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Does metal need record labels?


GothExplorer
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Like many people, I have derived considerable pleasure over many years listening to music by bands which were signed to record labels: Deep Purple, Scorpions, Dio, and so on.

Nowadays I find myself increasingly attracted to young bands which in many cases have never been signed to a record label – bands such as Frozen Crown and Motion Device.  (The Warning were briefly signed to a label).

Of course this has a lot to do with the rise of the internet.  YouTube allows me to check out just about any band from anywhere in the world, while crowdfunding sites allow me to give them money.  Merchandise sites – and I can think only of bigcartel – also help.

In recent years, I have given money to The Warning, Motion Device, Liliac, Camille and Kennerly, and The Sixsters.  I am not aware that Frozen Crown have ever sought crowdfunding, but I have toyed with the idea of buying some of their online merchandise.

And so I ask the question: does metal need record labels?

Some of you may be thinking that the bands I have supported online are nowhere near as well known as many bands which signed to record labels, and probably never will be.  There is a lot of truth in that.

On the one hand, I do not expect The Warning or Frozen Crown ever to be as big as Metallica or Iron Maiden.  On the other hand, being successful in terms of record sales can have a downside.  Lily Allen said when she released her fourth album that she was one million pounds in debt.  I believe that Michael Schenker once had a similar debt to his record label.  Bands which crowdfund probably have little or no debt.

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On 2/21/2020 at 2:52 PM, GothExplorer said:

And so I ask the question: does metal need record labels?

No, but they can help. Lots of small labels out there will at least handle distribution and help a lot with promotion - taking out ads, getting reviews and interviews lined up, etc. Some will fund or help fund physical copies, help book shows and tours, and even contribute towards recording costs... maybe. There's also the intangible cachet of having something "officially" released. But given the low cost of a decent recording job and ease of distribution these days, being "on a label" is absolutely not necessary; this is all stuff that bands can handle themselves. 

Crowdfunding is a separate issue. I'm not opposed to it in principle, but vanity campaigns turn me off - bands wanting nice packaging or an expensive big-name mix or master job that they can't afford themselves, or help buying a bunch of nice recording gear. That's my own bias; I guess if they ask and people want to chip in and everyone's happy in the end, it's all good. But I wouldn't say that crowdfunding is the only alternative to label support, some bands rely on both and some do fine with neither.

 

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  • 2 months later...

In my experience, it seems like we are experiencing a shift in how we look at labels in the industry. With how easy it is to access distribution with services such as CDBaby, the only real thing that labels seem to have an advantage on these days is marketing. That being said, having done both, being on a label and releasing music independently, I have found that I end up getting a better return off of music that I released myself over what we released through a label.

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  • 8 months later...
On 5/6/2020 at 7:15 PM, Glad00m said:

In my experience, it seems like we are experiencing a shift in how we look at labels in the industry. With how easy it is to access distribution with services such as CDBaby, the only real thing that labels seem to have an advantage on these days is marketing. That being said, having done both, being on a label and releasing music independently, I have found that I end up getting a better return off of music that I released myself over what we released through a label.

Maybe it depends on the label but et moriemur were very impressed with support they got from transcending obscurity records for there epigrammata album. They said thanks to the record labels support they got the sound they really wanted and thought on a bigger label this would not have been the case. 

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  • 5 months later...
On 2/29/2020 at 4:50 PM, FatherAlabaster said:

No, but they can help. Lots of small labels out there will at least handle distribution and help a lot with promotion - taking out ads, getting reviews and interviews lined up, etc. Some will fund or help fund physical copies, help book shows and tours, and even contribute towards recording costs... maybe. There's also the intangible cachet of having something "officially" released. But given the low cost of a decent recording job and ease of distribution these days, being "on a label" is absolutely not necessary; this is all stuff that bands can handle themselves. 

Crowdfunding is a separate issue. I'm not opposed to it in principle, but vanity campaigns turn me off - bands wanting nice packaging or an expensive big-name mix or master job that they can't afford themselves, or help buying a bunch of nice recording gear. That's my own bias; I guess if they ask and people want to chip in and everyone's happy in the end, it's all good. But I wouldn't say that crowdfunding is the only alternative to label support, some bands rely on both and some do fine with neither.

 

its me again. 😁i read an article about opeth in metal hammer and before the release of blackwater park they really had not broke through,  they were all apparently considering getting day jobs when they got snapped up by music for nations/sony. being in a bigger label helped them get more exposure and maybe working with prog legend steven wilson helped who knows. they released blackwater park and from good feedback maybe and id assume there label pushing it, they did there first united states tour proper,  apparently theyd only done occasional festival appearances before this, 

i think you said you saw a show of theres where they supported nevermore, was it amazing show and did you think this opeth band will do well .

all in all it  seemed to help opeth being on bigger label.

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The way I see it labels have a place but they can also be an issue to some bands.

As others have said smaller labels are helped massively by larger labels distributing their product. Then there are bands who create their own labels and license to larger labels to keep more money and control over their product. However on the flip side there is bands like Flotsam and Jetsam who, while constantly praising their label, never seem to get the same benefits as other bands.

