Music Industry Monday

As an artist, the music industry is full of complications. What is a label? What is the difference between sync licensing and master licensing? How do I get my music heard by an A&R? All of these questions are full of potential answers. Regardless of the answer, it’s easy to sum all of it up as complicated to someone who has never seen the business side of the industry. Most artists don’t particularly care about the business aspect of music. Unfortunately, to make music a career every artist must have at least a base-level understanding of how the industry works. This week’s Music Industry Monday is going to give you a little bit more insight on a very important topic in the music business and that is the difference between labels and distributors.

What’s the difference?

In short form, a label is an entity that helps promote an artist’s career in a variety of ways. For the larger labels, they assist talent financially and through the label’s connections. The label will act as an investor in a way, paying the artist to produce their music. The label will pay an advance to the artist and then offer them the resources that they need to make the music happen. As an artist signed to a label you will get access to facilities that will enable your creativity to shine and then the label will market your music for you. The caveat is that all of these resources do cost money (including your advance) and as an artist, you are required to pay that money back. The label is the investor and the artist is the business.

A distributor, on the other hand, acts in a less hands-on manner. The term distributor has changed over the years and nowadays we see distributors take the form of online platforms such as DistroKid, TuneCore, CD Baby, and Artist Republik. A distributor typically tends to only work with you on your terms. You sign up for an account, pay a fee to get our music sent out to streaming platforms, then sit back and let the royalties roll in.

Unfortunately, distributors don’t front any money for your marketing efforts. With a distributor, you have to pay all of the money upfront. Then you have to go and find a way to market your music all on your own. Of course, both of these options have their pros and cons.

Which do I choose?

I always tell artists to do their research! One option is not better than the other. You just have to decide what is going to work for you in the long run. There is a fundamental difference between labels and distributors. Labels demand more control over your musical rights in exchange for security. Distributors work in the opposite, less (almost no) control of your music for a lack of financial and career stability. You end up being in a very dire situation.

But you also have to consider where you are at musically. In many cases, a label won’t even look at you if you aren’t at a certain level. So you are essentially forced to go the independent distributor route. Many artists start with independent distribution and work their way up into a label position. And in fact, you don’t always have to go the route of a large label. 

Independent Labels

As technology becomes more accessible, there has been a surge in independent labels. These micro-labels tend to offer a variety of resources for smaller artists. But these resources don’t usually compare to large labels. For example, many of these smaller labels don’t dole out advances to their artists. Rather, they will offer marketing, studio time, and more as a replacement. These guys also usually require their artists to put up their own money for production costs. Some even go as far as to only sign a song or an album for distribution under the label. 

These kinds of deals usually offer benefits to both parties. For the artist, they can claim to have a label-distributed song or album. For the label, if the artist is reputable enough, it will bring more legitimacy to their business and bring in more artists. Under these deals, the revenue is typically split between the artist and the label. Now the label is making money for distributing your music. That could be good and it can be bad. It just depends on the individual needs of the artist.

It is complicated

As I stated at the beginning of the article, the music industry is a complicated place. This article doesn’t even scratch the surface of the complications associated with labels and distributors. The goal is to serve as a broad overview of the topic so that you can further educate yourself down the rabbit hole. 

Music Industry Monday

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