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What Should I Do? Independent Artist vs. Signed Artist

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Music industry changes in modern times. Demos are no longer sent to scouts in the hope that they will hear them. Successful musicians are still signed to major record labels.

Even so, online platforms such as social media and streaming services have provided artists with more flexibility to promote themselves independently and gain some market share. Please find out the downsides of going it alone and pursuing a record deal in the following section.

Unsigned: the benefits of being independent

Flexibility of creativity

Having complete creative control means staying independent. No matter what you want to do, you can express yourself your way, switch genres, or explore new sounds. It is not uncommon for people to disagree with others opinions when they sign up for a label.

Among the best examples of an independent artist who values his creative freedom over corporate-driven profits is the Scottish musician Gerry Cinnamon:

"It might've been different if I had that stuff, but then I wouldn't be in control of it."

Make more money (potentially)

A record label allows you to work with more people on creating, marketing and distributing your music. Getting your message out to a broader audience is a good thing, of course. You'll still earn less for your music if everybody is involved, so keep in mind that everyone will take a piece.

Independent musicians may not make bank (according to ONS, an average UK musician earns about £23,000 per year). Still, they will continue to reap the benefits of their music, which is very fulfilling regardless of how much they earn. A recent study suggests that independent artists income has risen by as much as 35% between 2018 and 2019. Mainly due to online platforms such as social media.

Ownership of your copyrights

Owning your music copyright is associated with your earnings. Records often require you to sign away the rights to your music (at least to some extent). Consequently, the label has more power over the use and distribution of your music. In addition to royalties, you may find your music is being manipulated or used in a way you detest. Such as being used at a Donald Trump rally.

The Drawbacks of being an Unsigned Artist:

Budget and resources limited:

Marketing, merchandising, distribution, and distribution costs are expensive. A record label can provide artists with resources and money that an independent artist cannot.

The network is limited:

Starting a music career as an independent artist can be tricky since you have few industry connections and few fans. Major Labels typically have a more significant following and many connections with music professionals like promoters, bookers, media, etc.

Limited experience in the music business:

There is a lot to learn about the music industry. The music business requires experience and time to learn all aspects. Music laws, changing trends, changing trends, and managing these factors all must be taken into account.

The world is complex! Understanding what works and what doesn't can also be an expensive lesson.

Time is limited:

It takes time to become a self-employed artist or independent artist. It can seem like full-time work to self-release your music. Setting up distribution, creating sales and marketing materials, booking shows, tracking sales, and everything else associated with music release takes a lot of time. As a result, a lot of time is lost in the studio as well.

Signed Artist: the benefits of being Signed Artist

Advanced resources:

The corporate music industry has a well-oiled machine that will be extremely difficult for you to compete with, regardless of how well you promote your music. The art of graphic design, social media, PR, and event organizing help you release a polished album that has a better chance of being picked up by global audiences (if that's your goal).

Broader networks:

While the internet has democratized the music industry, I believe that who you know (in real life) has more impact. Building relationships with the right people will enable you to get on the bill at concerts and festivals, secure better deals, and forge collaborations. Having a label means having access to an extensive network of experts who promote your work.


There is still a certain amount of power attached to record labels, even if it sounds a little old-fashioned. When a company deals with a record label established, they know what to expect and are willing to pay more. The fact that labels represent multiple artists is a great bargaining chip for licensing, publishing contracts or playing at larger venues.

The drawbacks of being a signed artist

Creative control limited:

The record label controls your music once you sign the contract. You cannot control the label's decisions and deals relating to your music. In addition, they are responsible for distribution, marketing, artwork, and messaging. However, the terms set in the contract will determine your control over music and brand.

Fewer profits:

In addition to taking a percentage of music sales, stream revenue, and licensing revenue, record labels also take a percentage of all revenues generated.

Some labels pay for mastering, promotion, and other expenses related to a release using royalties generated from music sales.

Transfer of ownership of copyrights:

Master music rights for a song fall to a record label when it signs a deal with you. You do not have to approve their licensing and publishing contracts. It allows them to keep a higher portion of the profits earned from these deals.

Poor contract deals:

The contracts of most independent record labels offer favorable terms to artists. The artists of major record labels do, however, receive lower royalties as part of their contracts. Furthermore, signing with a label means dealing with these complex contracts and costly layers.

Final words:

It depends on your ambitions whether you want to pursue a record deal or go solo. If creativity is essential to you, you should consider going independent. Conversely, if you are looking for the best chance to go global, you should sign with a record label.

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