Every successful hip-hop artist has to choose one of two paths: remaining independent or signing with a major label.
Both have advantages and disadvantages.
Pretty much, all artists start out independent. However, once their music starts to turn heads and becomes popular, labels reach out to express their interest in the artist. If the artist continues to grow, the labels will make an offer.
There’s no “right or wrong” decision. I think it depends on the individual artist. Do you want to go independent and do everything yourself or do you want to sign with a label? There are benefits and drawbacks with both options.
Pros and cons of signing with a major label
Once signed to a label, you’ll have a set lifestyle. Writing and performing are the only things you’ll have to do. The label handles all the promotions, bookings, recording sessions – everything. Photo shoots, interviews, recordings are all paid for by the record company.
As long as your fans keep buying, the label will keep supporting you. In return for basically managing your life and trying to turn you into a global sensation, they’ll take a massive cut of the profits. The “massive cut” can be almost everything. Until they get their investment back, you won’t make any money from royalties.
You’ll also be expected to represent the “brand” as a whole. Your style and sound will be molded to fit the brand’s image. The loss of creative control is a key sticking point for many rappers who decide to remain independent.
Pros and cons of being an independent artist
Like anything else in business, the greater the risk the greater the reward. Probably the biggest reason rappers choose to stay independent is that they receive all the money they make. Also, they don’t have anybody dictating or changing the way their music sounds. You’ll make all the revenue and decide where you go, what you do, and when you do it.
However, this means you’ll need to do everything yourself. Production, distribution contracts, taxes, events, and PR will be in your hands. You’ll be spending all the money you make but you get all the acclaim and all the power.
All the top independent artists in the game got where they are today by struggling, working hard and constantly grinding. The right artist can become a massive success with the help of a major label. Many artists such as Logic, Drake, and Eminem have benefited greatly from being signed.
Conversely, many rappers end up sitting on the sidelines and become overshadowed by the bigger moneymakers on the label. For example, Soulja Boy released “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” before recieving a record deal. His debut album was a major success but each subsequent project sold less and less copies. When was the last time you heard a Soulja Boy song on the radio?
Artists like Joey Bada$$, Chance the Rapper, and E-40 chose the alternative route and chose not to sign with a major label.
I think in the end, the formula for success comes down to the right artist, the right deal, and the right label.
What do you think is a better choice? Would you take the deal or stay indie?
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