10 EXCUSES FOR NOT HAVING YOUR OWN RECORD LABEL
By Cynthia M. Gayton
Have you thought about having your own independent record label? Home recording studios, access to the Internet, and local distribution networks are making the independent route more successful. In addition, major labels are now using independent labels to break new acts. Once an independent label establishes a good reputation and carries successful local acts, major labels are more willing to negotiate fair deals with the artists because of their proven success. Listed below are some of the main reasons why artists do not try to establish their own labels. Hopefully, this article will encourage you to do so, and give you the tools to create a professional and successful product.
1. I don't have any money!
Maybe you don't, but you must know someone who does! Music may be a life force for you, but to almost everyone else, music is a business, so you will have to present your desire to have a professional recording in business terms. Your family, friends, etc. want you to succeed - so you can move out! If you're serious about your music, create a proposal, short, sweet, and to the point. Set out at least 5 different things you want to do with their money.
a. Pay for production costs.
b. Pay musicians.
c. Pay recording costs.
d. Pay for advertising.
e. Pay for distribution.
Do some research and figure out what these things will cost. Billboard magazine's classified section will give you an idea about costs for various services. These prices are nationally competitive, but don't forget your local business people! They may be able to provide you with more personalized service. Having a local service person also enables you to keep an eye on progress. It is hard to manage a production process across the country. You now have a basis for a budget. Your investors will love it!
2. I don't have enough material.
Start out with a single - 7", cassette, or 12". The DJs still play vinyl. You need a product, and this is still the most economical way to put out your product. There are not many companies that still work with vinyl. However, Disc Makers (1-800-468-9353 or www2.discmakers.com), Europadisk, Ltd. (212-266-4401), and Rainbo (310-829-3476 or www.rainbo.com), still do. Their prices are reasonable, and the results are professional.
3. I don't have a steady gig.
This is a tough one. But it is infinitely tougher to promote you and your band without a product. A professional looking recording speaks to potential employers. They realize that you are a serious business person, as well as a musician.
4. I don't have distribution.
Unless you have signed with a major label, you will have to use other methods to distribute your recording. Independently owned music stores may be willing to take your music on consignment. The independent record label for which I do legal work, Ritual, Ltd., has been lucky to have major record stores agree to carry its product. Ritual has been able to place its releases in several independently owned record stores, as well as HMV and Tower Records. You have to be willing to go out and make these connections, or have someone else do it for you. It is a lot of work, but once you have established the relationship, the next time you want them to carry your product, you know what to do.
I would recommend that you contact something like The Local Music Store (www.localmusicstore.com) to see if you want to be affiliated with an online catalog distribution organization. There is a nominal fee, but artists distributed through this medium have an important opportunity to become acquainted with the distribution side of the business.
You can also try to get your music distributed through other independent labels. The music publication, Pollstar, lists both major and independent labels. You may want to contact some of them about your music. If you decide to distribute under your own label, be sure to list your company with Pollstar.
5. I don't have an agent.
See the answer to question one. Get friends, family, etc. to front for you. Make sure, however, how you want to be known. If you are a writer, don't let your sister talk to potential employers about how you've always been good on the recorder. Specify the industry and area of musical expertise you want them to concentrate on. If you want commercial work, don't send someone out to promote you at clubs.
6. Don't have a manager.
If you have access to the Internet, make an inquiry. There are a lot of students willing to try their hand in the music business. Otherwise, put up some ads at local colleges and universities. Take your time when you finally make a decision to hire a manager. You have to be able to trust this person with a significant part of your career. Once you decide to hire a manager, make a contract with him or her for a percentage of the business, or a flat rate. Make this agreement very clear. If possible, have an attorney draw up a contract for you. If you can afford an expensive manager - go for it. If not, find someone who is enthusiastic about you and your music.
8. I don't have recording equipment
Home recording is becoming more and more popular, and equipment quality is more professional. If you can't afford to buy the latest equipment, or if there is a particular sound you want, try to get spec time in a studio. You may want to make arrangements to record during off hours. You can offer to sit in on a session for one of the studio owners' personal recordings. If you know the equipment, offer to barter your expertise for recording time.
9. My music is not copyrighted
If the music is original and fixed (that is, recorded, printed, etc.) on a tape, on a printed score, etc., then it will be covered by copyright laws, both in the United States and in most foreign countries. For the best protection, however, you should register the music with the U.S. Copyright office. Call 202-707-9100 and ask for Circular 56a (copyright registration of musical compositions and sound recordings), Circular 1 (copyright basics), and forms PA (to register register a song or other musical composition) and SR (to register a sound recording). It is much easier to prove that you created and own the work if the government has a copy of it, and you have a certificate of registration. It only costs $35.00 for each work.
10. I don't have an agreement with any music licensing organization.
If you want your music on the air and you want someone to collect publishing royalties, etc., you need to get together with ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC. Otherwise, you must be willing to negotiate separate licensing agreements with each and every radio station that plays your song. Again, copyright registration is a must for these organizations in order for them to track and verify ownership of your works. ASCAP only asks you to pay for membership as a musician, if they actually collect fees for you. If you publish on your own, they charge an annual fee.
1. Disc Makers publishes a free handbook called "Guide to Independent Music Publicity." Their number is 1-800-468-9353.
2. The CMJ New Music Monthly has a publication which features a compilation CD of up and coming artists. For a fee, you can request that your new recording be placed on an upcoming release. Each contribution goes through a screening process before they tell you whether or not the recording is suitable for their monthly compilation. Ken Park is the marketing director. He can be reached by e-mail (email@example.com) or by regular mail (CMJ New Music Monthly, 11 Middle Neck Road, Suite 400, Great Neck, NY 11021-2301)
3. Licensing organization addresses:
ASCAP www.ascap.com 1 Lincoln Plaza New York, NY 10023 212-621-6000
BMI www.bmi.com 320 W. 57th Street New York, NY 10019 212-586-2000
SESAC 156 W. 56th Street New York, NY 10019 212-586-3450