General Manager - Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR)
Every single artist has to start out his or her career as an independent artist. No one gets signed before they start creating and delving into a music career.
The vast majority of artists don’t have a choice whether they remain independent or not. They’re independent by necessity. But just because you’re forced to make that choice doesn’t mean your career needs to be limited in any way.
I can think of nothing worse than talking to a band who doesn’t go out and see other bands. If you don’t support your own scene you can’t expect people to come out and watch you. Going out to gigs and being involved in other people’s music is important because it fosters a community that will in the end help you as well.
I like to think about it as an ecosystem, you need every part, every layer of the music industry be working and functioning really well, and that absolutely includes the independent sector. So supporting independent labels by buying their music – or all the people involved in independent labels by going to their gigs – is very important.
A really important aspect of progressing your career is planning. Spending hours and hours promoting through all various channels is expensive and time-consuming. If you’re smart and considered and you have a plan, you can actually work out the places where you should be dedicating your energy and how best to do that.
With an initial plan, firstly: if you’re not at the level that stands up next to the best band in your genre, then you need to spend more energy becoming a better band than you do on promoting yourself at that particular point in your career.
Secondly: know where the people that like your music are actually going to be found and focus your energy playing and making contacts there.
You shouldn’t trust anything of yours – particularly your career – with someone unless you know what you’re handing over. A manager – or publishing company or record label or whoever it is working for you – needs to be held accountable if they’re making decisions about your career, and it’s very hard to keep them accountable if you don’t know what they should have been doing in the first place.
If a label wants you to sign with them, you have to ask yourself ‘How are they benefiting me?’ Say for example they’ll take 50% of whatever you make from sales. In that case, you want to be making sure, if you look at it purely from a financial level, that they can more than double your sales so that entering into that relationship means that it’s actually financially beneficial for you.
On the other hand, there are other things to take into account. Perhaps the brand name of the record label is something that you want to be associated with. Often if you’re associated with the same sort of music then the label will have relationships with suitable reviewers and the media and all that sort of stuff, so they help you out there.
Basically, every single case needs to be considered. You can’t really generalise. Even with signing to a small indie label, the deals amongst the various indie labels range so far and so wide. I would never tell an artist to sign to an indie just for the sake of signing to an indie and keeping it real or cool or anything like that. For some bands it’s better to sign to a major, for others it’s not, and every deal is complex and every deal could involve an advance, it could be a bunch of different territories beside Australia, it could be for the rest of the world, it could be just digital, it could be just physical, it could be both. In the end you’re going to have to consider every little part of that deal and what it may mean in the future.