Although the world was different in the 80's and 90's labels were a big part of what we could and couldn't get in Australia, many major labels had local distro which meant many bigger 'signed' bands got released here and had their albums sell for $25-30 per CD. Whereas bands from the same areas, playing the same overseas gigs, who didn't have the bigger label support, meaning their CDs were import only, cost anything from $30-60. The same thing still happens here a bit but as the years went on many of the labels even set up local offices here and where local distro didn't happen the internet allowed us to get albums ourselves rather than rely on the music shop who still wanted up to triple the price to get something from a minor label.

Not all bands want labels and good luck to them, but they still serve a purpose and those lucky enough to get one will probably see more success. However not every band out there is looking for world stardom and riches beyond belief so the answer to the question of does metal need labels is probably best summed up in my mind with, 'yes, but not by all."

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On 7/4/2021 at 12:47 AM, KillaKukumba said:

The way I see it labels have a place but they can also be an issue to some bands.

As others have said smaller labels are helped massively by larger labels distributing their product. Then there are bands who create their own labels and license to larger labels to keep more money and control over their product. However on the flip side there is bands like Flotsam and Jetsam who, while constantly praising their label, never seem to get the same benefits as other bands.

Although the world was different in the 80's and 90's labels were a big part of what we could and couldn't get in Australia, many major labels had local distro which meant many bigger 'signed' bands got released here and had their albums sell for $25-30 per CD. Whereas bands from the same areas, playing the same overseas gigs, who didn't have the bigger label support, meaning their CDs were import only, cost anything from $30-60. The same thing still happens here a bit but as the years went on many of the labels even set up local offices here and where local distro didn't happen the internet allowed us to get albums ourselves rather than rely on the music shop who still wanted up to triple the price to get something from a minor label.

Not all bands want labels and good luck to them, but they still serve a purpose and those lucky enough to get one will probably see more success. However not every band out there is looking for world stardom and riches beyond belief so the answer to the question of does metal need labels is probably best summed up in my mind with, 'yes, but not by all."

thats a very well put response. bravo👏👏👏😂sorry heres the horns 🤘 im no expert but im guessing if your amazing at publicity on social media and have a more pop metal sound you can make it without record label.  id imagine long term a good agent,  manager and big label backing would be needed for mega success and that these days is really hard as fewer people buy albums. 

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One problem I've seen with a good social media campaign is that many die as quick as they are born. Some (and maybe less in metal) last for ages and the band gets some good, relatively free, mileage out of it. But it's often here today, gone later today and too often it's the bad shit that hangs around not the good stuff.

Social media has it's place as much as labels do, but like a bad label it can be a hindrance. The number of bands actually discovered through social media that go onto world success is about as high as the number of unpublished authors who post a story on Wattpad and become best sellers. It happens but not often.

I can only speak of the Australian industry here but when it comes to a manager a good manager/agent, is required simply to get gigs now days. 30-40 years ago it was different, in Melbourne and Sydney alone there was something like 8000 gigs a week in pubs, clubs, etc and while the weren't all metal getting a gig was almost as easy as strapping on a guitar. A good manager however got your band residencies, regular venues and multiple gigs a week. In this day and age (even worse with covid) there is fewer places to play and more bands wanting to play so a good manager/agent is worth their weight in gold because they know how to get a band on a bill. More gigs = more exposure, more exposure ups the chance of being seen by the right people.

 

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On 5/6/2020 at 2:15 PM, Glad00m said:

In my experience, it seems like we are experiencing a shift in how we look at labels in the industry. With how easy it is to access distribution with services such as CDBaby, the only real thing that labels seem to have an advantage on these days is marketing. That being said, having done both, being on a label and releasing music independently, I have found that I end up getting a better return off of music that I released myself over what we released through a label.

Glad00m, I agree with you on the shift of labels today. I'm curious if you have any insight into this, it seems that larger labels especially have become more controlling and limiting than they need/should be. They're so focused on the business and maximizing profits to the extreme that it prevents bands from fully expressing themselves in the way they want. 

That said, more smaller labels are being developed with this in mind, and giving more power back to the bands they work with, which is huge. Especially with the ability to garner a following on social media, there comes a point where to grow, a group needs to make a relationship with a label of some size to expand their reach. 

Kukumba, I'm surprised how difficult it is to get gigs where you are. I know a lot of artists are turning to Twitch or YouTube Live to create their own opportunities during the pandemic. 

 

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The problem getting gigs is that there is less and less venues and more and more bands (all genres) looking for gigs. Restrictive rules by governments and councils have seen venues close. Not being able to pay loans, licences etc and venues going bankrupt. I don't know the exact figure off the top of my head but from a show I watched recently it claimed that there is something like 65% less venues in this country than there was in the 80's and 90's.

