant reach, it remains an uphill battle to truly penetrate the online market. Take Grammy award winner, Meghan Trainor. The ‘NO’ maven rose to stardom with her #1 single ‘All About That Bass.’ After signing to Epic Records, the 22-year-old singer was on every talk show and award show performing her breakout hit. One can argue that the success of the song is what is the catapulted her to fame, but the push from Epic cannot be denied. Another positive is that with a record deal can come major funding for an artist’s project, a reality which played potently and publicly with the aggressive push that defined Rihanna‘s early career. Often coupled with a signing bonus, a record deal can seem too good to be true. In many aspects, it is.
As an artist, one must be aware of the business side of the music industry. Major labels act as a bank, handing out money for studio sessions, travel, imaging.. you name it, but this is not without a price. Artists that come to the label with no prior success are at the mercy of so-so deals where the label earns a large percentage of all revenue the artist generated. Hence 360 deal. We are all familiar with the TLC, JoJo, and Ke$ha label horror stories. Even the “vocal Bible” Brandy is having her own woes related to this. It is not entirely up the label. An artist also needs the right team surrounding them, which makes any deal a case-by-case experience.
Food for thought: have you ever looked at the roster of artists at any major label? Out of all the artists listed, check and see how many you actually recognize?
Independent artists can be synonymous with low quality music, low budget videos, and artists in their decline, but this is increasingly not always the case. With many stars recording high quality records in their bedroom, the boundaries of the indie artist have expanded monumentally. Many artists with previous record deals have decided to embrace the solo route. Dawn Richard, Ashanti, Keyshia Cole, and Tamia are just a few artists that have experienced the side of the independent artist.
What the indie route provides that a major label does not is complete control of one’s music, one’s direction, and one’s brand. Acts on this path are the captains of their own ship, which also means they are tasked with doing it all. An artist must fund their own projects and attempt to open doors that may be easier to bulldoze with a machine backing them. When working, artists on the indie wave enjoy the benefits calling the shots and you are also reaping the benefits accordingly. Functioning as an “indie” entity, the act is ultimately their own business – which, in turn, can be deliciously lucrative should they become commercially successful. Just ask Macklemore, who serve as a shining example of how said route can go gloriously right.
It is important to realize that a record deal does not equate to money, success, or even fame. A record deal is a contract that can be as equally beneficial as it is detrimental to an artist’s career. Conversely, life as an independent artist is a constant battle to stay afloat. All the trimmings of “the machine” – such as big budgets and the hottest producers – are oftentimes not as easily accessible. Similarly, there are the facets of the music business that are rarely seen – such as radio plugging and synchronization deals – that remain a struggle for those on the independent trajectory. It’s a reality that highlights why, for every “indie” success, so many don’t succeed as intended.
The New Way?
As the industry continues to shape shift and adapt to changing times, numerous major label artists are creating their own record labels and partnering with major entities in highly customized deals.
Chris Brown also has his own label CBE which currently houses upcoming artist Joelle James, as well as Sevyn Streeter (who is co-signed to Atlantic).
Janet Jackson’s newly launched Rhythm Nation Records found a home at BMG, while Drake’s OVO imprint sits under the Warner umbrella (while he, as an artist, remains at Cash Money/Universal Music).
Is this homogenized setup the way forward for stars of today and tomorrow?
Naturally, we leave it up to you. In today’s market is it better to be in sync with the machine? Leading your own ship? Or perhaps a mix of both? Which artists could benefit from which approach?
With the likes of Ciara now a free agent and Beyonce on the cusp of releasing her last album under her current major label deal, it certainly makes for a fertile time to discuss.
Share your take below!