Why you Should or Shouldn’t Sign a Record deal

For any artist striving to take their music career to the next level, getting offered a record deal can feel like a major validating achievement. You're being courted by a label that sees the commercial potential in you and your art, promising to rev up promotion and bring your songs to the world. But is signing that deal really the best move?

The truth is, record deals can come with both massive opportunities and significant drawbacks to consider. As an independent artist in today's music landscape, you have more ability than ever to maintain full control and ownership over your work. Signing away rights to a traditional label is not a decision to be made lightly. Below is a look at some potential pros and cons.

Quick note: Every label is different, as is the deal they offer, so make sure you’re clear on what they are providing you and what you’re giving up in return.

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The Potential Pros of Signing a Record Deal:

1. Upfront Money and Financial Support: Once you sign, labels will typically provide a sizable cash advance against future royalties to cover recording costs, videos, touring, etc. This relieves the upfront financial burden.
2. Promotion and Marketing Power: Major labels still dominate when it comes to radio play, lucrative playlisting, global distribution, award show positioning, and high-profile visibility for new artists.
3. Industry Connections: Labels can have powerful relationships across all aspects of the business - booking agents, promoters, brand partners, songwriters, and more. Their team can open major doors.
4. Professional Resources: Access to top-tier producers, recording studios, video creatives, and experienced industry personnel becomes much easier when funded by a label.

The Potential Cons of Signing a Record Deal:

1. You Lose Creative Control: Once you sign over your master recording rights, the label can decide elements like your sound, image, marketing approach, and long-term creative direction.
2. Unfavorable Royalty Rates: Artists may earn as low as 10-16% of royalties from album sales through labels, compared to keeping closer to 85% of earnings when independent.
3. The Label Own Your Masters: Your recordings become the label's property to exploit for their profits. If you want to purchase your masters back, it can cost a fortune.
4. You Have To Meet Expectations: If your albums miss sales targets or another label artist blows up bigger, your team and funding could quickly get de-prioritized or dropped.
5. No Career Ownership: If you comply with your contractual obligations but then get let go from the label, you're left with essentially nothing other than owing back advances.
6. Long Contract Commitments: Most record deals lock you into multi-album commitments for many years, riddled with extensions and renegotiations to remain on the roster.

While the advances, promotion, and industry connections may sound glamorous, signing a record deal essentially means becoming an employee of the label rather than an independent artist owning your career trajectory.

These days, with tools available to inexpensively produce, market, and distribute your own music and merch while cultivating direct fan relationships, there's a viable option to avoid the pitfalls of label deals entirely. Artists like Chance The Rapper and Frank Ocean have shown it's possible to build a successful career independently.

The decision ultimately comes down to an honest assessment of what they are providing you vs what you’re giving up in return – and if it’s something that will truly benefit you.

For some developing artists, a label deal could still be worth considering to maximize exposure and resources. Regardless, make sure to scrutinize any contract carefully and weigh the long-term implications – and ALWAYS speak to an attorney. Entering into a label deal blindly has derailed many promising music careers over the years, so please don’t make that mistake.

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And finally, if you're serious about making music your profession, then I strongly encourage you to learn how to build a sustainable music career for yourself because it takes more than talent and great songs to be successful.

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