When it comes to the music industry, the term collective and label are often confused with one another. Record labels are not what they once were, where your label could control your career, and major label corporations are vastly different than the smaller independent labels within our electronic niche. In this article, I break down the differences between labels and 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: Collectives, Hybrids, Labels – Oh, my!
In a way, a collective’s purpose is a one-stop-shop for various needs, while labels primarily focus on promoting an artist’s release. The Goodphellas would fall under a collective. Although it offers many services, it does not have full expertise in each facet. 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. Another big component is it doesn’t “sign” releases with a formal contract, 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 collectives begin with money consistently coming out of their own pockets. And some collectives don’t handle releases at all.
There are many collectives that do it all. They push your music, organize events, act as a booking agent, etc. Collectives are typically more involved with artists from day to day, even if you haven’t released anything in over a year. Collectives focus a lot on artist development. Collectives 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 label. Since 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, labels are mostly focused on releasing music and do not engage in the manager/agent type of role. The services offered are usually for a particular release. For example, I run PR for Gravitas Recordings, and 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/graphics, and marketing), and the contracts may be more restrictive (depending on the 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. While it is never ideal to split your income in half, many artists are discovered through a release with a specific label, and they may not have to pay anything out of pocket. 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. An artist has to decide if it’s worth it.
Many hybrids are branded as a collective, however, they are also a label. Sable Valley and Phuture Collective would best fall under a hybrid because they facilitate both aspects of a collective and a label, all under one company name. It signs a release, handles distribution, and monetizes. Artists usually stick to working with one main collective at a time, but there can be a lot of fluidity and even if an artist drifts away, they are always part of the family.
Which is best for you?
There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these types of formats. With a 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, and you may not make much money off of the releases. Labels can reach a broader audience quicker and bring in more income, and a reputable label can bring a certain prestige to an artist’s brand.
If you’re just starting out as a producer, joining a collective is an amazing opportunity to build your network and connect with others. Especially if your sound isn’t entirely ready for a full distribution or you just 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 sound, you can focus on working with labels. Underground producers may likely benefit more from a collective because of the 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 collective to join, don’t be afraid to reach out to ones that catch your eye. While a lot of collectives find talent through friend referrals, collective owners are always scouting for new talent. Since collectives are usually on the smaller side, there is a higher chance that you may 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.
While you’re reading this, go check out these other dope collectives that we’re keeping our eyes on!