Why should a band sign to a record label when they can do it all themselves?

Why should a band sign to a record label when they can do it all themselves?

Recently I signed a solo deal with the indie label Esoteric/Cherry Red and the band I play in (The Fierce And The Dead) signed to the small startup label BEM. One of the first things I was asked was why sign to a label when you could have done OK doing it all yourself? At least they didn’t all shout “Sell Out”, well at least not to my face. I’m not one of the people who’s evangelical about the old way of making records via a label or being totally DIY, i think you need to change as things go along.

As a solo musician I’ve sold around 6000 downloads/CDs and generated a reasonable amount of cash in the last few years, not massive numbers but enough to make it worth working with a label. Many labels won’t even consider working with you if you haven’t already sold a few records and have an audience into the thousands. It’s taken crazy amounts of hard work and time but it’s been worth it and I very much value the relationship I have with the audience. I built it the slow way, one person at a time over years, lots of gigs and shaking hands. I really enjoy talking to people but if you’re not a people person this just wouldn’t work. Where this leaves Nick Drake types these days, I don’t know.

The reasons I signed were pretty personal, the arrival our baby has meant I’ve had less time to go the post office and run to the business. Also I’m pretty burned out on doing the jobs i don’t really have the skills for. I’m rubbish at using photoshop and trying to get gigs. I found it hard to focus on the important stuff, like actually playing the guitar. I think most of the music industry is about relationships and I really like the people who run the label, they’re good people. They have relationships with other bands and promoters that will hopefully lead to more gigs and better support slots. I must admit being signed to the same label as Todd Rundgren is pretty cool too.

Should your band sign? It depends, many bands can do fine totally DIY but if you want get print press you’ll probably need to get a PR company involved and this isn’t cheap. If you don’t know anyone it’s often hard to choose the right people to work with, the music industry is a relationship driven business and getting press often means working with people who have built relationships with blogs and magazines over many years. Bands need support, they need to build a team around them whether that’s a conventional label, a collective of friends or something else. You’ll need merch people, web designers, video people, recording engineers, bookers, accountants and people with skills for a thousand other jobs. How many bands have a singer/accountant/driver/web designer? How many bands have all these skills?

Each band needs to look at itself as a startup as you’ll need cash and support skills to build an audience, if that’s what you want to do.  If you’re an 8 piece soul band your business model won’t be the same as that of a solo guitarist. Touring is really expensive, if you can break even you’re doing well as is recording a full band, PR and everything else your band will need. Sure you can say do it all yourself but will the quality of the product be good enough to stand out in an already crowded market? Is it going to be good enough for people to talk about, tell their friends about and love?

Word of mouth is the best way to grow your audience but you need something to kick start that, the music must be root of it all. Make music people love and you’ll be ok, it’s all about the music, passion and integrity. Everybody, whether you’re Crass or Justin Bieber needs some kind of support network, we feel very lucky to be working with supportive labels.



God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.