To Self-Release, or Not to Self-Release? That is the Question

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There was a time when releasing your own music meant sending demos off to every label that you have heard of and relentlessly performing live in as many different venues across the land. Nowadays, however, you have the chance to publish your own music without the need for a label at all.

This has opened the doors for a new breed of musician and the ability for them to be as experimental and avant-garde as they wish, without the direction (or perhaps dictatorship), and limitations that labels often impose on their signings. However, while this is a thrilling opportunity for many musicians and can lead to success that becomes folklore, self-releasing your own music is not a walk in the park, and should you romanticize it, it could be your downfall.

Increasing numbers of musicians are going DIY for both the creative and financial benefits that it can bring them; but before you search for financing with companies like Bonsai Finance for a loan and take the leap to self-publish, read on to discover the pros and cons of publishing your own music.

The Good Points

  • It’s your music, and you can decide where it goes

If you have seen the film Bohemian Rhapsody, you will have more than likely felt some great empathy for the band Queen when their label wanted to put “Bohemian Rhapsody” as the B-side to the unmemorable, “I’m in Love with My Car.” Such a remarkable and groundbreaking song was very nearly cast to the side simply because it didn’t fit into a neat box that the label wanted to fill.

Self-releasing your own music removes the risk of being creatively vetoed. You have complete control over where your music is used. You have the copyright and ownership of your music and who has the license to play it. Think about adverts on television that have used beautiful songs. Hearing a song while watching an advert for washing detergent, unfortunately, diminishes the musical value.

TIP: It is wise to register your music and become a member of one of the performing rights organizations such as ASCAP or BMI so that your royalties can be forwarded to you.

  • It’s your art, and you can decide how you present it

Self-publishing artists retain control over their image. Bands who have put in the groundwork and played across legions of venues to grow their fanbase are sometimes accused of selling out when they get signed by a label. This is because the musicians lose control over their music creatively and how they represent it. Suddenly, what made them popular initially becomes commercialized, and they lose their appeal to the very people that made them popular. Decisions about the music and the artist are influenced by the monetary value rather than the creative merit.

Labels typically dictate how you present your music: the clothes you wear, whether you need to wear makeup for photo shoots, and how you need to behave both publicly and privately.

  • It’s your profit

Have you ever noticed how so many seemingly successful and popular musicians always appear to be broke? That’s because the labels, particularly the larger ones, take up to 50% of earnings. Not just the sales from the music, but from concerts, gigs, and even merchandise. Everything that signed artists’ music earns is used to pay other people’s wages before their own – that includes management, roadies, transport, and license fees.

  • You are master of your own success

Even the more relaxed independent labels can impose limits on what music they are prepared to accept and support, and how and where they are going to market your music. By self-releasing, you can manage your own promotion. The online world has given so many different channels that you can use to promote your music.

Your first port of call should be setting up a well-designed website that provides visitors and fans with streamable excerpts of your songs. It is worth your time and money to hire a web designer to build the site for you and advise you how to make your website as accessible as possible to fans through an organic internet search.

Include on your site contact information, high-quality photographs, tour dates, and links to how fans can buy your music. Visitors to your website are more likely to buy from you if you engage with them online via your website and social media platforms. It takes time and effort, but by building an online relationship with fans, you are spreading the reach of your music.

The Bad Points

  • You carry the financial burden

The appeal of signing for a record label is that they have the funds available to them to pay for making, promoting, and releasing your music. They’ll pick up the costs associated with making music – the studio hire, the specialist producers, and additional musician fees. Beginning your career with a mountain of debt is probably not what you were hoping for, and financial restrictions can limit your creative output.

  • You learn on the job

Record labels already have working relationships with contacts within the industry. They know who to call to help them with their releases. You, on the other hand, have to start from zero, and that means that you are more than likely going to make some costly and ill-informed decisions along the way. Plus, labels often have contacts who provide them with reduced deals for services such as PR and merchandise manufacturing for example. Self-publishing means that you may have to negotiate to get better deals or even pay up front for goods and services.

  • You make less music

The irony! Your dreams of being a full-time musician may have to be put on the back burner. Self-publishing means that you have lots of different roles to fulfill. The administration of making and promoting your own music is time-consuming. Everything from the accounts to booking venues for gigs takes up an enormous amount of time. You may have the tour venues booked, but have you got new music to play? Don’t underestimate the amount of paperwork that comes with self-releasing.

Have you got the experience of self-releasing? Have you got any advice that you can pass on? What did you do that was successful and what did you do that was a big mistake?



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