Artists have had love/hate relationships with the labels as long as there’s been a music business. Since at least Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” entire albums have discussed how nasty the music labels can be.
The up-front benefits of partnering with one are obvious: You get a big advance to pay for your album, buying much better studio equipment / musicians, along with a high-powered marketing machine to promote you. The downsides are rarely quite so obvious…
Three Ways A Big Label Can Come Back To Bite You
1 – That advance is a loan, not a gift.
It happens all the time in the industry: a young band gets cut a five- or six-figure check to create an album, and they immediately blow all the money.
The thing is, it was a loan. And it has to be paid back. If your album isn’t an overnight success, you could be looking at literal bankruptcy and a serious black mark in the music business.
NOT spending all the money is usually a wise move.
2 – Multi-album obligations.
Signing a deal for multiple albums sounds great, right? The problem is, the label gets final say on what’s released. If they don’t like your album, they could shelve it and demand you record whatever their number-crunchers say will sell.
This often leads to artists deliberately torpedoing a release, or even suing, just to get themselves out of the contract… hurting their reputations and, again, destroying most of their industry contacts.
3 – Loss of rights.
Major labels will claim eternal rights to your output. Many world-class bands over the years like The Moody Blues and Metallica have had to sue their ex-label just to reclaim the rights to their own music. It’s time-consuming, it’s unpleasant, and it doesn’t make more albums.
Partnering with distributors who don’t claim your music is a very good idea.
So, would you sign with a big label if you could?