I have been asked often, “Are you anti-major label?” My answer is, “No!” I am pro-major label AND pro-indie. Even after all of the shifts in the music industry, there are still times that it is advantageous for an artist or band to sign with a major label.
I did an interview with Brad O’Donnell – Sr. VP of A&R for EMI Christian Music Group back in June of 2003 while he was actually still the A&R Director for Sparrow Records before they were bought out by EMI. A lot of what he had to say then is still relevant for today. I am going to post a portion of that interview below.
JEFF: When is it more advantageous for a musician to stay independent rather than to sign with a major label?
BRAD: Good question! I think there are times when it’s more advantageous. I think there are hundreds of reasons. You have to decide what it is that you want to accomplish (like anything else in life) and the best way of getting there. For example – this is just one example of literally hundreds of reasons why it might be better to stay independent. If you’re at the stage in your life where you don’t want to travel anymore or really support your record, and you can’t imagine going on the road for two hundred, three hundred days a year supporting your label, it’s probably better to stay independent. Any record label that’s going to invest many hundreds of thousands of dollars in your career is going to expect you to be out on a national level promoting your record full time. And I think some people get to a stage in their life where they just don’t want to do that anymore, or, it’s just not how they’re wired. It’s not how they want to spend their time. They love making music, but they’re not willing to put up with all that.
I think another reason to stay independent is when it’s only about the music for you. I’ve seen a lot of really talented musicians, really gifted people [decline signing with a major label] once they find out everything that goes into having an artist’s career. You know, music is a huge part of it, and certainly the most important part of it – but there’s also going to radio stations and promoting your record. There’s going to retail stores and meeting and supporting the people who support what you do. There’s going to sales conferences to let your distribution company and your record label know who you are and what you’re up to. There are so many things that don’t involve music that are required in order to give your record a shot to succeed. If those sorts of things aren’t interesting then you’re probably better off staying at an independent level.
JEFF: When is the optimum time in a musician’s career to sign with a major label?
BRAD: Again, a tough question because it’s hard to be specific. There are a lot of different reasons that it might make sense to sign. When there’s enough heat, when your song is getting played on local radio and you’re getting lots and lots of opportunities to tour, play and to open up for people; and when you have a mailing list that you can barely keep up with. All those things say that your ministry is ready to move on to a national level and you need the support and the help of a record label.
This is great advice from Brad. But now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. There is a friend of mine who is independent and plays nationally. He has been offered major label deals, but has turned them down. I am not going to share who he is with the public because I am going to share some personal things that he has shared with me. He told me that he generates well over $300,000.00 worth of revenue as an independent artist that tours nationally. Why would he decline those major label offers? A better question is; why would he sign with a major label? He already tours nationally. He has a very commercial CD and an incredible band that tours with him. He does very well without the help of a major label. Why would he share his revenue with them?
So, if you get a major label offer, you must weigh out all of the options/pros and cons before signing. Signing with a major label can be a huge opportunity! It can also be exactly what you don’t need. Ask yourself the following questions:
• Am I able to accomplish everything that the label can offer without the label?
• Am I able and willing to do everything that is necessary to support the record that is funded by the label while remaining within my own mission and ministry focus?
Pray and ask for guidance. You will know if this is a door that was opened by God. If you never get a major label offer, don’t be discouraged. It simply may not be in God’s will for your life. I am here to tell you that, for an artist or band that works hard, it is possible to tour nationally or even internationally on a full time basis without the help of a major label. It can happen.