While signing with an established label has its advantages, an increasing number of artists are opting to go the independent route with regards to releasing their music. The ultimate creative freedom and control over all aspects of releases, as well as the opportunity to connect directly with their fans, one-to-one, are some key reasons for this.
We reached out to several producers to share their thoughts on this topic, and here’s what they said!
“PhuturePhil’s Top 3 Pros and Cons for self-releasing Music”
The music industry at this moment has never been more open and accessible. Advances in technology have made recording equipment easier to obtain, social media has leveled the playing field in marketing, and listeners have more platforms and choices than ever to listen to their favorite tracks. But this new music industry also leaves artists with more decisions to make when it comes to actually releasing their music. Artists can choose to go with big traditional labels, independent labels, or self-release through a variety of services and approaches. These choices make for an interesting dilemma that requires due diligence to navigate.
Self-releasing provides a great reward when successful, but it also requires the highest amount of work and planning involved. As an artist who has released music through labels and self-released, I will provide some pros and cons to self-releasing based on my own experience.
Pros of self-releasing
You ARE the Boss!
When you self-release your music, you ARE the boss. There is no one to tell you what to make, when to release it, etc. All decisions are up to you as an artist and business person to decide on what is best for your music.
All Your Rights Belong to You!
Self-releasing your music means you own all of your associated rights. You 100% own the Master Recording (Sound Recording) and your Musical Composition (Songwriter) copyrights. You can put those to work (publishing, licensing, etc.) however you want and reap the benefits. **Do note that certain indie distributors will either charge you an up front fee or take a small percentage of every sale to distribute your music. There are a few free options but they can be invitation only or have another stipulation attached to using their services.**
Create Your Own Roadmap
When self-releasing you decide how the release shakes out. You can schedule the release date, shape the promo campaign, and decide on all promo materials such as the video and cover artwork. Want to do a free download for an email campaign? (Pro tip: email is still a great asset for an artist to have a direct connection to your fans.) Then do it, you have total control in the direction of each and every release.
Cons of self-releasing
All the work falls on YOU
When you self-release, you are the workforce. You have no label marketing team, no label media contacts for promotion, no massive label release budget, and no label publishing team to help get your music synced and licensed. Everything falls on you to plan your release schedule, push it out, and promote it effectively to gain maximum impact. You have to have a solid plan, have a strong network of contacts, and skills in content creation and marketing to ensure your release will have all the materials required for a great push.
Your promotional costs fall on YOU
Every release needs some type of promotional campaign attached to it. There is too much music being released daily and you need to cut through the noise to get your music heard. Unfortunately, you have to foot the bill for these campaigns when you self-release. Want to film a cool music video, run targeted social media ads, and mail out promotional USB drives to radio stations? You have to pay for those costs yourself when you self-release. You can decide what your budget is and where it is allocated, but you do have to foot these costs.
Choose the right distributor for you
You have to decide how you are going to distribute your music and get it to your fans. CD Baby, Distrokid, Bandcamp, Amuse, and many more all have various terms and agreements that you should do research on to see which one fits for you. Some take a small percentage of your sales, some offer uploads for an upfront fee, and others offer free distribution.
Self-releasing is a great way to dictate the direction of your career while also taking on the challenge of controlling every aspect of your career.
I am a big fan of self-releasing music.
Companies such as DistroKid, RouteNote, and many others have given artists opportunities that they’ve never had in the past – being able to upload their songs to Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, etc. without needing to be signed to a label. This allows young, aspiring artists to give themselves a legitimate platform to release their music. It helps them find more listeners, appeal to a larger audience, and even receive compensation for their work right out of the gate.
Some other pros include having the ability to control every aspect of your release, from the title, release date, the platforms the work will be available [on], and many others. One huge up-side as well (that a lot of new artists may overlook) is having full ownership and rights to the work, and other intellectual property that goes along with it.
I’m hard-pressed to find many direct negatives to self-releasing music – I more so see ways that releasing through a label may be more beneficial, and ways in which self-releasing music can bring about some negatives in the industry. One reason is advertising/promotion of the work. By releasing through a label, you’re not only getting the benefits of being able to advertise and promote the work from your own social accounts, but also get the added support from the label’s accounts as well. This can really help you reach a larger audience, especially if the label already has some good footing within the genre.
I wouldn’t call this a pro or a con, however giving artists the ability to release music so easily themselves has created a huge wave of new artists to the industry. This can definitely be seen as a good thing – more players creates more “competition” (I use quotes here because you don’t technically “compete” against anyone directly in the music industry), which in theory drives better music to be made in general. However, artists should understand when uploading their first few tracks, they’re likely not going to gain very much traction right off the bat. Sure it happens from time to time, but being able to release on major platforms yourself doesn’t automatically mean your work is going to be immediately successful. I’ve unfortunately seen many artists become very excited when releasing on Spotify and such for the first time, only to be upset in the next couple of months because they’re not seeing the results they were looking for.
New artists should understand that with a saturated market, the barrier to entry can be difficult to break, and shouldn’t be discouraged if your first couple tracks aren’t heard by the masses. Music should be made for the passion anyway – not for just the plays.
