Do Artists Really Need a Record Deal in 2013?

Do artists really need a record deal in 2013? It is a question that started lingering in my mind since early 2012, but has been in my thoughts quite often as of late. Although it really sparked my interest once I started this blog back in 2010 because I thought I knew pretty much about the industry, until I discovered other music blogs and receiving various PR emails. Now, I'm still no expert nor do I claim to be, but as I read into the music industry more, I'm constantly thinking about how the industry has been changing.

It seems at this point the role of record labels is changing and if anything, does an artist or band need to be signed to be successful? One thing I think we all know is that some major labels may change or try to alter your favorite bands sound and then we see that album flop or not exceed expectations. Originally, that was one of my only points to why artists/bands do not necessarily need to be signed. Yet, what might have truly got me thinking about this was when just the other week Seattle rapper Macklemore found his song, "Thrift Shop," going platinum without any label or major marketing from a label. Now you hear that song on radio stations and all over clubs. Hell, he was on the XXL Freshman cover prior too and he has been grinding for a few years, but it really shows us something -- is having a label back you in 2013 really a necessity as an artist? With the amount of music sites like Soundcloud, Youtube, blogs, and alternative music outlets, access to sharing music with others is fairly easy. It's how word got out about Macklemore and his viral video. Sure, the song needs to be pretty good and you'll need to build an online presence, but tons of artists have taken off like this without any label support. This all can be done without compromising the artist/bands sound, without having middlemen tell them what to do, or allowing them to have creative control over videos, posters, etc.

Now, there are plenty of solid labels out there and I'm not saying artists/bands shouldn't sign to one, but as the digital age progresses and the Internet makes it much more accessible for artists to succeed, I think labels need to refocus and allow these artists more freedom of control. I must say that in the past two years or so, indie labels do seem to be understanding that, even some of the major labels. Yet, I also think that might be somewhat out of desperation as album sales continue to plummet, but I'm not complaining if it is now allowing more freedom of expression for the artist. But back to artists like Macklemore, he is not the only success story as Hoodie Allen is another that comes to mind. Whether you like his music or not. he has constantly been selling venues out all over the states, creating solid videos, an releasing catchy music that hits the top of the charts on iTunes. Is he signed to a record label? Nope. It's all him and his team's hard work and dedication, which I think is more satisfying in the long run. Does it mean he shouldn't sign to a label down the line?  I think at some point it will be a great idea as it can expose him to a much broader audience and market him even more, but we are at a point where putting in some work can equal a successful career on your own. A few others that come to mind are e-dubble and G-Eazy, who if you watch their Youtube or Soundcloud accounts, their plays are insane without any label marketing them. I can't just limit that to rap though as indie bands have seen the same thing, like with The Neighbourhood, who are now signed to a major (These guys have released a few songs since being signed and it seems the label has not changed much about them).

So what is my whole point here? In 2013, I think the artists like Macklemore and Hoodie Allen are proving to the industry/labels, that it is very possible to succeed and gain attention without them. That might put some labels on edge a bit, but with so many online music outlets, it's very possible to make it without being signed. Even bands that were once on major labels have gone to self release and still see good sales like, Circa Survive, Slightly Stoopid, and Blink-182. Yet more importantly, I think it shows these executives at the labels that they do not always necessarily know what is best for the artist/band and should allow them to have more creative freedom, especially if what they are doing is working. In a way, maybe this is more of a revolution in the industry when it comes to record deals, which I'm all for. Again, I still think being signed to a label is a good thing and can certainly help push an artist to the top, but with the way the industry is, it is no wonder we see tons of artists/bands either not worried about being signed or jumping ship and releasing material themselves. What do you think about record deals currently? Do artists/bands really need them? And do all labels need to give more creative freedom to their artists/bands?


As a self produced musician I am not interested in signing to a label. I think that with all of the outlets you spoke of if you have a great product people will recognize it. It is nice to have management and booking to help with touring. Aside from that, make the best music you can make and get it out to every outlet you can.

Thanks for the comment, and totally agree with your thoughts. It's really cool seeing some success of artists who have no label behind them.

Great article. Glad someone brought it up. Times' are definitely changing......there's not longer a strict path towards success anymore! It also makes me think about how there are less and less people not going to college anymore.

That is very true and glad you enjoyed!

Great piece. Really good to see this idea is spreading. Been following the likes of Instamatic Camera Does Culture and Meadows Me Artist Collective and they do it all themselves, all their releases sold out on pre-order without a label. Hopefully that is the way forward. They seem to agree with you Todd on their Manifesto Wall

interesting article.
I think that going out there on youre own without a label is also the consequence of the internet, it makes it possible, that changed de music buisiness totally, it has created possibillity's for people who are making music.
It gives freedom, and i think it gives musicians more guts to go out there.

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