Music artists, try to stay independent

Illustration by Roe Gassett | The Signal

Many young aspiring artists have seen multiple occurrences of fellow artists getting screwed over by record deals. The music industry is structured to take advantage of artists and their value. Even the most famous music artists struggle with hidden contract details and shady dealings.

Maybe you recollect the story of Megan Thee Stallion’s unfair percentages issue earlier this year. Or you’re more fixated on Kanye West’s rants about proper ownership. Many artists aren’t fully aware of what’s in their contract and what they do not control.

Georgia State student Maharan Masum, also known simply as Maharan, is a rapper. He has extensive knowledge of the record labels’ shady actions. He made it apparent that a recording deal can either be a tool to build an artist’s empire or a mistake that can become their downfall.

“You have to understand that the record label is a business. They’re using your talent to generate income,” said Masum. 

The recording industry has been hungry as of late with the increased popularity of the 360 deal. Through a 360 deal, labels can collect from entities other than music such as merchandise, endorsements and even television appearances. Citigroup reported in 2018 that musicians only earn 12% of the money the music industry makes as a whole.

It is virtually inevitable that a record label deceives and scams musical artists out of their actual worth. This known fact is why artists must use whatever resources they have to attempt the independent route. 

There is no question that record labels can substantially impact an artist’s career, as a deal helps pay for certain expenses. However, having control and ownership is essential. Do not leave it up to a record label to decide whether your talent and product is worth anything. 

“You have to have the grit to do it,” Masum said. “I’m trying to build an organic fanbase where people still listen to me in, like, 10 years.”

The record label is becoming less vital for a musician’s career. We exist in the digital age, where it’s easier than ever to get your music out there, allowing artists plenty of time to find themselves and grow their sound. 

It also gives artists an opportunity to build their personal brand. With so many people posting songs on the internet, it’s crucial to find a way to separate yourself. There’s a reason why Lil Nas X’s cowboy schtick lasted the way it did.

Tunecore is an online service that assists independent music publishing and distribution without a record deal. The service is responsible for helping popular recording artist Russ receive a platinum plaque for a single he released in 2017.

Bandcamp is also an online service that champions independent success and exposure. The company started Bandcamp Fridays to help artists financially during the pandemic as the platform has received upwards of $75 million since March. This money spread out, reaching independent artists and independent labels.

There are many things to consider before signing the dotted line. Know that it’s possible to have success with full creative control and ownership.