Being an independent artist means many things. You create your music, promote your music, & ultimately you are the decider of your fate. But not every independent artist wants to stay independent forever. If you’re an artist reading this, you have probably had the desire to sign a record deal at one point in your career. Maybe you’ve already done that, or it might just be so far off your radar that you can’t fathom ever considering a move like that. Whatever the case may be, Record Labels exist, and they exist for a reason. Whether you want to join one or not, it’s always best practice to have a general understanding of how the world around you works. That’s why this week, I will be walking you through the general structure of a Record Label.

What are Record Labels?

To understand the structure of a record label, you might want to know what Record Labels are. These organizations are significant drivers of success in the music industry. They manufacture, distribute & promote the sounds of their artists. Record Labels are there to help sell the artist and the product of their work. You probably recognize names like Universal Music, Sony Music & Warner. These guys are what we like to call the “heavy-hitters” of the industry. Underneath these massive conglomerates are a ton of smaller labels that run under their respective umbrellas. Warner owns Atlantic, Universal owns Capitol, & Sony owns RCA, to give an example. Underneath all of these organizations are smaller labels meant to cater to specific niche artists & genres. It’s a large and complicated system, but it’s this system that runs the entire label ecosystem. But in general, how do all of these types of labels operate?

The Departments

Most major labels have a President & a Board of Directors. These people make all of the big decisions & oversee the direction of the label. If a more prominent label owns a smaller label, label liaisons communicate between the two. Underneath all of these big wigs are a bunch of smaller departments that make the label run.

Artist & Repertoire (A&R)

A&Rs are the lifeblood of the label system. These are the people that are responsible for finding fresh talent & bringing it to the deal table. A&Rs are always hanging out at shows & staying up to date with the industry online & off. Once the scout their talent, they are responsible for convincing that artist to sign a deal. The A&R will also help with negotiations at the label level & foster the artist’s relationship with the label throughout their career.

Artist Development

Artist Development is the department that is responsible for improving the artist at the artist level. This involves working with the artist to enhance their brand, social media presence, how they perform & how they record their music. The intent is to improve the person to perfect their talent & bring them to the next level. Unfortunately, as time has progressed, this department is slowly being edged out & replaced with a “Product Development” department.

Marketing

The marketing department is responsible for taking on press & promotional campaigns for the artist, their new releases, tours & pretty much anything that can make money for the label. Marketing teams take their time with every artist to help identify the target demographics & market all materials to said demographic. The goal is to increase sales with a minor loss in revenue. 

Publicity

The ultimate goal of the publicity department is to increase public awareness of the artist & everything that surrounds them. The record label’s publicity department tends to work directly with the press & media opportunities for artists. When you see an article about your favorite artist or an interview on live TV, you know that it was publicity.

Promotions

On the same level as publicity is the promotions department. They assist in getting the artist radio play & streaming placements. One of the big tasks for promotions is to ensure that the artist receives a placement on leading curated playlists worldwide. Promotions ensure that the artist can get the maximum amount of plays & awareness.

Production

The production department focuses on the – well, the production of the music! The work in a literal fashion, manufacturing & packaging, and ensuring that everything around an artist’s release is appropriately done. That includes anything from CDs to merch & everything in between. This team works closely with the marketing department to ensure that the timelines are being met. This department also keeps track of sales records for the artist.

Sales & Distribution

The sales & distribution team is the liaison between retailers & the production department. These people ensure that there are no product shortages or surpluses. They are constantly communicating with manufacturers & their respective partner departments. Communication is vital here & without it, the supply chain might fail!

Creative Services

Creative Services is the group of people that create all of the visual aesthetics for an artist. They are involved in many departments from sales, publicity, marketing & more. If you’ve ever seen a tour flyer, an ad for a new album, merchandise, or show visuals: this is the team responsible.

New Media

With the internet becoming as expansive as it is, a new department has sprung up. The New Media Department handles all things digital from new streaming platforms, new technologies & more. Their goal is to get on top of emerging trends in the media landscape and capitalize on them for their artists.

International

The international department works for artists that have a successful following in other countries or territories. They work on the manufacturing, copyrighting, & distribution of music in non-domestic markets. They also tend to work with foreign record companies to assist in all of the previous departments overseas. This team does a lot, and it includes organizing all of the foreign publicity & press whenever artists go abroad.

Business Affairs

This department handles all of the business-happenings of the label. That includes all of the boring stuff like bookkeeping, payroll, and general finances. They also manage the overall structure of the record label!

Legal

Every label needs a legal department. They handle all things like contracts, lawsuits & more.

Labels & Artists

That is the structure of a record label. There are a lot of different departments with moving pieces in every way. As an artist, you must research a label if you are scouted by an A&R. Not every label is the same and offers the same resources. If you are in the market for a label, be on the lookout for these different departments. The more established the label, the more likely they are to offer you all of these resources in one package deal. But keep in mind that the label route isn’t the only way to go! New technology platforms like Artist Republik have emerged in recent years to try and sway artists away from the traditional label system. 

With the resources available online, labels aren’t the only way to go anymore. As the world changes rapidly around musicians, it’s crucial to stay on top of all of these emerging trends so that you can make an informed decision about where to take your career.

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Structure of a Record Label
Structure of a Record Label

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