The term music collective and label are often confused with one another in music business. Record labels are not what they once were, where your record label could control your career, and major record label corporations are vastly different than the smaller independent record labels within our electronic world. In this article, I break down the differences between record labels and music collectives, what services they offer, and how to tell which may be the best fit for you.
When speaking to Noah at The Goodphellas, he said everything may be broken down into three categories: Music Collectives, Hybrid Music Collectives, Labels – Oh, my!
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Music collectives are also called artist collectives. In a way, a collective’s purpose is a one-stop-shop for various needs, while a record label primarily focuses on promoting an artist’s release. The Goodphellas would fall under a music collective. Although it offers many services, it does not have full expertise in each facet. It doesn’t have many revenue streams because it doesn’t distribute anywhere outside of SoundCloud, it is very grassroots, it puts minimal money into promotion and it mostly uses its network for marketing. If you want your song on Spotify and other DSPs, you’ll likely have to pick a distributor yourself. If you’re unsure how to pick a music distributor, read this article.
Another big component is a music collective doesn’t “sign” releases with a formal contract process, and it doesn’t monetize the music. It essentially acts as a group of friends who hype each other up and help each other grow through social media. It is hard for most artists to make money in music, and many music collectives begin with money consistently coming out of their own pockets. And some music collectives don’t handle releases at all.
There are many music collectives that do it all. They push your music, organize events, act as a booking agent, etc. Music collectives are typically more involved with artists from day to day, even if you haven’t released anything in over a year. They focus a lot on artist development and are generally more laid back, as well. The closeness is near family-like, and everyone usually knows each other well through social media groups and chats. While many labels may foster a similar familial relationship with its artists, labels often have hundreds of releases with hundreds of artists, and there is no way for every single producer to be well connected within the record label. Since music collectives are smaller, the opportunity for close-knit bonds are easier to maintain.
Labels are much different than in the past, especially in the electronic industry. Currently, a standard record label is mostly focused on releasing music and does not engage in the manager/agent type of role. The services offered are usually for a particular release and there is a structured process. For example, I do PR for Gravitas Recordings. This service is considered a release expense so the artist never pays out of pocket. I send music to tastemakers and facilitate interviews; however, if we had not released music with the artist in the past couple of months, it would be better to go through the artist or their manager to set up an interview.
Labels offer full distribution, invest money into most – if not all – expenses (ie. artwork, mastering, playlisting, social media videos/graphic content, music videos, and marketing), and the contracts may be more restrictive (depending on the record label). Some bigger labels sign exclusive deals, or at least a short term exclusivity agreement, where producers cannot release on another label for a specific amount of time. Almost all labels will also keep the rights to your masters.
Another common deal is that the label and artist split all royalties for the release. Depending on the label, this can be worth it. Even though it isn’t ideal to split your income in half, many artists are discovered through a release with a specific label. The right label can put you in front of more listeners. If the label has a positive reputation and people trust it, it also validates your reputation. Artists has to decide if it’s worth it.
HYBRID MUSIC COLLECTIVES
Many hybrids are branded as a music collective, yet they are also a label. Sable Valley and Phuture Collective would best fall under a hybrid music collective because they facilitate both aspects of a music collective and a record label, all under one company name. A hybrid music collective signs a release, handles distribution, and monetizes. Artists usually stick to working with one main hybrid music collective at a time, but there can be a lot of fluidity and even if artists drifts away, they are always part of the family.
WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?
Releasing with a music collective versus a label versus a hybrid music collective is not indicative of artists’ talent. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these types of formats, with success stories for each. With a music collective, you remain independent, own your masters, receive help with marketing, and expand your network. On the flip side, you may not get as much exposure. You may not make much money off of the releases either. Labels can reach a broader audience quicker and bring in more income. A reputable label can bring a certain prestige to an artist’s brand.
If you’re just starting out, joining a music collective is an amazing opportunity to build your network. Especially if your music isn’t ready for a full distribution or you don’t feel solid in your process yet. It’s rare to feel 100% confident releasing music, but you have to start somewhere. Down the line when you’re more comfortable with your music, you can focus on working with record labels. Underground producers may benefit more from a music collective. There’s an amazing opportunity to brainstorm and network with fellow music makers. Having resources to turn towards is key to challenging yourself and developing further. This also helps establish a foundational fanbase and will increase your marketability to labels.
If you’re looking for a music collective to join, don’t be afraid to reach out and email ones that catch your eye. While a lot of collectives find talent through friend referrals, music collective owners are always scouting for new talent. There is so much talent in the world, and you never know if your music is exactly what a music collective has been looking for. Since collectives are usually on the smaller side, there’s a higher chance to receive a listen or response. Everyone is learning, and everyone is trying to better themself so don’t be afraid to extend your hand out.
DON’T FORGET TO NETWORK
While you’re releasing with a music collective, take advantage of networking opportunities. The music industry is all about connections. Even if you don’t want to release via a record label yet, take opportunities to build relationships. Reach out and chat with people who work at a record label and other people in the music business. Fostering a relationship before you inquire about anything will make people even more receptive to your introduction and friendship.
While Facebook is an awful place for business inquiries, people usually don’t mind if you reach out to connect and say hi. Finding an email address and extending a hello there is also effective. People love to talk about themself. Ask them about their work and focus on that aside from your music.
Something important is to make sure you’re on the same page as the people you chat with. Just because you had a nice conversation one time, it doesn’t mean you should unsolicitedly link them your music. They may still consider you an acquaintance, and doing this may rub people the wrong way. People in the music business get messages all the time from artists with ulterior motives. You want to be different.
SOME ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ON OUR FAVORITE MUSIC COLLECTIVES
While you’re reading this, go check out these other dope music collectives that we’re keeping our eyes on!