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What do labels do for you these days?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by Bjazzman, Oct 11, 2009.

  1. Bjazzman


    Dec 7, 2004
    Madison WI
    we are about to finish our second cd. we're not on a label but im curious if it would help us at all.

    i know they do some distribution but i don't think they pay for recording costs and whatnot. But we don't need to worry about that since we record and mix everything ourselves. And we put the cd's together and did everything ourselves

    do the labels help you sell cd's? or should you release all of your music through multiple outlets and not just a label

    do they help get gigs or do any bookings?

    we really need to build a fan base locally and get airplay before we venture out of our area

    your thoughts?
  2. dj150888


    Feb 25, 2008
    Belfast, Ireland
    All depends on the label, for some, they'll pay for your recording, give you a booking agent, put you on tours etc, some will just get your record into shops. Chances are, unless you're pretty well established, you'll only receive interest from the latter.
  3. KaizerWilhelm


    Mar 11, 2009
    Seattle, WA
    Firstly, a label will usually not even look at you unless you have a decent local fan base and have gone on a regional tour. They want to know that you can hold your own and deal with your band mates for long periods of time.

    Labels have distribution deals with retailers all over the nation and sometimes the world. A label like Universal has distribution rights with Fontana Distribution who sells records through mom and pop stores and big retailers. They also will get your music on the radio so that more population can listen to it.

    Usually when you get a label deal, you are given a list of managers. You will be told to find a manager who like you and who you get a long with. The manager's job is to book EVERYTHING for your tours. Shows, transportation, hotels, gear planning, hiring sound guys and roadies, etc.

    Also, most labels will pay for your studio time, artwork, printing, etc. involved with getting a new album out. That way, you can sit back and make them money, so to speak.

    The only reason I know these things is because my drummer's dad is the CEO of a large Texas label. I think they are pretty close to truth because he is an honest guy with excellent bands on his label.
  4. dj150888


    Feb 25, 2008
    Belfast, Ireland
    None of that really applies to most labels, which are much smaller outfits altogether than the major labels you're talking about.
  5. KaizerWilhelm


    Mar 11, 2009
    Seattle, WA
    The label Im talking about is a small label, large for Texas, but small in the grand scheme of things. A good label will have business deals with studio and printer, etc to get their artists into good studios.
  6. bertbassplayer

    bertbassplayer Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
    As it's been said already, it depends on the label and what kind of deal you can get from them. I think nowadays you see one of two types of labels. The full service type labels that book, record, manufacture, PR, distribute, etc... and the barebones label which is basically just a distribution deal.
  7. Our (very small) label gives us world wide distro, helps pay for record pressing, and sets up shows sometimes, especially showcases.

    It's up to us to book tours, do promo, and generally build a fan base. A label can't do all the leg work for you, but it's good to be part of a network.
  8. Bjazzman


    Dec 7, 2004
    Madison WI
    so if we don't really want to tour but would like to play local and some reginal shows, what kinds of labels should we look at? i think it would be a waste of money for them to pay for recording. But i would like a booking agent and distribution.

    How do you go about contacting the labels and what questions should we be asking?

  9. Musky


    Nov 5, 2005
    You don't need a label to get either an agent or distribution, you can approach both directly. They're going to be looking for exactly the same thing as a label - acts that are going to make them money.

    In your position I'd be looking at self releasing and building a fan base (not necessarily in that order) - having people shelling out hard cash is the best way of getting the industry's attention. Then you'll find them coming to you, and it puts you in a much stronger bargaining position.