It's all good and well to have YT and Twitch etc but it's a very rare case world wide where a band can just start a live YT feed and suddenly be renowned all over. I could probably name a hundred live streamed shows out of this country that most people have never heard of. Likewise I'm sure plenty of people could do the same in their local area. It's not really a case of build it and they will come any more because the number of people building it makes it hard for anyone to get found.

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  • 5 weeks later...

I think metal head musicians do not need a record label,  they need to start to understand there are 2 parts to being a working musician, 

 

1 creating great music

2 performing great music 

3 selling great music 

 

Once we understand that our music is our business and operate in a way where we create then sell our music it would eliminate the need for record labels , which usually own 75 % or more of what you wrote , what you will write during the contract period.. no reason anyone should own your creations but you.. 

 

Social media home studios etc are the reason the big boy studios with there fancy platinum record on the walls are out of business,  we once needed them to record a great song in there big studio, now we record at home with pretty good quality..eliminating the need for them 

 

I believe this is what s happening with record labels we are slowly not needing them anymore and the harder we work and market our selves through social media and all music platforms we will need them even less..

I'm starting my own brand musically and even if a label wanted in I would say no cause I'm not doing it for the quick money , it may take me more years but in the end I will have more value and own 100 % of my material..

 

 

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Alfie I agree that musicians should own the rights to the music.

But writing good music let alone getting it out to the masses is difficult especially as there is so much out there now.

 

DM band #1,035,567 might be awesome but how does it get the attention of death metal fans over the other 1,035,566 death metal bands?

A label can still be useful here - it ensures not just physical distribution in shops (a dying thing but still important) but it also means they can get the band out on key blogs, websites, social media, magazines (eg Decibel or Zero Tolerance), podcasts and local radio.

The label can still organise strategically marketed tours and generate economies of scale the band never could.

 

---

As for production, it isn't good these days.  It is cookie cutter stuff generated by cheap software.  Everything sounds the same. One thing that made certain old classics was a distinct production/sound.  Eg Metallica and their Flemming Rasmussen sound or AC/DC Mutt Lange period.

Other producers helped define a genre eg Harris Johnson and German thrash  or Scott Burns and Death Metal or if you are thus inclined Ross Robinson and Nu Metal. 

 

 

A good producer is as much part of an album as the musicians.

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On 8/25/2021 at 5:04 PM, Dead1 said:

Alfie I agree that musicians should own the rights to the music.

But writing good music let alone getting it out to the masses is difficult especially as there is so much out there now.

 

DM band #1,035,567 might be awesome but how does it get the attention of death metal fans over the other 1,035,566 death metal bands?

A label can still be useful here - it ensures not just physical distribution in shops (a dying thing but still important) but it also means they can get the band out on key blogs, websites, social media, magazines (eg Decibel or Zero Tolerance), podcasts and local radio.

The label can still organise strategically marketed tours and generate economies of scale the band never could.

 

---

As for production, it isn't good these days.  It is cookie cutter stuff generated by cheap software.  Everything sounds the same. One thing that made certain old classics was a distinct production/sound.  Eg Metallica and their Flemming Rasmussen sound or AC/DC Mutt Lange period.

Other producers helped define a genre eg Harris Johnson and German thrash  or Scott Burns and Death Metal or if you are thus inclined Ross Robinson and Nu Metal. 

 

 

A good producer is as much part of an album as the musicians.

dead1 well said theres alot of good logic in what you say. obviously there's advantages not to be on big label but if your not you got be amazing at promotion from what ive read about in other interviews. 

 

the opeth example is interesting. there was article in metal hammer recently for 20 anniversary of blackwater park release  which ive mentioned before where they said signing to music for nations/sony boosted there career alot.well it was forced move which they didn't like at the time. new label pushed there music much more than there previous record labels had and they organised more tours including there first united states tour. id say in this case signing to bigger label made big difference for opeth. obviously having blackwater park produced by prog legend steven wilson helped too. imo big labels can definitely help bands grow and some bands need them

 

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One thing is for sure while independent artist have the freedom to create what they want and controll there slow pace future,  posting on social media playing gigs sharing there work with family and friends and so forth 

how ever a reputable record label in one phone call can promote your band in almost every country every radio station,  magazine etc than you would be able to accomplish on your own in years..

But the down fall of that is 

Independence = 100 % owner ship amongst your band mates

 

Record label= you'll be lucky if you own 30 % of your current  music and all music you create while under contract..

Yet

Overall , 30% of big sales is alot 

 

100 % of little to no sales is not

So you don't need a record label per say but if one were interested in you, you should hire a top attorney before signing anything..

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I would think that labels have become mostly irrelevant now in many cases, except that they're still good for marketing & promotion, as well as getting your music distributed and pressed to vinyl if that's what you want to do. I think that more bands should do like the hardcore scene did in the 80s and just start their own labels, because that seems to be the best way to go in order for the artist to have complete creative control and distribute their music effectively.

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Some bands like the increased support they get on smaller record labels.  It was either officium triste or et moriemur who said they would not have been able to record death of Gaia or eprigrammatta album as well  if they were on a bigger label as they said smaller bands such as themselves would have been given less help to record these albums. 

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