How to Identify if a Label is Right for You

In the big bad world of music it has become increasingly easy to get your music out to the world with an incredibly small (or even non-existent) budget. But building and managing a music career can be hard, especially when you have bills to pay, so being a promoter, marketer, manager, and a creator all at the same time can be difficult.

Fortunately as easy as it is to get your music out there, it’s also easy to kick-start a label, especially if your focus is on a niche genre or style of music. The good thing about this is that working with these labels may take some of the weight off when it comes to releasing and promoting music.

But tread lightly, as it’s not always the right thing to do.

In this post we aim to help you identify some of the fundamental things a label should be offering you as an artist, and ultimately whether you actually need a label, which moves us nicely into our first point…

Do I NEED a label?

First, the best thing to consider is if you actually need a label. There are plenty of resources online for producers, musicians, and bands to get their music heard. Whether that’s video tutorials on building a brand, cheat sheets of playlist curators, or marketing strategies like the $1.80 method.

Remember that labels aren’t a free resource, in some cases, they demand control over your music as well as you as an artist, they may ask for a percentage of royalties, or… the rights to the music itself.

Self-releasing music gives you that control, that freedom of the music you put out, and the ability to remove things if it’s not the direction you want to go in anymore (we know how it is when older tracks no longer represent who we are as creators), so are you willing to potentially give that up?

Our second point is more self-reflective. Is your music up to the standard that a label would be willing to add to their catalog? Is it mixed and mastered well? Does it tell a story and is that story something a label could sell? These are all things to consider when looking at partnering with a label.

All that considered, while labels will ask for something in return, they can be a great partner to have as part of your next release…

So why should I work with a label?

It kind of boils down to one thing: help.

Any label worth their salt should be able to offer one vital thing, and that’s time. The time to dedicate to pushing your release out to the world to as many relevant ears as possible. The time to help improve your brand as an artist and move you further along on your journey. And finally the time to create everything needed to make your release with them a success.

What should a label offer me?

As above, the main thing they should be able to offer is time. The next is all the things a basic label should be able to provide at the very least:

  • Artwork
  • Social Media Assets
  • Owned Playlist Placements
  • Playlist Pitching

Labels can go above and beyond this with other activities such as talking to publications, blogs, and tastemakers to help reach new audiences. They can help develop social media and marketing strategies for your release. They can create an electronic press kit (EPK) for your release and offer help with other areas you may be struggling with as an artist, like artist profiles on DSPs.

Of course, it varies from label to label, so it’s definitely worth talking with them beforehand to see how they can work with and for you.

Image of a cassette tape with colourful nineties themed label

What do labels get by releasing my music?

Many of us are aware labels take something from the music we release with them, but what exactly do some labels take from you as an artist?

While we can’t necessarily talk for mainstream labels exactly, it’s common knowledge that some labels will take control of the artists Masters which means they’ll have the freedom to do whatever they want with these Masters, even if you decide to part ways with the label.

Other labels may offer advances for creation of the music or marketing which will be contracted to be paid back to the label with royalties earned. Be wary of this, as some labels have been known to end relationships or marketing efforts with artists once these advances have been recouped.

One of the more common methods for smaller labels, including ours, is to take a percentage of royalties from releases. Whether that’s 20/80, 30/70, or in some cases 50/50. This means that as long as the track is released under the label, the label will earn 20, 30, or 50 percent of royalties earned by that release.

We’d always recommend talking with labels and A&Rs before sending Masters so you fully understand what they’ll take from you as an artist.

How do I approach labels with my music?

First, if you’re unsure what the label can offer you by checking out their website, or even talking with other artists on the label, reach out with some questions. The label should be more than happy to let you know how they can help. If not, then there’s your answer as to whether you work with them in the future…

If you do understand, then follow their guidelines for music submission, whether it’s an email with a private SoundCloud link, or whether file sharing links like Google Drive, Dropbox, or WeTransfer are preferred. Send a concise but brief email, introduce yourself, if your music has a theme or story, tell it. Don’t go too overboard, but give enough to pique interest.

Once you’ve submitted, have patience, wait a week or two before following up. If you still don’t hear back after a month, chances are they’ve turned it down.

Image of a vinyl record with an orange label

What should I avoid with labels?

It’s difficult to say what exactly to avoid, but the best advice would be to do your due diligence when it comes to working with a label. If something doesn’t sit right, trust your gut. If they seem cagey about something, trust your gut. Do you catch my drift?

We’d always recommend reaching out to labels you’re interested in working with to try and see what they have to offer before sending music. This isn’t always doable as labels can be super busy, so again have patience.

Why don’t I just wait for the label to reach out to me?

This is a good question and one that we’re on the fence about. We’ve heard from people in the business that if you’re making enough buzz labels and A&Rs are talking about you and when the time is right, will be in touch. But on the other side of that is why sit and wait to be scooped up when you could be proactive and make connections yourself?

There’s a hell of a lot of noise in the music industry right now due to how incredibly easy it is for you to get your music on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, etc., and we understand that it’s difficult to be heard over that noise. You could have a brilliant personal brand but just lack the time to get seen by relevant people or you could have incredible music but lack marketing to get it out there. Or as we previously mentioned, time or lack thereof.

While you could sit and wait to be heard. Even getting in touch and involved with smaller labels could give you that boost you need to be heard by the big guys. Ever heard of “upstreaming“? This is the act of an independent label working with a major label to transfer signed artists, it’s a thing that exists and does happen.

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So you’re probably wondering if we at Kiwi Bear Records practices what we preach? In short, we aim to be as transparent as possible when it comes to what we can do for an artist. We also try and go above and beyond to ensure our artists get all of the support they need for their releases.

If you want to find out more about what we do, send us an email or a message over on Instagram.

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