If you're in the enviable position of being chased by both an independent and a major label, you could well be confused about which one to go with.
Independent record labels - or indies - are more likely to sign undeveloped or unusual artists than major labels are. Their releases are usually distributed by smaller regional distributors, but sometimes an indie will arrange a "pressing and distribution" deal with a major label that will help to get your record into more stores. As an artist, you can expect your royalties to range from 9% to 50%, depending on the other clauses contained in your contract. As they are smaller organisations, indies will often be satisfied with smaller profits from any given act. While they lack the big marketing and distribution power of a major label, they may allow you to build on your niche appeal, rather than looking to convert you into a mainstream act.
The 'majors' are the four biggest record labels in the world: Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony Music and Universal Music Group. Major labels generally concern work with acts who've developed a fanbase but will back new acts they have faith in. The extra publicity and promotional push you could receive at a major could be hugely beneficial, depending on the type of artist you are.
It's all about finding the people and environment you feel most comfortable in, regardless of the size of the company. It's also not always a case of one vs the other. Many successful bands have started on an indie before moving onto a major. For example, Coldplay started out on Fierce Panda before signing to Parlophone while Florence and the Machine, Kate Nash and Bloc Party all released tracks via Moshi Moshi before signing to bigger labels.
Each major covers services including A&R, promotion, advertising, sales, legal, finance, shipping and merchandising. As such, you can expect to receive a smaller percentage of the total royalties from sales and use of your tunes. Anywhere from 10% to 25% of the retail price is the norm, but will vary from contract to contract. You may also get a sum in advance, which could allow you to give up the day job, though this will have to be repaid further down the line. Signing to a major can give an artist a huge boost in exposure and put them firmly into the national consciousness. The trade-off could be less creative control, with selling records and tour tickets becoming the main priority.
Each major also has a number of subsidiary labels and imprints. These release records under a different name - often specialising in a certain genre - but are owned by one of the major labels. 679 Recordings, for example, are owned by Warner Music. Some indie labels will also act as 'feeder' labels for the majors, with their most successful acts moving on to the major's roster for further releases.
If you want an idea of the range of labels out there the CMU Directory has a definitive list of the majors and indies out there and contact details.
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