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To DIY or Not to DIY

Bryan Calhoun

By Bryan Calhoun

If you are an artist contemplating whether to seek a record deal with a label (major or indie) or to follow the Do It Yourself (DIY) model, there are pros and cons of each to consider.  A traditional record deal provides the benefits of working with a company that has established relationships and experience in the areas where you will need help, like recording, distribution, marketing, licensing and touring.  Combined with financial support to cover the costs for all of this, signing to a label may be the best option for you if you are an artist who does not have the knowledge, capital, desire to do things on your own or willingness to learn.  However, there are some significant disadvantages.  You will likely give up a lot, such as control over your image, voice, creative direction and more.  Additionally, the label will likely retain ownership of your masters in perpetuity (forever!), keep you locked in to their system for many years and IF you are successful, they keep the bulk of the profits. 
If you wish to follow the DIY model and release your own music, there are more opportunities for you now than there have ever been.  By achieving success on this path and not assigning your rights, you are likely to make more money and keep control.  Do not feel bound by dated measurements of success like getting commercial radio play or having a gold album.  Both of these are harder to achieve even for major labels.  You should set yourself apart from the rest by educating yourself, using available tools and planning.  Technology has now empowered you to inexpensively record, distribute, market and directly communicate with your fans. 
As the owner of both the master and publishing you have many options.  You can utilize partners that specialize in connecting indie artists with companies (Pump Audio, Rumblefish and You License) that are looking for music from musicians who control all rights for sync usages in tv programs, film and brand commercials. You are also entitled to collect on digital performances (satellite and internet radio) of your work as both the performer and master owner through SoundExchange.  ReverbNation provides an amazing suite of tools such as CRM (Customer Relationship Management), widget, detailed analytics so you know your fans better and a social networking platform that, unlike others, shares the advertising revenue with the artists.  As you likely know, selling your music to your fans through iTunes, Rhapsody and other digital retailers is easy to do by going through a digital aggregator, like CD Baby, INgrooves, the Orchard of Tunecore.  Submit your music and meta data (the information about you and your music) and they will encode it for all of the different stores and make it available for sale.  Be aware of the different terms of the various services.  Consider how they charge; a percentage of each sale or an annual flat fee.  See what marketing support they provide is you can opt out should you decide to sign to a label later.
As many people complain about the demise of the music industry, the DIY artist should rejoice.  It is not over, just changing and in your favor.

Bryan is VP of New Media and External Affairs at SoundExchange (www.SoundExchange.com), new media advisor to Kanye West (www.KanyeUniverseCity.com) and creator of the Music Business Toolbox (www.MusicBusinessToolbox.com) the first set of tools and instructions designed to help the DIY artist

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