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10 myths to dispel on artists, labels and record companies

Data di pubblicazione 02/09/2018

Good morning to all, as you know every now and then we love to write articles that can teach something, and this is dedicated to the 10 myths to be debunked on record labels. They're constantly running fake news, packaged to perfection for ignorance or interest of someone. We think it's time to dispel them and do something useful to the world of music. Enjoy reading!

FAKE #1: Record Labels are the subjects who, when working, give or anticipate the money to promote a record

TRUE: Record Labels are not money-loving subjects, they are the subjects who, first of all, make the records and the projects connected to the discs.

The labels are not banks. That makes you smile, it seems obvious, but most musicians take the world of labels as a financial reality ... it is the dream of many, but this does not mean it is the reality. With the competition of recording studios, which without the mediation of record labels offer a service without distinction, artists find themselves in the hands of "finished" products that often don't sound good for the radio or aren't competitive enough: they turn to labels to ask for money. There are so many cases, that we wondered if there was anyone saying nonsense around. I looked into the phenomenon: just a few days ago I came across an article, which I didn't link deliberately, but which was written by a very important online magazine, this article narrated the pros and cons for musicians to work with record labels. The problem was that all the cons and pros in that article were oriented towards the feasibility of a label lending money to musicians. All the points were more or less like this:

PRO, a label can finance your project / CONTRO, it's hard today to find labels to finance your project

Record labels are in fact the subjects who, first of all, create, make and promote records.

In the seventies, eighties or nineties those who felt the need to make a record were mostly musicians or bands that wanted to play a gig, that were successful, and often the label was in a position to assess, based on the success "on the ground", and by that we mean live, the extent that the group had and then the possible investment. The success stories told this story and we all convinced ourselves that it was the case, forgetting however that this was the story of bands and artists who were already successful ... even before meeting the managers of the labels!

The story of artists or bands is told from the moment of success onwards. Leaving aside the previous part which is the most important one, even if it is considered less relevant from a journalistic point of view. 

Today, most of the bands and musicians who show up to the labels do not live off music and have no audience. Trusting in a project that hasn't been successful yet is one of the greatest challenges for record companies. But trusting means sharing, with experience, hard work and even money, in the realization of a story, and this is very difficult to explain when for someone, asking for money from a label, becomes almost a self-affirmation. As if to say "I'm already able to produce money, anticipate it".

The point is that, those who do the work are able to assess to whom you can anticipate money, and how much.

If Sony and Universal only advance money to projects of exclusive ownership, and after they have passed through the forks of television, it is not because Sony and Universal are stupid, it is because it is difficult, if you are not a TV star, to be part of a business plan that allows the advance. So today the majors are anticipating money to the TV stars created by themselves, to get their money back through processes already tested. And beware: if the money doesn't come back, they'll take you back to where you came from. We are following a different path, namely that part of the creation of a project that, usually, is left out journalistically. And that could be the solution for many talents who could find just what they are looking for. Many of these talents do everything by themselves, making a big mistake. 

FAKE #2: you can create a successful product even without a record label

TRUE: you can also do it by yourself, without the mediation of an Independent (record label): only the risks, the efforts, the time needed and the investments will increase. And in the end you'll still need a Major

When you hear "he made it to success on his own, without a record label" it's always a joke. Because then you go and check, and the number of cases is very close to zero. It's possible that you get to public success without an "indie" (independent label), it's true, it's the case of many Youtuber and some musicians who follow a trend already tested (so fashions previously created by Etichette), and for which there is an active audience, maybe because at that moment it's a fashion. But there are two things to say: the first is that a small or big success with the public would be the ideal condition to present oneself at a Label, the second is that at high levels, without the help of someone who does "work", one doesn't go anywhere. 

All those successful "selfmade" case studies, can easily be found in the various sites of Universal, Sony, Warner, Sugar. What are they doing there?

The professional record label makes records. It knows how to make them and knows how to sell them. Doing it yourself means recording the record yourself, without advice and opinions, do the mixing and mastering, paying the press office and promoter out of your own pockets, making the website that no one gives you, spending a lot of money on online promotions when there are people that know how to auction better than you (because it's their job) and double the rate of CVP. With a bit of commitment, maybe, they triple it. Alone therefore means becoming yourself, at least for a project, a record label. Can you be successful? Yes. But what is the point of spending thousands of euros on your own, working for years, when there are professional subjects who make you spend less time, less money, and lend you their professionalism acquired over the years to achieve your same goal? We don't know.

Also because, pretending that an artist can still make a great product by himself, because he is lucky enough to be supported by all the necessary skills, the record channels in every country in the world are the result of so much, so much experience in the field. The labels work all day to interact with these people. If you reach these channels alone does not mean that you can succeed on your own, because you will still need the professionals, sooner or later. In addition, that of "self-made success", between us, is a lie that advertisements services tell you trying to make money with poor attempts and with some help from press offices that sponsor mega artists, to tell it in a romantic way. Conveniently, the more artists there are who imitate success stories, the more top projects acquire fans. We will explain this concept in depth in one of the next articles, dedicated to the media exposure and "prosumers" of the music world: it will be very interesting.