    If you want to try the direct approach take a look at bands playing the same sort of stuff a rung or two up the ladder. Their web pages will usually give booking info linking to their agent (if they have one). There are books available that will give you contact info for industry contacts if you want to try a scatter gun approach - I'm sure someone else can give you a recommendation.
  10. dj150888


    Feb 25, 2008
    Belfast, Ireland
    Forget about labels for now, I'd recommend really working on the live show, build a strong fanbase, first locally, then regionally. While you're doing this, work on writing some music, when you've built up some hype, take some of those songs, get to the studio and lay down a well recorded EP, start off selling it at your shows, do some networking online to establish some sales on the strength of a sample track or two on Myspace etc. At this stage, all being well, you should have a nice buzz surrounding the band, if you're set on the label thing, contact a few of the independant labels at this stage, don't settle for a crap deal just so you can say you've got a label though, if you don't get a decent offer, keep self releasing and building up more hype, then , if you still insist on giving the label a free cut of your cash, try with them again, if not, contact the distributors yourself, sometimes this is a little easier if you "start up your own record label", just to push your product onto the distributors in question.

    Of course, if you want to be an overnight success without doing any work, none of that applies.

    For us, we got lucky and had a minor label make us a decent offer for our first "proper" CD, we put it out and had great worldwide distribution, so we received a lot of contact from bigger labels trying to get us to work with them, we're currently weighing up the pros and cons of each. As with every band, it won't come without the legwork and it sure didn't for us, we worked our asses off gigging, firstly in Ireland, then the UK, then more and more European dates, this built up our fanbase and made us look worthy of investment.
  11. Frankly, if you don't want to tour, then you have to question why you're in the game to begin with. I don't mean to be harsh, but if you're expecting success, you need to tour (and lose money a few times). If you're just in it for fun, awesome! But if you have any plans to play music as a living, even for a short while, you need to tour. If you're just in it for fun you probably don't need a label.

    Distro usually comes with labels. It's rared for unsigned artist to have national/worldwide distro, but it has happened.

    Booking agents won't touch you until you've toured a few times on your own and are drawing a crowd across the region/country. Booking agents want to make money and they have no interest in bands that don't draw (and make money). Once you've done a few tours on your own and have created a buzz, booking agents will look to work with you.

    One good person you haven't mentioned to work with is a publicist; if you release an album or start a tour, it's good to hire one to kick start the buzz - get you radio interviews on collage stations, ads in small weeklies, maybe poster in towns you're headed to. A publicist is happy to take your money and can help you 'kick start' a buzz.
  12. MistaMarko


    Feb 3, 2006
    A label is basically a bank. They loan you money to do _____________ and, after you've generated revenue, you have to pay it back to them. That's as clear as I can put it.
  13. MatticusMania

    MatticusMania LANA! HE REMEMBERS ME!

    Sep 10, 2008
    Pomona, SoCal
    I use labels to help organize things I have in boxes, sometimes even on little things such as file folders.

    Answer: Labels help you organize things.
  14. I'm currently gig-whoring with a young guy who is in the "major label is interested but nothing signed" phase. BTW all who are involved are quite aware that the chance of getting to the next stage isn't huge...

    Basically at this stage they constructively critiqued the demo of his CD. They also made it quite clear he had to produce the actual CD in a pro-quality studio with an experienced and industry-recognised producer/engineer. Not "my buddy's got a computer and a pirate copy of Cubase in his garage".

    What they offer is access to publicity/promotion that means something in the real world, being taken seriously when he's chasing gigs e.g at festivals getting the main stages at decent hours - not the 45 person tent behind the portable toilets at 11 o'clock on Saturday morning, major distribution to the large national chain stores, etc.
  15. heath_r_91


    Jun 3, 2006
    Topeka Area, Kansas
    Most likely, the label will not consider you. If you are ready for a label, the labels will be asking you, you will be asking the label.

    Unless you have done numerous national tours or somehow became famous by the internet (never happens), the label will not be interested in you.

    those statements are riiiight next to being fact.

    The labels are basically loans in some perspectives. They give you an "advance" for an album. This advance is expected to tide you over for recording your cd, living while you record your cd, and to make you able to be ready to tour to support the cd. Many times, then you buy your own cd from your label (for something like $3 a pop) and resell it on your tours. This is virtually the only money from your cd that you will make.

    They then expect to make back what they invested on you (plus some) from selling your cd through their outlets (stores, online, etc.) or by the number of cds you buy from them to sell. If you sell a ton of cds (and I mean A LOT) then they will give you a kick back from what they make after their expenses have been paid (count on $0.12/song if you are lucky.)

