The Indie Revolution: Do It Yourselves
You can’t deny the fact that the music business has changed dramatically over the past decade. The Internet factors most in this trend, as bands that were once known regionally are now accessible worldwide, and all they had to do was create a webpage.
With this, the concept of the “record deal” has also evolved. Of course, there are still bands that strive to get signed by a major label, but then there are the others — those who forgo the major labels and prefer the D.I.Y. method. Independent labels and online music stores such as cdbaby.com or buyindiecds.com can allow a band to sell albums on their own terms. So if you’d rather be Twin-A (a great NYC band) than Ashlee Simpson, this column is for you.
The indie milieu is more relaxed, which is why it appeals to certain bands that enjoy its worldview. But even a relaxed environment can get very tense once real money is involved. If your band starts moving a lot of units, and the label begins to see money come in, they may not want to let you move on to “greener pastures” without a fight. This is where it all comes back to the contract that you signed with the label — assuming you did sign one.
Many indie labels operate without the use of a contract, but as an attorney, I would never advise anyone to follow this approach. A basic contract with your indie label should spell out — at a minimum — the term of your agreement, how royalties will be paid, ownership rights, and territory.
The band needs to know how many albums they have to release under the agreement. If your goal is to move on to a larger label, a long-term agreement (of three or more albums) might not be best for you.
You need to know how you are going to be paid. Indie labels use more options, such as a flat royalty for every album sold or a profit-split deal (all profits are split at an agreed upon rate, after the label recoups its costs). You could also be paid in a percentage of the print run, where you sell on your own, then keep all of the money from those sales.
Be careful that you don’t sign away all your rights. You want to keep the ownership of your music, if possible.
Some indie labels have only regional distribution, so don’t give them the rights to sell worldwide if they are only able to move product in the northeast, for example.
An indie label is a business like any other, and an agreement is still legally binding if all parties agree to it. You might be trying to D.I.Y., but that doesn’t mean you won’t get burned. Make your music known to the world, and make the right decisions in getting it there.
This article is not intended as legal advice. If you have specific legal concerns, contact an attorney.