FAKE #3: presenting itself to record companies with a ready, finished and packaged project

TRUE: Labels are the ones that make the product. Present yourself with a good draft and strong ideas. Professionals will take care of the rest

We wrote a whole article years ago on this topic, please read it here. The article is about three years old, some examples may have aged but the substance has remained unchanged. To give you a summary, the article explains how silly it is to go and spend money on recording studios before you have a deal with a label. Let the label contact the firm, choose the firm, minimize the cost and orient yourself in the best way. If you have already chosen the studio because you strongly want to record in that place, regardless of who will finish or release the record, then focus on the performances and take home the separate tracks of the recording done to perfection (which is the real work of the recording studios), rather than the finished record. Labels and Recording Studios are partners in two different roles in the creative process, they are not alternative roles.

FAKE #4: Labels aconsist of the "Roster" of artists

TRUE: the "Rosters" of artists are the prerogative of the management agencies. What a Label does is first and foremost music, with a precise artistic mission

This idea that the Label has to be evaluated on the basis of the artists present on the "roster" is a mistake. It makes sense in journalistic terms, to outline a history of the past, but certainly not in terms of record. The roster means "the team", in Italian we can say "the artists under contract". But what does it mean under contract? There are a thousand types of contracts: the publishing contract (you give up part of the copyright) and the phonographic contract (you give up part of the proceeds from sales) for example: none of these agreements are about the person, they all concern one or more pieces of music.

There is only one type of contract that is made on the person, this is the artistic contract, where the artist becomes dependent on the company with which he signs

If there is a Roster, unless it's a random word put in there, it means that the artists in question are using artistic contracts. How many labels are there that make artistic contracts? A rather limited number. So why associate the label with your artist roster?

FAKE #5: multinational label-services platforms are alternatives to labels

TRUE: most multinational digital platforms channel all the music you can imagine telling you that you don't need any mediation: you just need them

Are Musicraiser, Zimbalam, Bandcamp and Soundcloud alternatives to record companies? No. These subjects have nothing in common except that they are always cited as "alternatives" to the record companies. But they are not, and by the way they are all very different things. Musicraiser for example is a great way to introduce yourself to a record company with a good budget, to do a great job. Zimbalam is a distributive collector, Soundcloud is a social network for aspiring musicians who comment each other's works and Bandcamp is a retailer, a service to which many record labels can turn. There are a thousand other labels. Are they alternatives to labels? No. So much so that both Soundcloud and many others, if they are NOT used as alternatives to the labels, they are very useful tools and instruments, both for creating a portfolio and for private sharing.

In short, it would be like saying that door-to-door frozen food vendors are good alternatives to restaurants.

From a certain point of view, if you get the fish home and cook it, you don't need to go to a restaurant, but it goes without saying that you go to a restaurant to live another kind of experience. And that doesn't mean that a restaurant can't use those same services. Isn't that clear? If there's a thriving and powerful market, it's the one of the platforms where you can upload music for free, they're quantity-based businesses. And they all fall for it because for an artist to be heard saying "you don't need a label, you don't need to spend" is medicine. It's a shame that dreams may not come true.

FAKE #6: Record Labels are priceless. If they "believe in you" they make you a free offer.

TRUE: recording studios cost money, marketing and communication agencies cost money, photo studios cost money, graphic designers don't work for free, factories that print physically cost money, social networks cost money and promoters ask for thousands of euros: why should a person who groups or interacts with all these jobs not have a price?

Most artists have a friend who's a graphic designer, a photographer who "takes pictures for free", on the other hand they have been paying the recording studio big money. They are also convinced that they know how to win auctions on social networks with the "promote" button on Facebook. In reality, our work is one of the most difficult and complex that exists precisely because the Label summarizes in itself all these professional experiences and more: it must also coordinate them in a single project. And let's add, minimizing the costs for the artist, investing in it.

Especially if you're aiming high... And the higher you aim...

Since the label has, as they say, the complete picture at hand, it is it who has a way to rebalance the investments. There may be a project lacking from a photographic point of view, but good from an audio point of view, and vice versa. Planning these jobs is also a strategic choice. To understand: a good and solid Record Label takes you where you want to go. To get where you want, either you have a budget, or you are popular enough to be able to anticipate it. The label is therefore able to direct the budget, and is able to share these expenses. But it can't do it for free. If it does, it's very likely that the label manager doesn't do this job. Therefore he can't bring you results.

FAKE #7: I found a producer, I don't need a record label

TRUE: even if recently the Labels sign directly with the artists who produced themselves, because today they do so, the real interlocutor of the Labels, since always, is the Record Producer.

In today's world, only those who make electronic music and produce their own records are presented as producers. In the world of Rock the Producer, we do not know why, identifies not as a musician, rather a financial / technical one, it's an endangered species. Producers no longer exist in Rock. Actually they exist, but they don't talk about them: they are being overshadowed by the media, people only talk about them in documentaries of bands that have gone down in history (to then discover that the same Producer worked with more successful bands, maybe even in the Pop field). In the case of new bands, however, aspiring producers tend to avoid independent labels: they point directly to the majors and, if they fail, propose alternative solutions to the band. This practice is wrong, because it ignores that the independents can have contact with the majors...

