"Artists should own their own work for so many reasons, but the most screamingly obvious one is that the artist is the only one who really knows that body of work." - Taylor Swift, Instagram
You may have seen the recent news surrounding Taylor Swift, who is rerecording her 2008 “Fearless” album so that she can finally gain control over the master recordings of some of her greatest hits. By taking ownership of the master (or copyright) of her songs, she is not only likely to benefit financially; but she also is taking power away from industry labels and figures who she disagrees with - most notably Scooter Braun. When she signed a contract at 15 with Big Machine Records, she had no way of foreseeing that, years later, they would sell her catalog of music to a music manager who not only had nothing to do with the creation and production of that music, but who also allegedly bullied her for years.
And so again rises the age-old issue of becoming a label musician. Swift’s struggle is , unfortunately, certainly not unique. Huge legendary artists such as Prince, Madonna, The Beatles and Jay-Z have founded their own music labels in pursuit of creative freedom and ownership after battles with labels. Signing with a record label can seem the best path to success to many artists when they start out, but soon becomes a contractual prison.
These well-documented issues with labels and agencies are likely why independent artists are actually the fastest-growing segment of the internationally documented songs business. According to a 2019 Forbes article, a report from MIDiA Research - fielded in partnership with digital music distributor Amuse - said that independent artists generated more than $643 million in 2018, a 35% jump from the year before.
So, what are the benefits of being an independent musician?
Eighty-three percent of independent musicians in the MIDiA/Amuse survey claimed that it’s important for them to preserve innovative control over their songs, demonstrating that the well-publicised plights of many big name musicians is striking a chord. Every artist is unique and staying that way is crucial for remaining empowered and inspired by music. Nothing is concrete, and your style and sound are likely to continually fluctuate. Many artists find joy in experimenting with new techniques and embracing that continual path of discovery - but many labels do not. Even the other musicians you work and collaborate with is often controlled by labels, destroying many beautiful professional and personal relationships. So, to ensure that you are always producing the work that best represents you, you’re going to want to stay independent.
Music isn’t a science, and trying to make it so is incredibly damaging. Inspiration and creativity are famously unpredictable beasts, and it’s hard to pencil in exactly when they might rear their heads. By being an independent artist, you can release music when and where you’re ready, rather than selling out to a label so they can maximise profits. You can choose when it is distributed, how it is distributed, and where it is distributed - so if you don’t agree with the practices of a certain streaming platform, for example, you don’t have to give it access to your music.
We’re big on this here at Jamma, and it’s why we don’t take commission: we believe artists should be paid properly for their work. By remaining independent, you are entitled to full royalties, revenue from albums, and payment for gigs, festivals, touring and events. Labels tend to profit 5x as much as the artist themselves, which is why staying independent can help you earn a lot more money in the long-run.
As with Taylor Swift, many labels tend to claim copyright of your work. This can leave artists heavily out of pocket, especially if they aren’t as huge as someone like Swift. It also means artists can’t control what percentage of the royalties are awarded to who - so you may be unable to properly compensate other participants on the song. Owning your own copyright means you can control the distribution of your music, pocket the money made from the music, and properly pay those who help to bring it into existence.
Major labels tend to sign a lot of artists, contrary to popular belief. But the bulk of these signings are often turned over and dropped quickly as the labels play the numbers game. They sign a lot of artists hoping that a third will make it big and they make profit. That means that two-thirds are left in the dark with no work being released, yet trapped by the contract; meaning they can’t produce any music until the terms run out. Artists who are signed but not promoted will be dropped at the end of the year and claimed as a loss on the label’s taxes, allowing them to get most of their original investment back while the artist is left out of pocket and out of work. By staying independent, artists have more security and control over their career, which can be a huge financial advantage in the long run.
So, for support on your journey as an independent artist, create your Jamma profile today. We can help you to get paid, get more gigs, and find other artists to work with - if you need more information, check out our five top reasons to join Jamma here.