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Why Aspiring Artists Should Sign with a Independent Record Label

With the rules of the music industry constantly evolving up- and- coming artists have a number of options in recording partnerships that they can engage in. Whether you’re an artist looking for a long term relationship or just a short contract, the music industry has become flexible. This shift is largely credited to decline in record sales and expansion in technology. Choosing between becoming an independent artist or a major label artist is something that should be thought about in the premature stages of career development. This determines what business moves should be made by the artist and his or her management team.

So essentially what is the difference between the two? Who benefits from each? Through out this article I’ll be sharing the difference between each deal, the pros and cons of each deal and sharing successful and iconic deals made in the hip hop industry. 

What is a Major Label Record Deal?

Many people believe there are many major labels but,  the truth is that there are only three major labels: Sony-BMG, Universal Music Group,  and Warner Music Group. These  labels  serve as parent companies to subsidiary labels. For example: Sean Puffy Combs’ Bad Boy record company which is connected with Sony Music division Epic.

Many years ago major labels offered artist standard contract agreement, which entitling the label to a percentage of artist royalties and publishing of records created under that particular project. This was a big deal for an artist to sign with a major cooperation that offered security of financial support in a project and artist development. Funds from the label are used to manufacture, market, promote, and distribute the product. The artists now have benefits of gaining exposure with major media outlets, endorsements, and other networking opportunities quicker.

An example of this is 90s record company Uptown Records, a subsidiary label of Universal .Uptown Records landed a $50 million multimedia contract with MCA. Label’s artists were given heavy music placements in television and film. Artist such as Heavy DMonifah, and K-Ci and JoJo were played on Fox television network. This formula for artist success is still achievable by artists through this agreement today. Hustle Gang president Doug Peterson says, “Signing to a major is one guaranteed way to have a national and even international brand. Record labels sign so many partnerships with other large companies and in different industries everyday which is creating opportunities for its artist to reach audiences outside of their genre of music.”

However, with such large investments artists are often challenged to give up creative control to meet metrics in album sales. As Dean Rudd stated in What to Look For In An Independent Record Label, “Majors have a lot of money to work with and a distribution system that is second to none, but the nature of their business requires them often to follow trends, and market whatever will sell the most units at the time.” This is a major trade-off that every artist will have to consider in their careers.

What is an Independent Record Deal?

Independent record companies can be traced to the early hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records. The label were responsible for the birthed of hip hop pioneers Sugar Hill Gang. But it wasn’t until years later when independent labels began to forcefully burst onto the hip hop scene with labels such as No LimitDeath Row Records, Rap-A-Lot and the early Cash Money records.

Unlike major labels, independent labels are self-funded and have no corporate financial backing.  Although independent labels may participate in contracts with major labels, they still own all the rights to their music and a larger percentage in royalties.

One of the more common pros about independent labels is the artist’s ability to maintain a creative control. Independent labels have also created a reputation of being very loyal to their artists. Because of this artist have rejected major label contracts to pursue an independent deal.

“When you first become an artist you may be so hungry that you want to sign any deal that is paying well,” said southern rapper Clay James, ” but once you become more engulfed in your craft you’ll realize that its more important to keep your voice as an artist than gaining the financial support of a label who wants to control you.”

Although indie labels lack the funding major labels offer, they still manage to push artists’ project to reach large demographics.

Because there is a smaller business structure and hierarchy, the artist is often working closely with the person who powers the distribution of their content allowing decisions to be made quicker. As stated in Kevin McManus’ IIE Solutions Performance Improvement issue,” Resources are better utilized in smaller companies because people have had to learn to be successful without the most up-to-date computers, the best analysis software…that larger companies can afford.”

Whether choosing to go independent or major there is a variation of agreements that the artist/producer can engage in.  Every artist is looking for something different for their career. It is important to take strong consideration of the artist and brand needs before signing any contract offered by labels. Listed are a few common contracts offered to artist in the music industry.

Traditional Artist Contract: In traditional artist contracts record labels only receive money through music sales and distribution. Artists sign these contract usually for a number of projects  rather than a period of time. During the rise of hip-hop this was the normal contract an artist received. Of course at the time labels were recuperating their investments and records off of album sales alone. These sort of contracts offered artists the opportunity to gain profit from other income streams such as tours and merchandise. Today’s music market rarely offers this agreement  on a major level unless the artist is considered an A-lister. The rise of technologies and birth of music streaming changed how these contracts worked.

In a interview with Artist House Music, music entertainment lawyer Jay Cooper says, “Now that they [record labels] are seeing the record sales go down, so their way of making up for it instead of thinking through the business model and finding the way to protect their product they take away from their artist.” Finding a alternative way to secure investments labels formed a new way business was ran and created 360 deal contracts.

The 360  Contract:  The American Bar Association defines a  360 deal as, “A contracts that allow the record label to receive a percentage of the earnings from all of an artist’s activities rather than just earnings from record sales.” Often times signing with a 360 deal comes with a larger advance and provides the artist with assurance of having a label that will provide support in development to non-music ventures. Some of hip-hop’s top artists engage in these deals such as J. Cole, Yung Thug, Migos and Fetty Wap.

