Do You Need a Record Deal to Succeed as an Music Artist?

The Pros and Cons of Signing with a Record Label

Rock band practising
Steve Prezant/ GettyImages

Many up-and-coming musicians wonder whether it's worth it to sign with a record label. Record companies are seen by some in the industry as feeding off the success of a band or musician while offering little in return. But the reality is more complicated than that. 

Self-Releasing Your Album

Yes, you can release your record yourself. There are more avenues than ever before for indie music in general, and that means musicians have a better shot at success with a self-release now.

The rise of digital media and recording software have broken down a lot of the barriers that once stood between musicians and their audiences. 

By self-releasing your album, you're not actually "skipping over" the record label piece of the puzzle; you're actually starting a record label. If you're serious about selling your music and trying to make a living as an artist without a record deal, then you are going to have to do everything a record label would do both in terms of work and finances.

The better question isn't whether you need a label, but whether or not you are ready, willing, and able to do everything involved in running your own label. Not sure what that even means? These resources will help get you started:

4 Benefits of Signing with a Record Label

But there are some major benefits associated with signing a record label deal.

It can be notoriously difficult to get distribution if all you have to offer are your own songs, and there are a few areas which are almost impossible for self-publishing musicians to break into, such as mainstream commercial radio stations. While you consider whether or not you should try to get a record deal, consider these pros.


1. Record Labels Know the Industry

Labels make mistakes all the time, even the big ones with a lot of employees. But labels understand how album releases work. They know about pressing, manufacturing, distribution, promotion, royalties and everything else that goes into releasing an album. If you're doing it on your own, it will definitely take a lot longer than if you're signed with a label. 

2. Record Labels Have People Working for You

You'll never have the time to do everything a team could do for you. Even smaller indie labels will be able to offer much-needed assistance. Labels have been doing this for longer than you and have the direct numbers of a lot of people who can help make your album a success. These connections give them access and better prices to the people who can help sell your album. It takes time to make inroads, and the labels already have good music industry relationships. 

3. Record Labels Can Help You Pay the Bills

Record labels have more money than you and that money is earmarked for manufacturing, distributing, and promoting the music their artists make. These deep pockets can spend more money on promoting your record than you could ever spend on yourself. Don't underestimate how important this can be because it leads into the next key reason why you should consider a record label.


4. Record Labels Let You Make Music

When you release your own music, you are essentially working as your own record label. Having someone else handle the business side of things frees you up to work on the creative stuff. Most artists want to make music, and having a team in place can help you focus on just that.

The Record Label Deal Caveats

Are record labels the answer for everyone? Not at all. But they do provide a service in the music industry which makes sense for a lot of musicians. 

Not every musician is cut out to sign with a label. You may end up ceding control on some things because the label pays the bills.

Make sure you're comfortable with that idea.

Self-releasing an album can be a successful path, and a lot of musicians find the work rewarding. Just be sure you have the time and resources to reach your goals for your music.

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