Do you need a record deal? With everyone talking about how much the music industry is "changing" these days, many musicians wonder if they really need to worry about demos and labels any more, or if all of that traditional music business stuff is just so passe. In fact, you've probably heard a lot of people tell you that you definitely DON'T need a label - that labels are only taking a cut of your earnings for something that you could be doing by yourself anyway. The truth really isn't quite that easy.
First - yes, you CAN release your record yourself. There are more avenues than ever before for indie music in general, and that means musicians have a better shot at success with a self release now. But make no mistake about it - there's nothing especially revolutionary in the model of self releasing your record. You're not "skipping" the record label - you're really starting a record label. If you're serious about selling your music and trying to make a living, then you are going to have to do everything a record label would do - both in terms of work and finances. The better question isn't whether you NEED a label - really, you don't - but whether or not you are ready, willing and able to do everything involved in running your own label. Not sure what that even means? These articles will help:
Of course, there are some benefits in going for a record label. Even a small indie label will know the ropes more than you if this is your first release, and they will have contacts in the press, with distributors, manufacturers, and so on that will help make the process go a little smoother. They may be able to arrange for some expenses - like manufacturing - to be covered on credit, whereas you, without a history with the company, will likely have to pay up front. It can be notoriously difficult to get distribution if your label consists only of your own releases, and getting press for your own music can be a challenge as well (imagine calling up journalists all day long asking them if they like your songs).
A major record label can offer you all of these things on a larger scale, and there are a few areas which are reserved almost exclusively for major label artists, like many mainstream commercial radio stations and MTV. Of course, nothing is impossible, and you may be able to be successful in these major label domains on your own - but frankly, it would take a great deal of luck. Realistically, you shouldn't expect to achieve major label sales and exposure self releasing your record.
The bottom line? Provided you are up to the task of running your own label, it is a matter of weighing up the pros and cons for you personally. Think about how much time you have to devote to your release, what your goals are, and your finances (sharing the load with a label can help). Musicians have found success going down both roads, so the decision can only ultimately be made by you.