Carnes, C.(2016). Minos on the green carpet at the 2016 Bet Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta,Ga.

However a largely  successful 360 deal is Jay-Z’s and Live Nation’s  $150 contract  in 2008. This contract ultimately helped Jay Z build multi-million dollar entertainment management company, Roc Nation.


With 360 deals becoming more common in the music industry today they have created major controversies amongst the relationships artists have with record labels.  In reflection of this labels have been known to not push artists who decline the 360- deal option.  During the 2016 A3C Music Festival artist and producer Lupe Fiasco explains the burdens 360 deals has caused him and then label Atlantic Records.

Carnes, C.(2016). Lupe Fiasco discuss split with Atlantic Records over contract disupute during A3C 2016..

According to UCLA Entertainment Law Review, “Some experts envision a music industry, in the very near future, where the music produced is nothing more than a promotional total to draw fans to the artist’s brand instead of to his or her music.”

Distribution Contract: Distribution deals are agreements between artist and label; where the artist is responsible for the production of the product and the record company distributes the product.

There have been many independent labels to successfully sign distribution deals with major companies and/or their subsidiary companies. For example, Grammy nominated artist Wiz Khalifa recently signed a distribution deal with Atlantic/Warner for his independent label Taylor Gang . Artists on the Taylor Gang roster include Curren$y, Ty Dolla $ign and Juicy J.

Carnes, C.(2016).Wiz Khalifa peforming during Taylor Gang A3C Festival Headline Show.
Carnes, C.(2016). Ty Dolla $ign peforming during Taylor Gang A3C Festival Headline Show.
Carnes, C.(2016).Curren$y peforming during Taylor Gang A3C Festival Headline Show.

Streaming companies have become key players in the music industry which have expanded options for artists from not only physical distribution but also digital distribution. Music marketing guru  Inday of Interscope says. “Signing a distribution deal with a large streaming company seems to be the only way artist can connect their target audience without giving away free music on Youtube or Soundcloud.”

Companies such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Tidal are now commonly offering artist  for single, album and E.P distribution deals. However, there has been much controversy with streaming deals because artists are not being compensated for their music properly.

Single Song Contract: With album sales and the new digital era, new exclusive single song deals were formed. Radio consumption and singles thru digital platforms such as Soundcloud, iTunes, and Google Play. This has become a popular distribution contract between artist and labels.

Instead of the record label focusing on a larger project such as an album they push one self-produced single. According to Billboard cover story The Return of the Single Deal, labels are saying, “Change was necessitated by tighter radio playlists and the fact that hit singles can now last up to half a year on the chart, drastically reducing the number of singles that can be released from an album.”

Single deals are also used as a marketing technique to test potential artist target demographic. This deal benefits the artist in ways such as having less risk as opposed to a traditional contract, and the pressures of having to recoup a full on album. Atlanta native rapper K- Camp is one of the most recent examples of a artist who career is birthed from a single recording contract. The independent rapper received his first taste of mainstream success when he signed a contract to release popular ” Cut Her Off ” ft 2 Chainz song under Interscope records.

Carnes, C.(2016). K- Camp backstage during his 4th Annual KCampsGiving.

We got a chance to catch up with K Camp and his management team during his annual community giveback entitled #KCampsGiving. K Camp’s manager and CEO of boutique management firm Schweinbeck LLC Diana Schweinbeck says, ” focusing on creating single to gain mass exposure and notary has always been apart of our teams marketing plan. Gaining the demand of the fans from one single distribution helps us gain leverage when negotiating a record deal for Camp.” Schweinbeck is also responsible for several other popular independent artists such as Sy Ari Da Kidd and Mario Jackson. Schweinbeck says, “when you have minimal funds yo have to be creative and figure out ways to generate buzz at a minimal cost. If you take care of the demand the labels will pay to produce the product.”

Production Contract: Unlike the role of producer in other industries the duties of a producer in the music industry is defined as the the person responsible for creating the projects unique and overall sound. In todays music industry many producers go into agreements with artist and even longer agreements with labels to produce singles, Ep’s and albums. Artist often sign these agreements with producers with the hopes of the producer serving as a middle man to a potential contract with the label . Labels engage in these contracts with producers and utilize the producer to help give the artist a defined marketable and trendy sound.

One of the more recent artist birthed from a production deal is Kanye West. Prior to becoming the musical genius and fashion icon that he is now.  Mr. West spent years laying down beats and producing records for what are some of hip hop and R&B acts such as Ma$e, Jermaine Dupri, Nas and Foxy Brown. It wasn’t until he Jay- Z‘s Blueprint album that he signed a major label production deal. Kanye later signed as a artist to Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella records.

Because of this producer/label relationship, artist often sign exclusive production agreements with producers in hopes to get their music to radio or major label.  A good example of a producer breaking artist is music icon Swizz Beatz. Beatz got his start in the music industry by producing records for independent label Ruff Ryder records. Due to this contract Swizz became responsible for breaking some of hip-hop legends such as Eve, The Lox and Dmx.

