A guest appearance by our friend Bas Bosboom from Gobsmag.
For most of us, being involved in music is mainly about having fun. And so it should! However, it’s perfectly natural for you to have the desire to get your music out there; and to make sure people hear and enjoy it. So you get a booking agent and go out and perform.
Playing is one thing, but you also want your music to be available in as many places as possible. In this article, I’m going to discuss five interesting alternatives to the traditional record labels.
Traditional record labels
Back in the days, things were straightforward: get involved with a record company, and let them take care of your marketing. With a bit of luck, they would even grant you a budget for recording your album. Anyhow, they would do whatever they could to get your music in the magazines, newspapers, and on the radio (by means of their in-house press promoters).
Nowadays, the role that (traditional) record labels play has changed somewhat. Rarely any label provides a marketing and recording budget anymore, but their main added value is still in their press-promotion department. Furthermore, the role played by radio in consuming music is declining, but it is still a major platform for reaching fame and discovering new music.
In addition, plugging is becoming more and more digital. There are thousands of ways to promote (your) music, like:
- internet radio stations,
- music blogs,
- … and so forth.
Record companies definitely cover this spectrum, but you have to ask yourself whether it is worth signing away (some of) your copyright.
Option 1: independent (press) promoters
In order to make a proper decision, it’s good to know that there are numerous ways to get your music out there. You could start by hiring an independent press promoter that takes care of:
- digital distribution,
- radio promotion,
- press promotion,
- and online promotion.
The good news here is that you get to keep your copyright. The downside: independent press promoters tend to cost at least a couple of hundred euros and success is not guaranteed. You simply pay for their best efforts.
Option 2: digital aggregators
If availability on streaming platforms is what you are after, there are several great distributors that could take care of just that, for example:
They all enable you to upload albums or singles to Spotify, TIDAL, Apple Music, iTunes, Pandora, and many other outlets. You simply pay per album or single (and sometimes small percentages over payments) and you get to keep all of your rights. Some of them even offer music publishing or licensing services and are able to lobby with giants like Spotify in order to get your music on one of their own or their influencers’ popular playlists.
Sounds amazing doesn’t it? Well, wait for this! Spotify announced that it will enable independent artists to upload their own music to its platform. And the best news: it’s completely free! At the moment of writing this feature has gone into beta, but I expect an enormous success since it makes the platform a lot more accessible and it’s another step in Spotify’s quest towards dominating the industry and breaking free from the “old” industry.
Option 3: blogs and influencers
And what about music blogs, and SoundCloud, Spotify or YouTube influencers? Sure, you can just go ahead, collect everyone’s email addresses and start sending out your music. Completely free, but where do you find the time? And if you manage to reach them, how do you make sure they actually read your email? Having a Dutch music blog myself, I can tell that everybody is trying to be unique in the same way. You easily get tired of going through hundreds of emails a day, with most of them containing music not directly in line with your taste.
Fortunately, there are some initiatives that recognize these challenges and try to overcome them. Most notably, there are:
These platforms enable independent musicians, but also promoters and record companies, to send songs to blogs and playlisters. You, as a musician, get to reach a lot of quality platforms. These platforms get to manage their inbox and are even able to make a few bucks out of their hobby (by engaging in premium, paid, submissions). Everybody happy? Not per se, but I highly recommend you give it a try.
Option 4: vinyl
Let’s not forget one of the hottest topics of the last couple of years: vinyl! Record companies still distribute physical music, CDs are still out there, and more and more releases are being pressed on vinyl – even cassettes are getting back into fashion. In addition, having the proper connections in psychical retail outlets (which labels do have!) will make sure that your record is for sale and on display. Great, but by all means, that doesn’t guarantee it will actually be sold.
As with promotion, it’s becoming easier and easier to press your own music. Yes, even on vinyl. You can reach out to some of the major pressing plants and ask for a quotation. Sure, you don’t have the leverage a record company has, and as a result can expect steeper prices and longer lead times. But hey, the result is owning your music on vinyl. How cool is that? One other way to get your hands on your own vinyl is collaborating with a new label such as Dutch Final 500 Records or Paradiso Vinyl Club.
Final 500 Records is my own record club. Initiated because I love vinyl and want to show there are other ways to distribute your music and grow a following. I want to enable bands to reach a new audience and surprise my members with quality music they probably would not have encountered if it wasn’t for the vinyl club. We press the (limited) vinyl for you and distribute it among the members of our vinyl club (meaning you’ll reach new fans!), while you get to keep all of your copyrights and even receive your own vinyl copies to be sold at gigs, via your website or Bandcamp.
Option 5: performing
There is one last topic I want to address: performing. Every musician will benefit from a good booking agent that focuses on getting you into showcase festivals like Reeperbahn Festival, Eurosonic or Tallinn Music Week.
However, there are a couple of interesting online platforms that enable you to perform online, out of your lazy chair:
- StageIT is one such platform. You perform live via webcam. Your fans (or complete strangers) can tune in, buy their tickets, and even tip you.
- Patreon is a community of creators, where you can start building a following. These fans will happily pay for new content you share, whether it’s an acoustic track, personalized lyrics or just brainfarts for a new song.
If there is one thing I want you to remember it’s that there are numerous ways to get your music out there. The music industry is changing and doesn’t require hooking up with traditional labels or industry people anymore. Sure, you still can (and will definitely benefit from it), but spreading your music as an independent musician is more reachable than ever. Yes, competition is also fierce, but hey, you make quality music right? Anyway, keep practicing and keep having fun! Because ultimately, that’s what matters.
Bas Bosboom is an avid music listener, who saves a lot of time by not actually playing an instrument himself. Instead, he vents his enthusiasm for music through several music-related endeavors. He runs a Dutch music blog on Gobsmag and he has his own vinyl-only record label, Final 500 Records.