Making Music: December 1999

Choosing a label

With so many internet record labels to choose from, how do you tell them apart? Sean McManus makes some suggestions.

Oh, how the tables have turned. They come crawling now. Where major labels binned your demos unheard, internet labels are advertising for your music in magazines and on websites everywhere. But what's in it for you? With a whole host of internet record labels online, you can afford to be choosy. Here are some of the things to consider when vetting sites:

  • How well known is the label? made a fortune on the stock market because of its well known domain name and now's poster campaign and's music magazine advertising have taken brand awareness to a new level. The label needs to attract visitors to sell your music.
  • How will people find your music? It's no good being listed with a label if no one will ever find your songs. Look for exposure on the homepage, search engines where you can cite influences and well-carved categories. Among's 150 categories are flamenco and death metal. Although both will attract fewer visitors than a catch-all 'guitar music' category, narrower categories funnel genuine potential customers towards your songs.
  • Does the label have its own domain name? Weird as it may sound, since anyone can set up a website, there are some alleged internet record labels operating out of free service providers. The domain name you type in to visit the site needs to be short and sweet, without any dangly page names or squiggles. If the label hasn't invested in its own domain name, consider how permanent and professional it's likely to be.
  • What software do you need to access the site? Any site that has its own proprietary download system, or which puts stringent requirements on the browser visitors may use, restricts its potential market to the patient and extremely eager. Sites dripping with slow graphics also require visitors to have a fast modem or high boredom threshold.
  • How often are you paid and at what intervals? Sites often impose a minimum level at which they will issue a cheque. For US sites, it makes sense for you to negotiate this as high as sensible so that any bank charges in cashing the cheque are spread further. US$25 (about £15) goes nowhere when it costs £5 to cash a dollar cheque. Consider too how many sales your payout level is equal to and how realistic this is. The label gets its cut however many times your song sells, but you don't really make anything until they send you a cheque.
  • Consider the royalty rate. Whether you will make more at a less generous but busier site or at a site with fewer visitors but a higher royalty rate is a moot point. But don't sign to a stingy site with low traffic.
  • How quickly can you terminate the contract and does the label retain any rights or money? You need to escape quickly if a major label snaps you up, and most internet labels recognise this readily.
  • Is there an affiliate programme, that will pay you extra for any sales your website refers to the label's site? That could effectively increase your payout rate by another 10%.
  • Does the label require exclusive rights to anything? Many internet record labels are happy for material to be posted at competitive sites, which helps you to spread your music far and wide. The time taken in keeping up accounts with lots of different labels might be better spent badgering major labels though.
  • Is the site design consistent with your band's image? If you're a folk band, you don't really want to be at a site that looks like a spaceship dashboard.
  • Does the site offer promotional pages you can use to tell people about the band, forthcoming gigs and merchandise? If you don't have your own website, you should look for a label that will give you your own corner of the web with an address you can promote on your posters and leaflets.
  • What does it cost you? A lot of labels have set-up costs, which you might recoup through higher royalty rates. But be sure you know and trust what you're buying, because plenty of sites are totally free.
  • Speak to similar acts already with the label to see how much success they've had with it. Find out what they had to do to achieve that too.


© Sean McManus. All rights reserved.

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