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Indie or Mainstream Labels? Decisions, Decisions…

posted Mar 25, 2011, 10:04 PM by Golden Knight

By Matt Ramirez


It is quite natural that most bands, if not all bands, want to “make it big”. Many feel that in order to do so, they need a well-known record label behind them in order to achieve this goal. Yet, as time has proven to us again and again, this is obviously not the right mentality to have when starting a career in music.

Let’s cut to famed musician and mastermind behind one of the most popular industrial bands, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who originally signed with the now bought-out TVT Records. While working on his first album, Pretty Hate Machine, the label forced him to work with producers that he did not want to work with.

During the Lollapalooza tour, TVT recorded his live performances without permission and released a ten song live EP in the U.S. entitled Head Like A Hole. Reznor claimed that he should have received more royalties from the sales of Head Like A Hole because, according to contract, he should have received a payment as though it was an album, not an EP. TVT disagreed.

Reznor continued to tour in order to bring in money without having to make another album for TVT and recorded his next album, Broken, in secret with the personal funds he raised during the first Lollapalooza tour. He would eventually leave TVT.

This is just one publicized example of many different types of fallout with artists and their record labels. Many labels have forced bands to make the type of album that “sells”, not necessarily what the band wants to make. In fact, during contract signings, many of these so-called “business tycoons” hide specific clauses within the contract, which allows them to get away with such nonsense.

For example, a band may make an album that will sell in the market for $20. Yet, the band only makes 80 cents for every album sold. On top of that, the band has to pay the label back the money they lent them in order to make the album. Finally, to put the final nail in the coffin, the label owns the album, not the artist. Digital stores like iTunes don’t give the artist any more leverage; Apple still reaps over 90% of the profits earned from the record sale. Am I missing something here?

When signing a record deal, a band has to be extremely careful as to what they are signing up for. Now, in order to get away from all of that hassle, many bands are moving to indie labels or even going as far as creating their own labels in an effort to escape the corporate chains and greed. Doing so gives these artists the artistic freedom without trying to conform to the label’s demands and becoming slaves of their own work.

The music industry is an ever-changing entity within our entertainment world. It is up to these creative geniuses to find a way “around the system”. And now, my unwarranted advice: By all means, go ahead and make a record deal with a major record label. You may succeed, but it may cost you as well, financially and musically. If not, go for indie labels. However, since they are not well-known, be prepared to become your own marketer.