All in all, I’m a big fan of self-releasing music. I’ve been signed with many labels in my time producing, and I’ve actually found more success releasing work myself rather than going through labels. That being said though, I think each artist should do what makes them more comfortable, and what they think is right for them.
I would definitely suggest to new artists to start self-releasing at the beginning. Then down the road, once your music is gaining some traction, reach out to a label or two if you like. Or just keep pumping it out yourself – several very successful artists still self-release music to this day.
I think in 10+ years we’re going to look back at the inception of companies like DistroKid and others, and definitively say that they changed the industry for the better.
I have experience in releasing both, label and independently. I also operate and maintain my personal music label “Cool Breeze”.
The best part about self-release is that you get TOTAL CONTROL of the entirety of the track. You get complete creative freedom with the track and how you want it arranged. You can set the release date, design your cover art, promo it out how you please. This is great if you have the time and patience to do it. Otherwise, to save yourself a lot of time and “paperwork,” it is far easier to release a track through a label.
The cons are – of course – your reach. You have less reach starting out than other labels. So if you’re relatively new, it’s wise to work with labels just to expand the reach of your music along with your brand.
Ideally – you’ll want to do both! You want to sign tracks AND release tracks independently as well.
Once you build your foundation of indie releases and understand how everything works from your end to the release in stores, I think it gives you much more knowledge and wisdom in how to operate within the industry.
I’m a massive fan of using Bandcamp because it allows me to have complete control over everything from the artwork, my contact with the audience, through to the income coming in directly. I enjoy it so much that I have left record labels out of the equation for many of my releases. The downside is that going it alone means you need to be on top of your game PR wise; I’m not, I don’t promote my work through an agency at all, but I have spent a lot of time connecting with my audience to combat this. Giving away free tracks, doing mixes, and trying to make yourself visible on social media is a massive help. Then, other times I will switch to working with a label, who will promote my work through different avenues. I get the best of both worlds then. I’m kind of casting various nets to maximise my reach. And I hate that marketing speak, but it’s true.
I think Bandcamp has grown a lot in the last decade, from almost looking like a platform for amateurs to now being used by very respectable artists and labels, and they should; Spotify and Soundcloud are still the worst platforms in terms of being paid, whereas Bandcamp has a very fair pricing structure. You can of course sell your merch or physical [releases] through it as well. Financially speaking, if you’re going it alone it’s a great option – especially if you release regularly or do a big release. In 2014 I decided to attempt a four track EP a month, writing, mastering, art work and everything. It was incredibly difficult but I tripled my audience because I kept building on it and luckily people got behind me. This year I dropped a 20 track album, and I’m working on my next because it keeps people aware of you. So keep it regular! It’s also great of course if you write a lot because you can release when you want and have your own schedule as opposed to fitting into a label’s timeframe. All of the above has given me a connection with my listeners that I think fades a bit when you do stuff primarily through a label.
But it’s good that way too; I have work on Spotify via labels to spread awareness as let’s face it, most people use that as a streaming platform, and then other releases I will put on Bandcamp only. I am planning at some point to put my older stuff on Spotify, or a Best Of compilation. I find mixing it up a bit really helps, whether it’s going alone vs label, or Bandcamp vs other streaming platforms.
(Continued) Hope that’s not too much of a ramble, but I’m very passionate about Bandcamp. It makes you really appreciate your audience and allows for creative control!
Okay, maybe I can tell you a little bit about launching my own label, ‘Snow Freques,’ back in March!
I’ve got a few labels that I can release my tracks on, like Otographic, so until recently I wasn’t so keen on creating my own label.
However, Japan has a culture of ‘doujin music’ and ‘Comiket’ , where we sell our own works on the spot, and in order to participate I had to have my own label.
I’ve been releasing primarily through downloads and streaming, but I wanted to have more opportunities to meet with listeners in person. So, I created my own label.
Of course, I thought it would be a good opportunity to get more listeners to hear my music because I could release them there and release them all over the world through services like Bandcamp.
You have to go through the process of getting your work sold through a web store or store, or you have to sign a contract with a distributor or aggregator service if you want to sell it via a download store or streaming service. But it’s one of the fun things about managing your own label!
The biggest advantage of this [running your own label] is that it brings you closer to your fans (listeners) and producers, and makes them love your music even more.
Of course, being able to brand your own label, grow it, and come up with all sorts of plans for your fans to enjoy is also a big advantage.
Generally, when we as producers release tracks on a label, it needs to be in line with each label’s colors and appropriate genres and concept.
That’s where we show off our skills, but sometimes we want a place where we can experiment with free and fresh ideas!
I think it’s important to have your own independent label as such a place to keep your creativity and motivation going.
Firstly I just want to say that I hope you are all ok and well during these extremely difficult times. It’s all so surreal and like you all I am trying to keep it all together as best I can. I’m missing my parents, and feeling separated is not good for anyone so I wish you all safety in mind, body and soul.
