Are you about to release a single, an EP, or your first album? And you’d like to be helped along by a big record company like Warner Music, Sony Music or Universal Music? Yes, the great majors are very interesting prospects, but know that they are not made for all artists and all musical projects. A record deal does not have to be your goal in itself, rather it is one potential way to go far and have a greater striking force! Provided they prioritize your project… That being said, let’s get to the heart of the matter:
1. What is a record company?
A record company is part of the music industry. Its main activities are the production and promotion of albums for the artists it represents. It is involved from composition to the recording, mixing and mastering of the songs, as well as the physical manufacturing of the records and their distribution. A record company can also take care of the promotion of the artists it represents by organizing concerts and managing press relations.
Major record companies are often called the big players of the music industry. They may have subsidiaries specializing in specific musical genres, and often have music labels that have their own identity and their own catalogue of artists. Music labels are divisions of a record company that have their own artistic direction and their own catalogue of artists. Keeping up?
Finally, it is important to note that record companies are often the negotiators between artists and streaming platforms or music broadcasters. Record companies are therefore key players in the music industry and play an important role in the production, promotion, and distribution of music.
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2. Who are the record companies?
The major record companies are Warner, Sony, and Universal Music. To answer this question, let’s discuss the different roles within a record company: artistic directors, producers and employees dedicated to promotion, press relations, contracts and finance. Each of these roles is essential in the production and promotion of artists’ musical projects.
Artistic directors play a key role within a record company. They are responsible for the artistic direction of the record company and work with artists to develop their brands and musical styles. They can also play a role in finding new talent for the record company. Artistic directors can also be involved in contractual negotiations with artists and streaming platforms in the music sector.
The record producer is a little more complicated—there are two definitions. Or at least, two different levels of involvement in the project. They may simply fund the project and recoup a percentage of your earnings. But they can also get directly involved, oversee the production of musical projects, and work with artists and sound engineers to create the best possible result. They can be involved in the selection of tracks for an album, give feedback on the recording and production of tracks, and play an important role in the promotion and distribution of musical projects. It’s going back to the original meaning of producing, which is “making”.
Finally, a record company has employees dedicated to promotion, press relations management, contract management, and financial management. These employees play an important role in the success of musical projects and the promotion of artists to new listeners and a wider audience.
The employees of a record company work together, hand in hand, to produce and promote the musical project of the artists it represents, in order to achieve the commercial objectives set upstream.
3. What are record companies for?
First off, they’ll give you a budget. After all, producing a record is not free. It takes a certain budget to pay for the recording studio, the sound engineers, the promotion (such as making an album cover or even a music video), etc. From the recordings to the final product, a ton of people are going to be working on the project, and they’re not going to wait for you to start getting paid, they’re not going to make any bets on your music. The record companies are there to cover these costs, to put in place the necessary pay structure to ensure that everything takes place within the framework of the law.
From studios, to music streaming, to creating albums, you have to involve competent people in the creative process. Do you have the contacts? Record companies like Sony, Warner, or Universal, definitely do. There are a lot of people in the music industry, and meeting the right ones takes time. So while you’re focused on your art, your record company will take care of generating this network for you. Convenient.
It will lend you strong credibility to different players in the music industry. Think for example of all those times when you dreamed of getting into your favorite playlists, and never received an answer. That will not happen again. Same for distributing a song online alone. You have to understand how digital distributors work, and the result can be out of your control. When you sign with a record company, you won’t have to deal with it anymore.
Plus, there’s the not insignificant “bonus” of artistic support. Artistic support in music is a process of helping musicians develop their creativity, technique and professionalism. This can include training, composition workshops, and guidance on career opportunities and strategies. Artistic support can be given by experienced music coaches, record producers, talent managers, or even artists themselves. It’s important for musicians to choose an artistic support that suits their needs and style to maximize their potential and achieve their professional goals, so it’s ideal when your record company takes care of it for you.
4. Record company vs. music label: what’s the difference?
A music label and a record company are two terms that can be used to describe the same structure. However, there are subtle differences between the two terms.
Large record companies, also known as the three major record companies, are generally considered companies that focus on the production and distribution of records. They purchase artists’ recording rights, produce and distribute their records, and manage the financial and commercial aspects of their careers.
Music labels, on the other hand, are generally seen as companies that focus on promoting and developing artists. They usually have recording contracts with artists and they support them by helping them to develop their careers by accompanying them for concerts and media relations and by helping them to develop their artistic image. Music labels may also have distribution agreements with record companies to distribute the records of the artists they represent.
There are also independent labels that are often small companies that combine the functions of production, distribution, promotion, and artistic management. An independent label does everything, it just has a smaller reach than a wholesale record company.
5. Who should listen to your music at a record company?
We’ll answer this question, but before we find the right person, it’s good to find the right record company too! It’s true that a record company is capable of encompassing a large number of genres: pop-rock, blues, soul, folk, electro, punk, hip-hop, rap, etc. In fact, what you need to find is the subdivisions of the record company a.k.a. the labels. Check which ones will match you best to narrow your search field.
Let’s take an example. Are you a rapper? Why not try Def Jam, and therefore by extension Universal. Stalk LinkedIn, and look for the people who work there. We’ll let you see for yourself, but there’s a guy on there who says he’s the A&R director. And there you have a contact. Try a nice little DM sending a demo, and who knows? You may be next to join Kendji Girac, Louane, The Doug or Mimaa.
PNL, Elvis, and Niro: what do they have in common? At one point, they were at the same stage as you. At one point, they had to find the right person in the right place. So don’t get discouraged, you’ll find them.
6. Which artists to record companies deal with?
Signing with a record company is often a key goal for emerging artists. However, it can be difficult for a performer and composer of new music to be spotted, especially at the beginning. New artists, singers, and composers may find it difficult to attract the attention of record companies. So in the meantime, they can start building a fan base by being active on social networks, making initial music videos, and broadcasting their music online. They can also be spotted by managers to help them develop their career as an artist. As an artist develops their notoriety and fanbase, they will naturally begin to receive offers of contracts. Artists with a large audience will be able to negotiate more advantageous contracts, of course. Business is business.
7. What are the different contracts offered by record companies?
The record companies are obviously there to take your musical works as far as possible, but there are different ways to do it, and therefore different contracts:
- License Agreement
- Distribution Agreement
- Artist contract
- Publishing contract
8. Advances with record companies
When an artist signs with a record company, they usually have a contract that determines how the royalties will be distributed between them and the label. They will receive an advance on the royalties to help finance the production of a new album.
Before becoming the next Elvis, you’ve got to actually produce an album. The advance serves that purpose. In the event that you have signed an artist contract, it’s around 12% paid to you directly. When you are in a license agreement, it is 30%, both to pay you and to finance part of the project. Finally, in a distribution agreement, it’s 70%, but serves to finance EVERYTHING, so be careful not to empty out every shop on the Champs Elysées.
Record companies play a crucial role in the music industry by helping artists produce, promote, and distribute their music. They have evolved over the years to adapt to technological changes and market trends, from selling physical records to selling music online. However, they have also faced challenges such as piracy and increased competition from streaming music. Despite these challenges, record companies continue to be an important driver for the music industry and will continue to play a key role in discovering and promoting musical talent around the world.
Artists, regardless of their ambitions, have every interest in watching what record companies do, whether to be inspired by them, or to integrate them. And keep in mind that an independent structure will sometimes be a better ally than a large record company to support you in the development of your musical project.
– Translated by Kole Wright –