VH1’s New Show Is ALL About Record Labels… But Are Labels Necessary?

By: Paige Pomerantz//

Good news! There’s a new show on VH1 that’s creating a much-needed platform for emerging artists in hip-hop and R&B.

SIGNED premiered last Wednesday and features music executives The-Dream, Rick Ross, and Lenny S. It’s a competition between hopeful, ambitious R&B singers and hip-hop acts who are rivaling for a record deal with Radio Killa Records (The-Dream’s label), Maybach Music Group (Rick’s label), or Roc Nation (Lenny’s label).

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The show will feature participants undergoing auditions, challenges, and workshops all in the hopes of making it to the final showcase, where one lucky winner will be signed to one of the aforementioned record labels. Not only will contestants be interacting with The-Dream, Ross, and Lenny S, but they will also have personal sessions with surprise guest stars such as DJ Khaled and Meek Mill.

This new show brings up the always-burning question of whether or not record labels are completely necessary in today’s industry. We have artists like Chance the Rapper, proving that record labels aren’t necessary anymore, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beneficial to some.

It’s really up to the musicians themselves to decide which route they want to take. To help make the decision a little clearer, here are the pros and cons of being signed to major record labels, indie labels, or going the DIY route:

Major Label Pros:

  • Funding: major labels have more money for production and marketing.
  • Size/Reputation: major labels are behind most of the music being made today and have impressive rosters, which gives smaller artists big advantages with media outlets.
  • Networking: most major record labels have been in business for what seems like forever, helping them establish connections than can help bring artists to reach their industry goals.

Major Label Cons:

  • Artist Unfriendly Deals: a major record company is a business, and a businesses’ main focus is money. Artists are seen as an investment and the label wants to make as much money as they can, which means smaller artist royalties in most cases.
  • Creativity: major labels can have contracts that limit what artists can and cannot do with their music and image.
  • Turnover: major labels sign a lot of musicians and put out a lot of music to see what will catch on. If your music doesn’t stick, you’ll be dropped faster than you were signed.

Indie Label Pros:

  • Personal Relationships: indie labels have small rosters, giving artists more one-on-one time with their team.
  • Pro-Artist Contracts: indie label contracts are more artist-friendly, giving the artists more revenue.
  • Passion: indie labels aren’t being just signing a specific sound that will get tons of radio play and top the charts; they’re giving artists they truly believe in a chance to follow their dreams.

Indie Label Cons:

  • Funding: indie labels lack the funds of major labels, which means a smaller budget for recording, production, distribution, touring, etc.
  • Size: indie labels, although personal, have less influence within the industry.

DIY Pros:

  • Creative Control: artists have complete control over the direction of their music, marketing, and literally anything and everything else.
  • Rights and Revenue Retention: any revenue from album sales and licensing deals, etc. goes straight to an artists’ pocket without a record deal.
  • Build Your Own Team: musicians become the boss of themselves, which means they choose who they surround themselves with,

DIY Cons:

  • Limited Network: without a label’s network, some opportunities are lost. An artist becomes limited to the people they know directly.
  • Limited Resources: everything is paid for out of pocket.

While all are viable options, in my own personal research it seems that being signed to a label can be the better choice monetarily, but through a creative lens, it’s more constructive to be independent.

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Paige Pomerantz

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