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Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career?

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career?
February 14, 2023
A discussion most musicians will have at some point is whether or not to stay independent or to try and land a record label deal. Over past decades, signing to a major record label was seen as the common goal of nearly all musicians - but things have changed drastically over the last few years.

With an increasing number of label contracts coming under heavy scrutiny from the public and artists, more and more musicians are choosing to stay independent and keep their careers in their own hands.

We’re here to help you weigh up the advantages of staying independent and to map out your music's career path.

Independent artists vs signed artists

It is absolutely possible to achieve success as an independent musician in this day and age. In fact, opportunities for independents are largely on the up and it's now more feasible than ever for artists to break into the mainstream without the funding of a major label.  

Signing a record deal definitely comes with financial advantages, but this certainly doesn’t mean a deal is essential to create a profitable and successful music career.

Benefits of being an independent musician

With an increasing number of well-known artists choosing the independent route over the last few years, the indie career path has become a lot more desirable to up-and-coming musicians.

Artists like Big Zuu and Jaz Karis have helped highlight the many benefits of remaining independent in the digital era, achieving and surpassing goals of many signed label acts.

Although it might seem daunting, managing your own music career is highly achievable in 2024. Let's dive into some of the key benefits you can expect to experience as an independent artist.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career? - Big Zuu

It’s easier than ever

We're not saying everything is 100% straightforward, but many barriers have been removed, or at least lessened, over the last couple of decades. Musicians have easy and immediate access to music distribution services, artist marketing resources, streaming advice, and many other services at their disposal that can help propel their careers to the next level.

The internet has made it much simpler for independent musicians to reach new audiences and grow their fanbase without the requirement of a record deal. They can now deliver their music to digital music stores and streaming services by themselves - giving them back control of their own music.

More than just distribution, access game changing new features.

Creative control over your music

Staying independent gives you complete control over your sound and style, allowing for total creative and artistic freedom. If you want to experiment with something new, switch up your sound completely or change your brand image - you can!

As an independent artist, you have full creative go-ahead to make decisions about your own music’s direction - a hugely important factor for most musicians and creators. You’ll be in charge of your own marketing, distribution, artwork, deadlines, and everything else in between - so it might be worth considering bringing a music manager on board.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career?

You own your music

Signing a record deal means signing away some of (sometimes all of) the rights to your music. Record labels determine who profits what percentage from your music’s earnings and with an increased number of stakeholders involved, the less money you're set to earn from your own music.

Staying independent and owning your own rights allows you to receive more royalties anytime your music is streamed, sold, or performed live. Although it may not be a ton of money, it is a satisfying reward regardless.

Owning your rights also gives you the upper hand and negotiation leverage anytime a publishing, sync, licensing, or record deal is offered to you.

Keeping things independent isn't all smooth sailing however. There are still sometimes disadvantages that a lot of independent artists face, but with this also comes many benefits as well.

It’s hard work

It’ll come as no surprise that success as an independent artist requires a lot of hard work and doesn't just happen overnight. You’ll often be working as part of a small, tight-knit team covering all aspects of your music, putting in late nights and long shifts.

You more than likely won’t have the financial backing that a major label can offer, nor the major industry connections or business knowledge, meaning a lot of dedicated hard work taking place behind-the-scenes.

Without this financial support, independent artists are literally in charge of their own success and must be highly organised and efficient. You'll be managing your own marketing, studio bookings, calendar and admin tasks so it's vital to have a good structure in place to ensure you aren't missing anything that can help you maximise your careers.

Signing to a record label

As with anything, there are pros and cons that need to be weighed up when deciding to stay independent or sign to a record label.

Over the years, signing to a label has been marketed as the be-all and end-all of ensuring commercial musical success. The music industry has led people to believe that artists with major record deals are more favourable and end up having more successful careers than those without.

Gaining attention from a big industry name is also exciting - as are the dreams and promises that label execs can sell to you. Artists often become blinded by the excitement of a major label and big financial offering that they’ll sign whatever is put on the table in the heat of the moment.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career? - money

If you're set to receive an advance lump sum of cash as part of your deal, then remember that the money being offered up-front has to eventually be paid back to the label.

Most record deals are set up so the label will receive all of the artist’s royalties until an advance has been repaid. In some other cases, the label will also take a cut of recording, touring, production, and promotional profits.

Because of this, artists don't see royalty checks until their advance is paid off - which in some cases can take an entire lifetime.

The other side of this is weighing up whether to start your own record label. The choice is yours.

Access to more connections

Perhaps the greatest benefit of signing to a record deal is gaining access to the label’s connections, resources, and funding pot. Established labels are able to provide their artists with just about anything they need to further their music careers.

Labels are typically responsible for handling the mastering, distribution, marketing, merchandise, and full touring costs incurred by your music, as well as setting up and organising music videos, recording costs, collaborations, and any other expenses.

Reach larger audiences

There’s no denying that established and major record labels have appealing resources and hefty budgets on offer to their artists. Because of this, they’re able to promote and market their roster to a much larger audience than can typically be achieved by independents.

Most labels have established relationships with other major - and global - organisations, making it easier to secure publishing deals, bigger shows and venues, higher profile festivals, radio airtime, and other media slots. Don't be blinded by the financial appeal though. There are many other considerations you need to carefully review when looking at record label deals.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career? - gig

Lack of artistic freedom

When signing to a record label, artists often lose creative control over their music. If your label isn’t satisfied with the music you’re creating, you also run the risk of being dropped - or even worse - shelved.

The same also applies to you. If you aren’t happy with your label and the direction they are taking you in, you’ll be stuck in a contract until you’ve met the terms that you originally signed.

With labels constantly signing new artists, it's very difficult to not fall aside and get overlooked for attention and money. Music moves incredibly quickly and if you're not at the top of the food chain, you run the risk of getting lost in amongst the crowd and being caught in limbo between releases.

One of the most high profile cases of this over recent years is Raye’s struggle to break free from her record deal with Polydor. She publicly shared her struggles on social media, highlighting the difficulties signed artists sometimes face when signing long record label contracts.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career? - Raye

Since leaving her record deal and going independent, Raye has secured a UK Number One record and taken her career back into her own hands.

I’m an independent artist – this is proof you should back yourself, no matter what!” - Raye

If you’re set on signing to a major label, make sure you’re absolutely happy with every detail of the contract. Don’t lock yourself into a bad deal with no way of getting out.

Stay independent with help from Ditto

At Ditto Music, we work with independent artists to help them keep 100% of their earnt royalties - as well as all of the rights to their music.

We believe artists should stay independent and keep complete control of their own careers. Ditto helps you sell your music to more global platforms than anywhere else, getting your music on major streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Deezer and more with our music distribution services.

We also provide guidance on going viral on the biggest social channels like TikTok, Instagram and Facebook, building up a global fanbase for your music.

Signing up to Ditto gives you access to valuable artist tools to track your music’s performance across platforms, delving into streaming insights, download numbers and listener demographic data from your personal Ditto dashboard to help you plan the best next steps for your career.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career? - Ditto X

The big question. Should you stay independent or chase a record deal? The answer ultimately comes down to who you are as an artist and what your career ambitions are.

If you want to keep hold of all your rights and profits, then the independent route is for you. You'll have full creative freedom over your music and will be able to drive things in whichever direction you want.

If you feel that you can gain more global exposure through signing a record deal, then focus more of your time on attracting the attention of these big names. Remember though, there's absolutely no guarantee that a record deal will bring you success and you may well be better off keeping your career in your own hands.

Independent vs Signed: What’s Best for Your Music Career?

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