You’ve put in the work in the studio, you feel that things are coming together creatively and you have music that you would like to release. It’s time to move forward as an artist and get yourself out there. Where do you start? The first steps you take as a releasing artist is to lay the groundwork for where you will be in 5 years time. It’s important to take a step back, give this some thought and most importantly, not rush into anything. Here are some do’s and don'ts to help with this process.
Make sure your music is at a pro level
I’ve seen this time and time again. An artist gets to a certain point where they are writing music more consistently. They are getting better at finishing ideas and their friends are giving them positive feedback on their tracks. Time to start releasing music right? Not exactly.
Before you start contacting labels it is important to check that your tracks are finished to a professional standard. A great idea is to speak with a mix engineer and see what they think about your tracks. They will have a better idea of where you are in terms of the finish line and they will be coming from an objective space. It might also be an idea to get your tracks professionally mixed and mastered to maximise your chances of signing to a good label for your first release.
A majority of labels want a finished product. That is a professionally mixed and mastered EP or album. A lot of labels do have their own mastering engineers but some do not. You need to be prepared for that eventuality. In any case, a label will more than likely not sign something that sounds unfinished or poorly produced. Even if the music idea is good, if it is lacking in the final 20% of the production process, it’s unlikely that it will get signed and it’s unlikely that your next demo will get listened to.
Don’t rush into your first release
An artist gets impatient, signs their music to a label and releases a track that isn’t finished to a pro standard. This by default isn’t a good reflection of where an artist will be technically or creatively in 5 years time. It’s easy to feel pressure from being on social media that you should be out there releasing music. You see your neighbour doing it, you see your friend from college doing it, you should too right?
No not at all. Your first release needs to set the tone for what's to come and it should be a statement of who you are as an artist. If you release something that doesn’t sound professional, it will be there forever. Signing a track to a label doesn’t mean that the track sounds professionally mixed and mastered. There are labels out there who run purely by numbers and release tons of music every week in the hope that something will stick.
Bottom line, don’t rush into anything, take your time and when you are ready you are ready. Work on your craft, talk to other producers and when the time is right you will know.
Contracts Contracts Contracts
Do not sign music to a record label without a contract. Do not go on a handshake agreement and don’t leave anything up to chance. Be clear when signing your music that you own your own publishing and that you intend to register your music with your collections agency. If a label is reluctant to enter into a contract with you, this is a red flag. Don’t do it!
Register for Publishing
Once you start releasing music you should register with your national music rights collection agency. Publishing is a major source of revenue for artists. This is a good way to ensure that any radio play, streaming revenue and club performances are paid to you. If you perform live at a venue, you can also submit your playlist and you will receive music royalties for that performance. HERE is a Wikipedia list of copyright collection societies. The sooner you start this process the better.
Setting up your own label
Setting up your own label is a great way to take some control of your release schedule and also work with other artists. A good label can act as a platform for a community of producers. Working together as a unit and a collective makes the sum greater than its individual parts. Independent spirit is the essence of electronic music and what made it successful in the first place. Before electronic music became the global powerhouse it is today, it was driven by small independent labels and collectives. Think of the great labels that came out of Detroit, Berlin and the UK in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Before launching any label you need to follow steps one to three. Make sure the music is up to a pro standard, don't rush into your first release, organise contracts for all artist releases and establish a partnership agreement between the owners of the label. Do not assume that friendship will stand the test of financial issues. It’s important that you see the label as an investment and not a vehicle for profit. The money invested should be used to promote and grow the brand. Revenue from releases should be invested back into the label after artists have been paid.
Establish a relationship with a mixing and or mastering engineer to assist with quality control. It’s important to have an objective voice when it comes to music and sound quality. Take your time, invest in the project and think long term about success.