Industry Jargon: Who, what, and why? Part two – Labels, and imprints.

Just to be clear, Cosher Recording Studios based in Cape Town, is not a Record Label

We all have that one friend who can tell you at the drop of a hat which music artist is signed by whom and which label is working with which person, but what does that actually mean for an artist and a performer?

Inside the Label

Music labels have been around from the very early stages of marketing music and they are an integral part of how the music industry operates. There are 2 main subdivisions of label, these are usually grouped into 2 categories – Mainstream or Major Record Labels (Sony, Warner, Universal), and localised or Independent labels (Also called Indie labels for short).

Major media houses are so called because they usually retain 5% or more of the market share in the international industry. Currently major Label houses retain somewhere close to 65% according to the Association of Independent Music.

There are also sublabels, which are subsidiary companies of larger labels that trade under a different name.

Now that the base info is out of the way, we can do away with the lesson in market shareholding and go into what labels are actually for.

The reason behind the label

Record labels are the primary source of listener outreach for any artist. For instance – if you see a massive ad campaign for the latest Drake single, you can be sure the the Universal Group is part of that marketing, because that’s what they do. The same counts for live concerts, new albums, or any music related release that the artist will do. The Label is platform that artists use to get seen out in the world. They, essentially, market and publish music.

This doesn’t mean that an artists still doesn’t have to do leg work themselves, because that’s part of the job. There are a great many talent scouts who look for musicians across the world, and they sign artists regularly, BUT many of these artists simply do not have the following that is needed to start a campaign around them, so while they may be signed, they won’t be getting too much publicity unless they can create hype around themselves. Once there is a following, a label will take over the marketing so that an artist can focus on making music. This does however, mean that the artist is going to have to give away part of their share in ownership of the music to the label, sometimes the label will take 100% ownership.

Indie record labels are for the most part the more important way of getting your music out to a larger audience, but there are a few things you need to know here if you’re about to sign away on the dotted line.

What’s your audience?

Your target audience is the best way to know if you are going in the right direction not only as an artist, but also as a signed artist. Knowing if the label you’ve chosen goes for your audience is a big part of choosing the right group.

How big is my label?

Signing to a bigger label might sound like the right way forward, but remember, the larger the label, the less time they can spend focussing on a single artist or group, on the flip side of the coin, the smaller the label, the smaller their audience reach, so you have to find a middle ground and see what suits you best.

What is an imprint?

An imprint is basically a label which is used as a trademark, and not as an actual company. There are ways in which a record label will use an imprint which is the same concept as publishing. A single label may have multiple imprints, meaning they can subdivide their company into “subdivisions” or “units”.

Other things you might want to know:

Publishers as labels has become a legitimate strategy over the last few decades because of the move to direct distribution of music through the internet and mobile devices, so that is something you have to consider as an artist.

Internet based Labels are sharing platforms where the online label can charge a small surcharge for the downloading of music from an artists. Proceeds go to both the label and the artist.

Open source labels are an invention of the tech era, which are labels which are primarily for sharing and not a tool for the creators to make income as the tracks released are for free distribution.

As an artist, it’s very important to make sure that you have read and understand any kind of deal that a publisher or record label presents you with. This is both for your own safety and future ownership of your music and royalties etc.