Record Deals: Then vs. Now

Whether you were a child banging on a toy drum or bellowing at the top of your lungs, chances are you have dreamed of signing a contract with an exclusive record label. A record label producing your unique music for the public to see sounds like the best thing that could ever happen to you, doesn’t it? In most cases, artists will thrive with the support of a label as they gain access to a team of professional publishers, marketers, designers, legal departments, and so on. But a record deal isn’t quite what it used to be. As more resources for independent artists arise, the advantages of having a record label are diminishing. With so many tools for self-producing and releasing music that have been introduced into the marketplace recently, is a recording contract worth as much now as it used to be?

In 1989, ProTools, audio and video production software, was released, with follow ups such as Audacity and Garageband. Since then, recording music from your own home has never been simpler. All you need is a production program, an interface, and some music to record. After the recording process, you can release your music for free on websites such as Soundcloud and YouTube.

Mayday Parade, a band that is now signed to Fearless Records, sold over 50,000 copies of their first EP, Tales Told by Dead Friends, without any backing from a record label. Of course, releasing and branding your own music takes a lot more work that simply uploading a song to the internet. After all, you do have to keep up with your marketing and publicity strategies. If you don’t have a label to support you in those areas, you might find yourself spending more time and money on those aspects of music production than on the actual making of music. Publicity assistance from labels facilitates artistic success; for example, with the help of a record label, Mayday Parade was able to sell over 200,000 copies of their sophomore album, A Lesson in Romantics.

In modern times, whether you land a record deal or not, you will definitely be involved in promoting your music. On the FAQ page of Fueled By Ramen’s label website, they say, “We look for bands that are creating their own buzz and aren’t depending on somebody else to do it for them. Putting all you can into your band will attract labels wishing to do the same.” Now, record labels want to sign bands they know will survive in the music business without high maintenance and a complete redesign of their image.

In Mayday Parade’s documentary, Three Cheers for Ten Years, the band remembered that their original initiative to sell their music consisted of walking around malls on weekends and selling a few cd’s a day. Eventually, their self-marketing efforts paid off when they got noticed by an artist representative from Fearless and finally got a deal. Whether you’re a small town high school musician or name on a billboard, if you’re lucky enough to land a record deal, it’ll give you the time to focus on what got you there in the first place– your music.

Sarah Libov
Staff Writer

Image: Maraea Garcia

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