It will take a bit of time and dedication to take the independent route, but my biggest advice to music artists is to avoid major record labels. The big three – Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group (UMG) and Warner Music Group (WMG) – own a huge part of the industry, from subsidiary labels to a huge amount of publishers – a whopping 77% of all UK music sales, streams and downloads come from Sony Music Entertainment, UMG and WMG. Sony Music Entertainment, for example, owns Columbia Records, Epic Records, and RCA Records among many more.
Why should artists avoid these labels? I personally know quite a few recording artists who have signed to one of the majors and not been able to put out any music due to the contracts they’ve signed and the labels not accepting the content they submit. Often, the labels sign up artists merely to stop other labels from putting out their music. It’s a case of ‘if I can’t have you, no one can’. Artists often now sign a 360 deal with a label through their agent. A 360 deal is basically a contract that allows the record label to receive a percentage of all of an artist’s activities rather than just earnings from record sales (which makes sense since CDs sales plummeted). They essentially own not just an artist’s sound, but the image, name and brand they represent. It’s why you see the likes of Katy Perry plugging her perfume. Artists might not necessarily want to get into clothing or endorsements, but the record label will push for it to get a percentage of income from the artist’s image and name.
There are two main types of 360 deals: you either sign to release a certain number of records; or you sign for a period of time. The best option is to go for the time-based deal as on average only two out of every 10 artists signed to a label ever actually release anything into the public domain. The last thing you want is being contracted into a three record deal and not being able to complete the contract because the label doesn’t want to publish the work you’ve created.
There are a number of successful independent labels, though, that have some very successful artists, such as Dirty Hit, which has The 1975, Ben Khan and The Japanese House; and XL Recordings, whom Adele, The xx, The Prodigy, Radiohead and Vampire Weekend among many more artists have signed with.
Fabian is co-founder of Bang Tidy Music, which is due to relaunch mid-September www.bangtidymusic.co.uk; www.twitter.com/bangtidymusic