If you pay attention to what the majors are doing these days, you'll notice that things are looking a lot more indie around here. Labels are being forced to cope with a changing music industry, and they're using tactics indies have been using for years. In fact, the indie music industry can teach us all something about seeing new ways to be both profitable and fair. Here are five indie label lessons to take to heart.
1. Going Can Halfsies Works
You could easily find sources that will tell you the "correct" percentages for record deals, but the beauty of working outside of the major label structure is that you can come up with a deal that works for YOU. There's no need to tailor contracts and agreements to some template written in a book about major labels. If the label has the distribution network and promo ability and the musicians have a finished master ready to go, going 50/50 on the profits is a fine deal. 50/50 deals aren't as unusual as you might think - you might be surprised how many small labels work this way. The offer of a bigger profit share is a way indie labels on a shoestring budget can attract musicians to deals without big advances. Obviously, of course, it offers musicians a chance to make more money on their sales.
360 deals have been getting a lot of attention lately because major labels have been embracing them. Good for them, but indie labels have been doing this kind of work for a long time. Most indie labels wear the jack-of-all-trades hat for their artists and help them develop each part of their careers. The catch is that indie labels have been doing this kind of thing on a much more informal basis, and often for no additional cash, but the fact remains that indie labels have known for a long time that a label needs to be invested in everything an artist does to make them a success.
Major labels are supersized corporations. It's no wonder their contracts are so complicated. Things don't have to be that way for indie labels. A single page document will do the job as well as a 25 page one filled with stuff that no one understands. Contracts with indie labels can be drawn up with the label and the artists working together on terms that suit all parties. As long as you cover the term of the deal, the music to be released, how the money will be split up, expense caps, advances and stock issues, you're good to go. You can add some "heretofores" and things if it makes you feel better, but sticking to the meat of the issues is perfectly acceptable.
4. Your Deals Can Be Fair for Everyone
Who wins when a musician is tied into a deal they desperately want out of? A record deal doesn't have to be a life sentence in order for a label to make money. Mutually beneficial relationships are good for business. Sure, you could trap a label long term, but what's the good of that when you're not sure if you're going to like their fourth album and they're going to saddle you with five greatest hits comps to wrap up the contract? Fair for labels and fair for artists can coincide.
5. Believing in Your Artists Helps
It's easy for most indie labels to work hard - they love the music they put out and they are invested - not just financially - in the artists they work with. When you believe in the music you're working with, your job will be easier and more enjoyable. Plus, in the music industry, people appreciate seeing people excited about the music they're working rather than someone just going through the motions. Your belief in the music you're working could help journalists, radio, promoters and more get excited about it as well.