Starting a Hiphop Record Label versus Getting Signed

As a Hiphoppa whose been in the music industry for years, I have seen a lot of changes. I've seen the cassette come and go, vinyl get pushed from everybody to only deejays, and the birth and near death of the cd. I've also seen the rise of many independent record labels and fewer and fewer artists getting signed by record labels.

I've seen artists get signed and blow up and I've seen them go independent and blow up. So which is better: Going independent or getting signed? Both have their pros and cons. Let's take a look at a few.

The benefits of getting signed can be huge...if you got the right things in place. Generally to get signed, you need a marketable demo, an 8x10 head shot, a bio, and a whole lot of patience and hustle. This is typically not an overnight process. Depending on your budget, it may take months to complete your demo package. With today's technology, lets say it takes you 2 months.

You are going to need a place to produce your music and if you don't have your own studio you either have to build one or find one to record. You also need to find a good photographer for your 8x10 glossys. The final major step is writing a compelling bio about your group. This is just the beginning!

Once you've got that done, you need to be able to reproduce it and solicit it to different labels and A&R's. I remember sending out countless demos. An artist could easily get discouraged at this point. But if and when you get a record deal there is still more work to do. Now you have to actually negotiate your deal, promote your album, and hopefully make some money at the end of the day. Its a simple process but not an easy one.

A good label will offer marketing and promotions dollars for your project(s), distribution and fair accounting so that you can keep up with your sales, expenses, and true profit. You may even get tour support for your album. Sometimes artists get advances for the expenses and they often have to be repaid or recouped. These fees must be paid back to the label before you as the artist see your profit.

So how does going independent differ from getting signed?

Well, generally as an independent you don't have the big budget that a big label has but you should definitely have more creative control over your career and business. That's not to say its easy. Its not. Once again, simple but not easy. To me the independent route is better for several reasons though:

More creative control of your music

Easier to build a niche following

You control distribution of your music

You can sell your independent label for profit in the future

You can create powerful strategic alliances

You keep more of the profits

Different tax benefits, etc.

The list could go on.

However, and being real, it is a very rough road. For most independents, there are no overnight success stories. Its a daily grind with much to learn. It helps to have some written goals so you 
know where you're going. The music business is a business. Never forget that. You should study businesses in the music industry as well as other industries to help make your business better.

Still, this knowledge doesn't guarantee success but it helps you get closer to being successful in the long run than someone who doesn't know.

And some of the steps for being an independent are the same as the steps for getting a deal. 
Recording 10 to 15 good songs, pressing them up on a cd or downloadable mp3, and marketing your work are almost the same things that need to be done when shopping for a deal.

With today's technology its not difficult to do these things. Why not press some up to sell and still shop for a deal? This is the way to generate income and still look for other opportunities? Once again its not an easy road but the lessons learned will be invaluable to your career.

And even though you are handling business, you still have to make sure you are creating songs. Don't stray away from being creative.

Whether you are going the independent route or shopping for a record deal, the best way to success is to study the business. It has the potential to bring you many rewards. Much success!

Mello Melanin is the Hiphop force behind A site specializing in bringing artists and labels hot instrumentals for various projects. He is co-founder of Asylum Entertainment, Inc., and 1/3 of the Hiphop group Prophetix. To download 7 free Rap and Hiphop instrumentals check out his site at

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