If we take as an example models from the past and models of current success, the Producer is a fundamental role in relations with the label.

He can be the creator of the project, he can be the one who puts the money, but he is a figure who can not ignore the agreement with a label. The producer is the one who signs with the label. It is such an agreed practice that, since the label actually plays the role of final producer, when the original producer of the record signs with a label, on the cover is mentioned as "Executive Producer". It has always happened.

If you made the record, you are the Producer. If you paid for a studio, you are a Producer. And if you are smart enough to turn to a third party to do a better job, both musically and financially, it means you have a Producer. In any case, the phonographic agreement is between Label and Producer. The difference is made by the person who pays for the services. In Miraloop, for example, the choice to meet the artists on different possible services, is entrusted to a Producer, who represents the label and who reserves the right to determine how the label can meet the needs of groups or individuals.

FAKE #8: Being without a label is cool

TRUE: 99% of artists are without a record label. They are several million. People mostly listen to the music of the remaining 1%, which is a few thousand. Are you sure that 99% are the cool ones?

This fake news is propagated mostly by some journalists when they want to incense a major artist, or very sponsored by the majors who, rarity, had an audience even before signing a contract. It happens, however, that then the record that spins is never a demo, it is a record made and finished with a Label. So what are we talking about? Or this mantra is for everyone who's trying it out for themselves. "I'm going alone, without a record label."

The fact that an artist can make a record with a major because it's popular is absolutely normal. Majors are record companies and they don't move if you're not popular.

The truth is that the artists everyone talk about, always have a team behind them that works very, very well. Otherwise they wouldn't talk about them. It's not because the audience isn't experienced enough in music, it's just a matter of time. Not everyone has hours and hours to spend looking for new talents. And they already have something to talk about since the music is coming through radio, television, the web. If it comes, someone is doing his/her job. And they're doing it right.

FAKE #9: Having the freedom to do artistic research is a difficult task if you have the support of a Record Label.

TRUE: those who do research, in music, are currently almost only the labels. In all other cases, solitary artists tend, in most cases, to copy existing working models, already run-in by the labels and their mechanisms.

In musical circles it is often said that the Label "limits" artistic freedom. This is madness, because in reality what happens is the exact opposite. Freeing artistic freedom is the ultimate goal of a label, if it does its job well. Let's not confuse the record compilation with an artistic limit. Generally, those who complain about this situation, are those who are already copying (in some cases cloning) an artistic solution already tried, tested and presented to the market. The first reason for this rumour is that success stories need similar amateur copies. In this way they can say that they are the vehicles of this success. Newcomers often don't realize it at all. 

The more the project is research-based, the less the references of "gender" should be.

To give you an example, consider music genres. Music genres are an instrument you use to narrate a project to the public. The artist should not start, as an artistic assumption, from this instrument. Because he doesn't control it, the labels control it.

The "artists" who think of making art by taking a record cataloguing as a reference are wrong from the start, because the record cataloguing is a marketing process, therefore scientific, and not artistic. The artistic part takes place first, in the enhancement and research of an identity and a precise idea of the project. The artist who says he doesn't need a label "because I do this genre in particular" is already emulating a musical current without even realizing it. One of the tasks of the label is instead to enhance the project, then bring it to its identity. Valuing means first of all giving value. And to give value means innovation. If there is a certain tendency, in the musical world, to recreate a certain musical environment, maybe past, this is just the antechamber of hobbies and DIY craftsmanship, commonly called DIY (or in the Bolognese dialect, "ciappini").

FAKE #10: In record companies artists must be similar to each other and make music of the same genre

TRUE: the real labels, those that change trends and musical trends, large or small, are born from the iteration of characteristics, ideas and cultures very different from each other

The labels that do NOT have an artistic aim are easily recognizable: they always have a "roster" of artists all of the same genre. Not having artistic goals does not necessarily mean making bad music, on the contrary. Often those who make music already tested tested heard and resentful have enough references to produce beautiful music in large quantities. And so it is in its interest to bring together similar projects: the best jazz, indie rock, punk or EDM music. Unfortunately these "labels" are not only most of them, but they are also the ones most sought after by the musicians who fuck, who make "a genre". And this gave rise to the idea that a label is the union of similar, or even equal, musicians.

If you see completely different artists appearing in the catalogue of a label, you are in front of an artistic research

We put this point last because although it is subtle, it is one of the most difficult false myths to unhinge. Are you wondering why? Because while the voices of all the previous points are mostly foreign subjects to the labels, this false myth is propagated by the activity of most of the labels, which are often not managed by artists. A label managed by an artist, on the other hand, will be recognizable at the very moment in which it groups together and encloses in its research a mixture of completely different worlds. Art is born from the set of cultures and worlds that intersect, it is never self-referential. In music as in painting or in other forms of high expression. Similar musicians who make the same record do not come under a definition of artistic research, but under a commercial attempt to emerge. If you look at it, success stories are always placed in multicultural contexts. Just look at the diversity of the major artists.



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