I actually found myself in this situation way back in 2011-2012 when I signed to an indie label for a 2 album deal. Just to put this into context, the label had one act that was doing pretty good and even had me featured in one of their songs that became fairly well know here in Canada and abroad. Just the other day, my cleaning lady, who I “caught” listening to Drake and Future said she liked my music as well and even said she was jamming to that song with her friends (which caught me by surprise because that song I was in was from 2007).
Anyway, the reason why you’re probably reading this is because you’ve been approached by a small indie label (or even a big record label) and are wondering should make the big decision and sign?
Well the first thing we should get out of the way is money. When you’re signing to any label, they are going to lowball the hell out of you. My first deal wasn’t financially lucrative at all considering I wrote, recorded, produced, mixed and mastered every song on my album. I pretty much got taken advantage of.
The thing is I knew this going in and wasn’t surprised. It actually took me a few months from when I received the contract to when I signed to make my decision because I wanted to be sure I had my expectations right (plus I needed to have a lawyer look over the paper work so I wasn’t signing over my first born).
Now you maybe wondering why did you sign if financially it didn’t make sense?
One of the guiding principles throughout my life has been, “action is always better than inaction”. That is it’s always better to do something than do nothing. I’m not saying this is the right way to live (cause sometimes it is better to do nothing) but at that time in my life I felt that it was better to try something new. And you know what I do not regret it one bit. Why?
Because of everything I learned. I learned how to really produce, how to really mix, how to really master. I learned how to perform in front of 10,000 people (I also forgot my lyrics in front of 10,000 people). I learned what it’s like shooting bigger budget music videos (the first video I did with them in 2007 cost over $30k). If you’re an artist that doesn’t have a lot of labels interested in you, but just one like me, I would recommend going for it, even if financially it doesn’t make sense, as you’ll be exposed to things you probably wouldn’t otherwise just sitting at home.
If learning new things and experiencing new things were the positives, what were the negatives?
The worst things for me were two fold: (1) everything moves really slowly within a label as they have to calculate if every moves makes financial sense and by the time they do decide to act that move doesn’t make artistic sense and (2) I hated being told what my image should be or what songs I should make, especially from the business and marketing people who have never made a song in their life and have not a trace of creativity in their blood. It’s probably also why I became an audio engineer as I found it hard to find a good audio engineer since I found most never made music themselves and if they did it wasn’t in my genre and if it was it wasn’t very good.
Would you do things differently?
I do not regret anything in my life but if I do I don’t remember it. But if I was given the opportunity to go back to that time period this is what I would do: I wouldn’t sign right away, I would shop my album around to a few more labels. See the thing was I already had about 70% of my album done at that point and was sending songs to the label head as I made them to get his feedback as well as to build a relationship. Also remember we had been building a relationship since 2007 and I signed in 2012. So In my young mind, being loyal to someone who had help put me on was more important than my own music career.
So my advice to you is shop your project around to more than one label, even if you already have a relationship with another label. You never know whose going to present a better offer and you never know who you’re going to get along with better. If you can’t find another label to work with, either go with the original one that showed interest or stay solo and keep building your buzz. Now it is much easier to drop multiple mixtapes to build a following before even considering signing, in fact I recommend you do just that as if you sign too early you will have to do the leg work on the label’s terms and not your own.