For many artists, record labels are the gateway to the industry, and even those who are independent might find themselves considering working alongside one. Knowing the different roles, responsibilities and demands of your potential team is invaluable in building a solid working relationship with your label. To set you on the right path, we’ve broken down the essentials for you…
What does a record label do?
Basically, your label is responsible for making upfront cash investments in your career in return for owning your music recordings and a share of your future income.
Always take advice from a lawyer before you sign to a label, as these decisions can have a long-term impact on your career and life.
For artists that sign, they will receive an advance sum of money. This is essentially a loan that has to be paid back from your sales royalties. If you receive a sufficient advance, this might mean that you’re able to give up the day job to focus on your music career.
It’s always worth remembering that as you’ll owe the label for the advance they have given you, you’re unlikely to see any big returns on your music until that debt has been paid off. This can take years. They will be investing in you by creating a budget for what they will spend on you for your campaign. By making an investment in you, they aim to make an even bigger return if and when you achieve success.
A&R will generally be your first contact with the label. These individuals are the point of contact between the label and the artist. They are the scouts, always out at events and showcases looking for new talent, so they’ll be the ones lurking at the back of your gig. Once you’re signed, the A&R team will be the ones that manage the recording of your music, be it an EP or album. They will be there to connect you with producers and potential collaborators, they will offer creative input and direction so you can hone your sound.
The guys in the creative team collaborate with the A&R team to manage the process of turning your recordings into visual assets, be that digital or physical. Anything visual such as the design of your album artwork, photography or video will fall to this team.
Marketing & PR
So your record is out on all streaming platforms and ready to be enjoyed. The marketing team are tasked with getting the word out about your amazing new release. They will create a campaign, working alongside Press and Promotions (PR) and social media teams, spending money to buy advertising and coming up with creative ideas to get the campaign off the ground.
Press & Promotions (PR)
Working in collaboration with the marketing department, to make sure everyone’s heard your name when your album drops, this team focus on getting your release written about in the media, be that print, radio, TV or online. They will have relationships with TV stations, radio stations and DJs to get your song played on as many platforms as possible, as well as in all the clubs on a Saturday night.
Sales & Distribution
As the name suggests, once the creative team have finished crafting your recordings into beautiful records or digital packages, these guys work to get your album out to all the right places to maximise the chances of selling it to fans. They have strong ties with record stores, online music shops, download sites and streaming platforms. If you’re with a smaller label, it may be the case that this job is outsourced to an independent music distributor, or the distribution department at a bigger label.
The licensing team is on the lookout for opportunities to make money from songs owned by the label, maybe through sync deals or contributing to compilation albums or film soundtracks. Another driving force in the machine that is geared towards making sure the label’s investment pays off.
It is this team’s job to process the cash made from various sources, including record shop sales, download sales, streaming platform plays and sync deals. They deal with data and metadata and work out what the artist and their collaborators are owed after the label takes its share.
These very important people look after contracts between the artist and the label. As your career develops, your legal teams becomes all the more important when it comes to negotiating the best and fairest deal with a record label.
As you can imagine, the major labels will have whole teams working under each category to manage the enormous roster of artists on their books. If you sign with a smaller label. it might just be one person manning the desk. Some basic understanding of the legals definitely helps; understanding the process your career will go through and the people involved in making your record a hit will help you build a strong relationship with your label and get the most out of your partnership.