Entries from November 2016

The 8 Percent Festival, and The Role of Record Labels

November 12, 2016

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Thanks to The 8 Percent Festival for having me at their music panel! Yes, that’s me wearing a headset. I promise there were no cone bras on that stage. The sound guys just ran out of less-mental lapel mics. Also on the panel was Art Alexakis (Everclear), Joel De Ross (FMIN), and Luca Lucchesi (The Vaudeville Smash).

The panel was on the topic of music and the future of the industry, from the perspective of bands and record labels. The question that was put forward to me before the conference to think about was:

In your view, what are the main benefits an artist receives from signing to a label, whether they be big or small?

…this is something I can talk about for days. I know it’s really easy to shit on labels because there’s a weird consensus with some that: a) major labels fuck over artists and take all their royalties, and b) indie labels don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, and still take a lot of the royalties.

Maybe accurate for some artists/label relationships, which is unfortunate, but definitely not true for all. Here’s how I view labels:

  • The record label as an investor. I think some bands forget that the reason why they might not see royalties for a while is because their sales are covering marketing/manufacturing/PR costs around the album release, which the label covers initially and (sometimes depending on the deal) recoups off royalties. The labels have to make calculated guesses at the best initial spend on these activities for the best outcome (sell a shit load of records, make a band famous, etc.) without overspending. There’s a point where more advertising costs do not equal sales in a proportionate amount… Also, you have no idea how hard it is to figure out how many physical copies of an album to make for a band with no sales history. Too little = you miss out on sales and it’s harder for retailers to have a healthy amount of stock across all stores on release day. Too many and you’ve wasted money on manufacturing and are overstocked. (Also royalties take time to actually be processed by iTunes, Spotify and physical retailers. That delay isn’t all from the label side of things.)
  • The record label as a curator. This applies a lot more to indie labels than majors that sign anything from a largely commercial/sales point of view (although maybe rings true for imprint labels), but there are a few record labels that I love, and will give anything signed to their label a chance because I trust their A&R skills.
  • The record label as the expert. Artists signed to a label get a whole team behind them who look after distribution, manufacturing, royalties, marketing/advertising, retail/trade pitching and the like as a full time job. They’re been doing it for a while and they know what works and doesn’t work, and can often borrow ideas from other successful release campaigns.
  • The record label as the connection. Working with a record label also means that you get to be aligned with all their previous good working relationships with manufacturing plants (read: bulkĀ  discounts), radio (easier radio adds), DSPs (think iTunes features and Spotify playlisting), retail (trade marketing and distribution) and media (more coverage). Label backing also helps tremendously when artists try to break other countries.

Not that a label deal is the only way to release music – it definitely depends on the artist and the label (and even further, the actual release). I just think labels do a hell of lot that people don’t realise. There. I’ve said it. ^_^

Not sure if the panel was filmed, but if it was I’ll link it up here soon so you can laugh at my headset action.

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