    The good things they do, though, is hook you up with amazing people. Label sponsored tours that bring new audiences to you for example. Many times they will get you a great manager/booking agent that keeps you on the road 250+ days per year. This is where you will make your money (very little), by getting your share of the door/your garuntee (this depends on your booking agent/promoter).

    Basically, a label is a loan with industry contacts. They can be good, but unless you have done absolutely everything you can by yourself, chances are they will not be interested in you.
  16. MistaMarko


    Feb 3, 2006
    This is how Slipknot got noticed, as well as Hollywood Undead.

    My friend's band got recognized from internet promotion as well. They just got off of tour with Dream Theater.

    The internet is definitely the new frontier, and it's FREE, which is what a lot of people don't understand. However, to expand on what you said, you do have to appear as a "wrapped gift" before a label will consider you.
  17. ^ Correct. You will also find a label in the waist band of your underwear.
  18. TBrett


    Nov 3, 2007
    Toronto, Canada
    Here are three books that will clarify everyone's comments (and in some cases, misconceptions) on the state of the industry and how it works (or doesn't, as the case may be). IMHO, essential reading for anyone who is even remotely interested in the biz (a couple of these titles can also be found in TB industry reading threads):

    1) "All You Need to Know About the Music Business" by Donald S. Passman

    - excellent structured breakdown of the industry by a well-known LA entertainment lawyer about the different levels of support required for a touring/recording band, including discussion about advances and the ensuing pitfalls, explanation of pay structure from CD sales, contract issues, law and corporate policy issues, required personnel, and best approaches for negotiating with labels. Great step-by-step instruction. Heady stuff, but a really informative read. Read this one first!

    2) Appetite for Self-Destruction: "The Spectacular Crash of the Recording Industry in the Digital Age" by Steve Knopper

    - a bit of key industry history by a former contributing editor to Rolling Stone about how the major labels completely underestimated the rise of the internet and digital playback devices (like iTunes and the iPod), and how the advent of the digital era has provided enormous creative and business freedom for a number of independent artists as a result.

    3) "The Indie Band Survival Guide: The Complete Manual for the Do-It-Yourself Musician" by Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan

    - haven't read this one yet but it comes highly recommended and it's next on my reading list. Apparently, it provides advice on how to best promote and market your band/music in a way that meets your chosen goals (not something you'd necessarily get to do if you were signed with a label).

    Bottom line to the OP's question: if you're not an already well established band with a solid (large) following (read: excellent CD sales and independent distribution) and a lot of press (aka "buzz"), and if you haven't already sunk lots of time and money into your project, it would be a very rare happenstance indeed that a major label would show any serious interest in you, unless they think they can reform you into something that suits their current marketing goals (the old deal with the deal, as it were). Following the advice of several previous posts in this thread: build your following, do your own research and leg work. And if you are ever in a position to discuss any kind of contract with a label, make sure you have a good lawyer!
  19. bertbassplayer

    bertbassplayer Supporting Member

    Jul 7, 2000
    Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX
    While I think those books would be informative there's just two problems I would see.

    1) By the time books are published they are usually at least 3-5 years out of date already. A lot of changes have been made in the last 3-5 years in the music industry, especially because of internet and the popularity of mp3 players.

    2) Most all record contracts usually have confidentiality agreements, so I think it'd be difficult to write a book about what is in them.

    One thing I agree though with what TBrett says, most labels are looking for bands that already have a following and a marketable product. In the past it used to be that you would market to labels before your album came out, but now there is so much competition that they usually have their pick.
  20. TBrett


    Nov 3, 2007
    Toronto, Canada

    If you read the books, a lot will be clarified. Yes, it takes time to bring a book to market, so the content can be somewhat out of date by the time it's published. But in this case, it's not so out of date that the essential information is obsolete. Regardless of the effects of the digital era on the music industry (which Steve Knopper's book addreses), the labels themselves still do businesss in a certain way, and it's helpful to know what that way is before entering into agreements with them.

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