Wanting a record deal is a hard habit to break for musicians, and of course, sometimes a record deal can be a good thing. However, DIY life can be good, especially if you're willing to get your hands dirty in all aspects of your music career. Instead of pining away for that magical contract, consider these benefits of not having a record deal. You may just decide to hang up that label search once and for all.
Any way you look at it, a record label is going to someway, somehow need some input into what you're doing creatively. Even the most benevolent of indie label is going to need you to make a few concessions along the way - for instance, if they signed you as a hard rock band, and you decide to go free jazz on your next release, they're going to be rather insistent that you reconsider that choice. Bigger labels are going to get even more wrapped up in things like commercial viability and things like that, and they will have every right to, since you signed the contract and they're paying the bills.
And all that is before we even talk about your artwork and your merch. New artists with major label deals tend to get a courtesy glance at their album artwork before the label does whatever it wants, and it doesn't necessarily get much better as you move up the food chain. Big labels can't let you put out artwork that Wal-Mart won't stock. Going it alone, Wal-Mart won't stock you anyway, so who cares what they think?
When you're DIY, only you can overrule you creatively.
Well, OK, you probably don't eat the WHOLE pie - you probably have to break off pieces here and there for managers, agents, assistants or anyone else who helps you manage the business of your music - but darn it, it's your pie to do with what you will.
You do know we're talking about money and not actual pie here, right?
When a label comes along, they get the pie and break YOU off a piece of it, that you then have to divide among your merry men and women. That gets frustrating fast. Freedom from record deals means financial autonomy, and that's a beautiful thing. Sure, a record deal can help you manage things like that tricky cashflow stuff, but think of it as living on credit cards - time will come when you have to pay the piper, and it ain't pretty.
Labels are well oiled machines. They have frameworks that have worked for past releases that they expect to repeat for future releases. For you as an artist, that means that you get crammed into their label machine and have to adapt to fit IT, instead of the label working to make your vision of your music career a reality.
When you do it yourself, you get to really decide the best ways to reach your fans - from the publications to target to the venues to play and everything in between. You're your own marketing machine, and so it will just feel right. Indeed it will feel a whole lot better than changing your act, your "look," your music, or anything else to fit the label formula, which may not be as right for your music as your own plan. After all, labels might have a proven track record, but that doesn't mean they know the ONLY way to sell music - and it certainly doesn't mean they know the best way to sell yours.
Record deals have all of these tedious little scheduling things that dictate when and how you have to deliver new releases to them. This schedule can force you to record an album when you don't really have the new tracks where you want them, or to sit on an album even though you have a ton of new material you're dying to get out to your fans. As a DIY artist, you release music on your own schedule, and that is a powerful thing.
Record label often - especially when the label in question is a major or big indie - have some pretty strict restrictions that govern your collaborations with other musicians. They have all of these rules about when and how you can appear on other's tracks, and how you have to be credited if you do. That means that you may want to play on someone's killer song, and your label can stop you from doing it. If you're the boss of you, however, you can spend days in studios record with other people if you like, and you don't need a permission slip. And after all, you're the musician - shouldn't you be in charge of the music you make?