And Other Frequently-Asked Questions
The music industry used to be a well-oiled machine. A&R people would scout out talent in local scenes, sign them to major label deals, spend millions of dollars promoting them, and sell CDs for $20 a pop.
Then the internet happened. And thanks to the magic of the world wide web, the industry is becoming increasingly more open to competition from DIY artists.
So in this guide I want to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about music business and distribution that are asked by independent musicians.
- Can You Release Music without a Record Label?
- How Do You Release Music on Your Own?
- Can You Be a Successful Music Artist without a Label?
- How Can I Promote My Music without a Label?
- How Do Artists Make Money without a Record Label?
Can You Release Music without a Record Label?
Yes, you can definitely release music without needing a record label, a signed contract, or even a professional studio mix. All of this can be done at home with far more affordable consumer options. The concept of a major label front-running the releases of a band is somewhat archaic and quite unnecessary.
Pretty much anybody can get their songs onto the major streaming platforms like Spotify and YouTube Music. And anyone can post their music on social media. What’s even better is that indie artists are gaining in market share against their major label counterparts. In 2019, artist direct profits accounted for 3% of the music industry market share; that’s $567 million paid directly to artists without a label getting involved.
How Do You Release Music on Your Own?
So if you can release your own music…the next question is how? It’s pretty simple, actually. The 2 main ways that people release music independently are:
- Social media posts
- Digital distributors
It doesn’t cost you anything to post your music to Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, or whatever social platform you prefer. And posting on those sites could lead to your tracks gaining popularity in the algorithm. However, this method will not get your music on to streaming platforms. For that you need a distributor…
A digital distributor is a company that plays middle man between you and the streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, etc). In most situations, you pay the distribution company a fee and they place your music on the streaming sites.
You do not need a label or any inside connections to upload your songs to a digital distributor. But most of them do cost a bit of money. Usually a monthly subscriptions; some charge per release. Others just take a percentage of your revenue. And there are a dozen different distributors to choose from.
The most popular distribution compares are:
I’ve used CDBaby, Beatstars Studio, and Repost by Soundcloud. They all work fine—they get your music on the streaming sites, which is what you pay them for. If you don’t like a certain distributor for some reason, or you want different features, it’s not very difficult to transfer your music between them.
Can You Be a Successful Music Artist without a Label?
We’ve established that music can be made and released without the need for a label. But is it possible for an artist to be successful without a record label backing them? That depends on what you consider to be “success”. It could mean:
- Getting famous and rich,
- Making music your side hustle, or
- Just sharing your tunes with your friends
Fame and Fortune
Do you want to blow up on the internet, have a viral hit, and make a boatload of money? It’s stiff competition, but it’s entirely possible. Here are a just a few names that did it in recent years:
- Lil Nas X
- Post Malone
- Billie Eilish
- Lil Peep
- Soph Aspin
- Bella Porch
I bet some of these names sound familiar to you, eh? A few of them have gone on to sign with a major label. But, when they released their first song(s) and went viral, they were still independent artists! It was the success of their initial releases that garnered attention from the major labels.
So yeah, if you want to go viral and get famous, you can do that without a record company backing you. The label may even come bursting through your door with a contract if you get enough views on TikTok.
Not everyone wants to go viral…or, at least, not everyone believes they can. For some artists, success if merely making a few extra dollars from their hobby. Are you approaching music as a side hustle? If so, then it will probably be easier to find “success”. I know of several independent artists who found their niche and built an income from their music. Many of them never had a viral hit song moment. A few of them include:
- Adrian von Ziegler
- Molly Nilsson
- Far Caspian
- Peter Gundry
And those are just the names I picked off the top of my head (because I listen to them).
Success Depends on Time and Work
Regardless of your goals with your music, just remember that success will not be instantaneous for most people. Like any hobby or business, it will take years of work to reach your potential. Many musicians, writers, bloggers, YouTubers, etc. fail to make money at their craft because they don’t put enough time and effort into it. The process can takes two to three years of regular content publishing and promotion for organic growth to snowball.
How Can I Promote My Music without a Label?
This is a topic I cannot cover in just a single article. It’s more like a lifelong topic of pursuit, with many books and courses existing to teach the subject. I don’t claim to be an expert in the slightest when it comes to marketing or advertising.
But if I had to summarize the entire industry of music marketing in the internet age, I’d say it boils down to this:
- Make content that goes viral, or
- Pick a specific style of music with a devoted fanbase and get involved in that scene
You don’t need a record label for either of those tactics. They mostly require making things for people to consume digitally and making connections with fans.
If you want to know more about the topic of music marketing, let me refer you to a few useful YouTube channels:
How Do Artists Make Money without a Record Label?
There are a number of ways for independent artists to make money with their music. And many of these methods can be done digitally, which reduces your overhead. Some of the most common monetization methods for independent musicians include:
- Streaming revenue (money paid out by Spotify, Apple Music, etc)
- Bandcamp (selling your releases directly to listeners/fans)
- YouTube AdSense (posting your music-related content on a YouTube channel and joining their Partner Program)
- Twitch (streaming your live music performances)
- Patreon (some people will pay you every month to give them exclusive access to the music/content you create)
- Merch (print-on-demand services allow you to sell physical merchandise with your designs, album art, logos, etc. without you needed to keep inventory)
- Commissions (you can offer custom-made, original tracks to fans or other artists much the way that a graphic illustrator would)
As you can see, a lot can be done without a record label. Independent songwriters and artists can produce, release, and promote their music on their own. And if you do go down the D.I.Y. path and happen to gain some popularity, you will keep a larger share of your profits than you would with a record label.
So go out their and start making the music you love. If you need any pointers on songwriting or composition, here are a few articles you may found useful: