What do Fetty Wap, Bobby Shmurda, and Chance the Rapper have in common?
All of those artists have become famous without the huge push of a major label.
I’m sure someone will contest Fetty Wap and Bobby Shmurda’s successes, but both artists released their major hits before signing to their labels. I’m sure someone else will contest my point by saying that the label Fetty Wap calls home, 300 Entertainment, is an independent label. That may be technically true, but I consider them major label due to its co-founders and their power in the industry (Lyor Cohen and Kevin Liles, anyone?). With the increasing number of artists doing extremely impressive things without “The Machine” behind them, why are artists still doing business with major labels?
With the strength of social media marketing and the opportunity to distribute music online through outlets such as iTunes independently, the only thing I can think of is money.
Ah, money. As empowering as it is to do things in the music business on your own terms, it’s very hard to overlook the importance of having the financial support to record and distribute music on a large scale. Plus, with a lot of record deals, artists are given signing bonuses. In some cases, the bonuses are given purposely for recording costs with the remaining balance as a living expense, if all of the bonus isn’t spent.
Recording and paying everyone off that is involved with the music process can be seen as a valid reason for an artist to pursue and sign a contract, but I’m not a big fan of anyone signing a recording contract, even for financial purposes. My only exception to this is if the artist has the bargaining power to negotiate in an appropriate manner, like Beyoncé, and even then, I’m still cautious. Record deals aren’t bootylicious, but they sure leave me speechless (I know, I know… *insert side eye for my corny joke*).
There are so many ways an artist can lose by signing over to “The Machine.” If an artist decides to sign, it’s extremely important for them to become knowledgeable of what they are getting themselves into, financially and creatively. The artist should heavily consider the percentages of royalties, signing bonuses, how many albums they may have to record to possibly fulfill the contract, music licensing rights, etc. Signing a recording contract is like receiving a credit card: there may be a promise of financial security up front, but you must be cautious of the fine print that can easily take that security away and place you in debt. Credit card companies and record labels will make you pay a lot of money back to them because of this advance, which makes Prince’s statement about record contracts and slavery so applicable.
Signing to a label is something that an artist shouldn’t take lightly and shouldn’t pursue unless he or she attempts to play an active role in the process. Being proactive, cautious and smart in this situation could prevent a lot of headaches and debt in the long run. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with being an independent artist. It may be difficult at first financially, but the artist will own his/her music and will have creative control…and you’ll make money eventually. Just ask Chance the Rapper.