Here are my answers:
So the advantages are simple really, after years of being in the industry and having to deal with so many issues relating to royalties, I decided to bite the bullet (in slow motion like a ninja) it was time for change. Making that decision took a fair bit of time and self reflection and most importantly some time out to just breath and enjoy life a bit. I would say the only other label that I still have time for is Blackhole but that is because Arny Bink is there, and he has always been good to me and respectful. But I could write a book about some of my experiences and to be honest I don’t think i’ve got some to waste – I want to keep making music :D. Despite running my own label now I do accept the odd collaboration, but the majority of the time i’m self-releasing now.
I founded Wellhead Records in 2011 (sorry site being updated), and for a time it was quiet because I didn’t quite know where to start with it all. Then one day I met my co/director Liam on a bridge at an event where an artist friend had hidden loads of artwork around Aylesbury. There were loads of people in various roles giving clues like a treasure hunt for art (Streetartdrop – Matrix). Before I left to go and hunt for art I had dropped my phone in the loo and it didn’t work! So I went anyway and just thought i’ll go old school and see if I can see any unusual people with dress up masks looking and running about and take a chance to join in the fun. As soon as my friend and I arrived we saw people running about and knew they were the Streetartdrop boppers so we ran after them and I took my SLR camera to at least shoot some video of the event. I got to the bridge and Liam was there and asked if I was Kirsty, I said yes, and then we geeked out on our Nikon cameras and he said great can you help take film and photos! So I found my role and it was a superb evening and very different. Liam also said that same night that I needed to tap into my audience and that I had a big following but it was scattered all over the place and he said he would help me try and pull things together. Letts who is Streetartdrop and was a major part in bringing a few people together and i’m grateful to him for that. In time we became good friends and Liam gained my trust so I invited him to help me organise and become a co/director for Wellhead Records as he has more tech experience than me and is also two decades younger which makes sense because we have a lot to learn about how things are now, especially when it comes to data and algorithms. Liam sometimes randomly messages me saying ‘Your stats are looking good this week” etc.. and he also gave me some sensible rules of what I should and shouldn’t do on social media haha (I don’t always listen though). Being more of an artist than a business woman, I would say now that i’ve learned so much about how the system works. By nature I would say I’m more of the intuitive one that seeks out other talents to join our little tribe which is what it is to be fair!, and Liam uses his virgoan sensibility to organise things like accounting systems, he also takes care of the agreements for new artists etc. I’m also co/managing a new sub-label called Vintage Keys Records with my friend Dr. Rod Octopus who i’ve been collaborating with on music. He has an incredible back catalog of unreleased material. I suggested we set up a new sub-label where he can also self-release and invite people he knows into the fold and get some of his amazing work out there. We need to help each other right now so i’ve been taking a bit of time to care for people who have lost their livelihoods literally overnight due to this horrible virus. Dr. Rod Octopus and I just recorded a new version of Ghost Town originally by the Specials which is the first release on Vintage Keys Records supported by Sobel Promotions.
My father Alan Hawkshaw once gave me some sound advice and that is “You can either spend the rest of your time chasing people for what is owed, or you can be the change and start again” so metaphorically I didn’t find any art that day, but I got involved, decided to try and do things differently and empower myself as an artist but also use my experience to consider helping others too. I met Liam, formed a team and now we have a fully fledged label with its own automated payment system. We recently signed Coco Star who had a massive hit with ‘I Need A Miracle’ and her new release with M-Series ‘Reaching Out’ has charted and is in the top 20 dance tracks. Tobias Zaldua is someone I have known since school age 9, and he has released some superb music so far too. One of my releases ‘Face To Face Again” with Seba has now had over a million views on YouTube which amazed me especially as it just grew organically. We love to actually send out payments to our artists. It’s not a lot of money by any means, but it’s more of a voluntary support network, because that my friends is what keeps the music alive and kicking!
This experience has healed me greatly, because not only am I able to release music in confidence, I am also able to help people I love and support them too.
Thank you for listening, and please stay in folks and stay safe – lets ride this out together and let the music help pass the time.
In this day and age, with so much music being created and siphoned through various avenues of distribution and release methods, many times i’ll gravitate towards the self-release route when I have material that may not particularly fit into another label’s schedule. As an artist who’s not signed exclusively to an imprint, I’ve enjoyed connecting with a vast number of labels to release with and artists with which to collaborate and gain knowledge about their paths getting their music heard. Many times I’ve found that releasing music thru my Bandcamp page has been a very direct and streamlined approach to instantly unveil some of my freshest material without having to wait on a particular label’s schedule of releases, which can many times be, lonnnng.
There are no real advantages in self-releasing tracks other than controlling the flow and schedule of releases. Self-releasing music has never been easier. I can post music on Bandcamp or Soundcloud in minutes. Of course when I’m releasing under my label “defmain music” it takes more preparation. The digital distribution company I deal with needs to have my tracks a few weeks in advance before it goes out to all online stores and streaming services.
I don’t pitch my music to labels often. I need to establish some kind of relationship with the label before doing a release with them. I put the same level of energy into promotion of a release for either my label or other independent labels.