Record label qualifications/definitions/duties/funding details
August 6, 2016 8:23 PM   Subscribe

I pay for my music to be recorded, marketed, distributed, promoted, and literally everything else to do with making and distributing it. How is this different than me being my own record label? Is there some duty of a record label that I have not included here? If so, what?

I have released one EP in this manner and it has done well. If I'm doing everything a record label would, I am thinking about making my own official record label to release my stuff under and maybe even re-label my releases so far as under this label. Is there something I'm not thinking about in terms of how I'm maybe not considered to be doing what a record company does? If not, what do I need to do differently in order to be able to officially release under my own indie label? Would anything really be any different?
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you're releasing records, you can call yourself a record label. There are other things that labels do, like dick over artists and generally be shady, that presumably you could get by without doing. Think of it this way: if an A&R guy from a label offered you a deal, what could they offer that you're not already doing?

One thing to consider is that, if you want to be "official", you'll probably have to incorporate, and therefore pay taxes and stuff. You might also have to pay for worker's comp insurance. But in terms of just slapping a logo on your CDs, it sounds like you're there.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would say aside from the things we might overlook, like physical distribution and booking of shows if necessary, the exposure level they have versus yours is probably much higher. Having 120k Instagram followers can really pull in a few more sales or clicks than having just 120.

Here's an article from Vortex Music Magazine here in Portland that actually just came out in the last week or so: Record Labels 101: What Do Record Labels Do?

I actually have a shop doing mostly short runs of CD's, and there is absolutely nothing hard about releasing a "real" CD album (or cassette for that matter.) Graphic design, barcodes, all that good stuff is more like falling off a log than you think, and specifically those two formats are super cheap. There's also, as you probably know, not too high a bar to just put things up on Bandcamp and the like. Recording decent stuff, is in my mind, the most difficult and costly part of releasing an album.

There's also ways to go right to a physical (and digital) distributor yourself. CD Baby and Burnside Distribution are the two that pop to mind here in Portland.
posted by Nosmot at 11:40 PM on August 6, 2016

Completely depends on your specific goals and what you want "official" to mean in your case.

If you want personalized responses for your situation, consider asking your closest Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts chapter and/or chapter. (And FYI, take the responses you get in a general forum with a grain of salt. Music business threads on AskMe often get a weirdly high % of answers that don't make sense or are [false] handed-down assumptions. This isn't a comment on the existing answers so far, just my observation here over the years.)

Regardless of the choices you do or don't make in terms of business structure, please be sure you're registered with your PRO as both a writer member and a publisher member. Roughly doubles your income from them, and requires either NO legal paperwork (if you want a publisher name that incorporates your name, such as Jane Doe Music if your name were Jane Doe) or just the minimal and low-cost paperwork of filing a DBA (if you want a publisher name that's unrelated to your legal name).

(Forgive U.S.-centric response, if you're not U.S. based, but my instinct was that with this type of question you would've specified if you weren't)
posted by kalapierson at 12:59 AM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are no small number of current and past record labels that started in order to release the works of one act or musician - Merge, SST, Dischord, and even A&M, just to name a few.

Is there some duty of a record label that I have not included here? If so, what?

Doing the same for other musicians/bands signed to your label, pretty much. Which isn't relevant in your case, so, sure, go ahead and create a record label.

I'm maybe not considered to be doing what a record company does?

You don't have to pass some kind of test or meet a list of qualifications before anyone will let you create a record label, and nobody is going to come take your record label away if you don't meet these supposed qualifications (well, unless you don't file & pay taxes . . . ) You're just going to be creating a small business, a DBA or LLC (probably), which involves some paperwork filed with and fees paid to your local and/or state governments. Even if said business makes less than zero dollars, as long as you file the necessary tax documents for the business, nobody cares whether you're a "real" record label or not. You could call yourself a "record label" without even creating a business entity, although I wouldn't recommend it, for reasons below.

Would anything really be any different?

From one perspective (a promotional one), probably not - back in the pre-Internet days there was (maybe) some value in putting your music out under a "label" because nobody you sent the record to would know that the "label" was just you and your bandmates; it looked more "professional" and it was hoped that reviewers/distributors/record stores/radio programmers would take your release more seriously. These days it's probably the work of ten seconds to discover that "Egghead Records" is just you in your bedroom, so I don't see the existence of a "label" making much difference. You probably won't get much (if any) more attention or sales from being "Anonymous on Egghead Records" vs. just "Anonymous."

But from another perspective, yes, maybe a big difference - which is why you should officially create a label as a business entity. Creating a separate business entity can make a sort of "firewall" between the finances of the business and your personal finances - this is why tons of small businesses exist, even businesses that are just one or two people. If something horrible happens, like you get sued, the business takes the hit and not you (more or less), and if something great happens, like a movie studio wants to pay you a bunch of money to use one of your songs, you won't necessarily have to pay buttloads of taxes on the money as personal income.

So a strong second for kalapierson's suggestion that you get a bit of (hopefully free/low-cost) legal advice on the ramifications and pros and cons and process of creating an actual "official" record label and maybe also a publishing company.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:54 AM on August 10, 2016

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