This revolving producer/artist and label relationship is still popular in today’s music industry. Detroit artist and producer G3 recently signed a production deal with music heavyweight Jermaine Dupri on SoSo Def record label. According to G3, “Signing the production deal is a deal every producer strive for. Although you may have direction from the label and artist; this is an opportunity for you to impact the industry with a brand new sound and that’s the beauty of these types of contracts.”

How Each Deal Impacts the Music Industry:

Major labels provide major artists with the ability to cross-market and influence other entertainment markets.  As stated in Bethany Klein’s, ‘The New Radio’: Music Licensing as a Response to Industry Woe, “As radio has narrowed and illegal music distribution has increased, the placement of popular music in television commercials has become an appealing option for artists and record companies.”

This cross-marketing allows artists to transition and expand their brand into other entertainment roles such as fashion designers, movie producers/directors, and even the video game markets. This type of brand advancement will help the musical culture expand. Powerful cooperation’s and major record labels have been known for their role in choosing the artists nominated and winners of television music awards such as the Grammy‘s. This creates an unfair playing field among artists. Major label artists have the ability to touch larger demographics and create popular trends however the majority of decisions must be approved by the corporate label.

Although the music industry is largely controlled by major label artists there are some independent artists that are changing the rules of the music industry. Independent artists have known to push the limits and talk about controversial topics in their music more often than major artist. Chance the Rapper is a current example of this. As an independent artist he has spoken about social injustices as well as utilized his platform to create a Democratic political voter’s registration campaign without having the financial support of a major cooperation. Because he was independent decisions such as this became easy to make.

Both journeys have their different advantages and disadvantages, it is up to the needs of the artist that help best decide what journey to be taken. As a fellow creative peer I understand how tough this decision can be and how they make effect future careers moves. I suggest when crossing this road and your journey to consider these few things: the long term effects each agreement holds, who financially benefits from the contract and how much creative control can you keep.

Coca-Cola for Cleaning

There aren’t many things more refreshing than a cold glass of Coke on a hot day. But the popular soda, which dates all the way back to 1886, has so many more uses than that. You’ve probably seen the popular email that lists the crazy things that you can do with Coke, like using it as a really great cleaner. From removing stains from fabrics to cleaning toilet bowls , a little bit of Coca-Cola can go a long way. Coke’s a lot cheaper than a lot of cleaners and other home remedies, so these tips could be money-savers too.  Check out the list below of 5 cleaning uses of Coca- Cola.

5 Unique Cleaning Uses for Coca-Cola

1. Clean Car Battery Terminals. There’s acid in almost all carbonated drinks. And that helps strip corrosion from car battery terminals. Pour some soda over the battery terminals and watch the car residue wipe away.

2. Clean Grease From Glass. Even Eyeglasses. That same handy phosphoric acid removes grease and grime from glass. Even dried hairspray from mirrors. After wiping your mirror with coke your mirror will be spotless for the infamous bathroom selfies.

3. Strip Paint From Metal Patio Furniture. Want to refinish some outdoor furniture? Do it the right way and strip off the old paint first. To make it easier, apply coke to the furniture and the paint should strip off easily.

4. Clean Your Dirty Toilet Bowl. Got bad stains, a date coming over in an hour and no toilet cleaner? Pour a can of soda into the bowl and  the acid will eliminate all stains old and new.

5. Loosen Clogged Drains. If your sink is draining slowly and you don’t have any drain cleaner in the house you can you a bottle of Coca-cola down the drain and let the acids will fight the clogs for you.

St. Louis: Dance the Vote

Dance to Vote Campaign Kickoff Photo Courtesy of Ciara Carnes
Dance to Vote Campaign Kickoff Photo Courtesy of Ciara Carnes

The arts are transformative. They challenge us, force us to question and drive us to act. In the midst of social and political tumult, they offer direction and display the power of human creativity.

In the midst of a tense election year, we may feel tempted to dismiss the value of our participation altogether. Our voices may seem inadequate in the face of the vitriol and injustice we witness. Rather than succumbing to feelings of powerlessness, several local artistic troupes have united to spur St. Louisans to action.

Photo courtesy of Ashleyliane Dance Company

Ashley liane Dance Company performing at Week One Dance to Vote Campaign courtesy of Ciara Carnes

St. Louis is full of socially aware creatives who consistently challenge the status quo: That Uppity Theater Company has a history of speaking out on important political issues. Among many other projects, they have partnered with other local artists to remind us of the need for registration and participation.

Spearheaded by Artistic Director Joan Lipkin, That Uppity Theater Company has collaborated with local choreographers and dancers from Ashleyliane Dance Company, Karlovsky and Company Dance, Beyond Measure Dance Theater and the Afrokuumba Dancers and Inversion Dance Theater to bring “Dance the Vote” to St. Louis. Her previous work has drawn attention to underrepresented people groups and social issues. This synthesis of artistic mediums centers on one goal: an informed and active community.

“We are utilizing performance to call attention to a significant political and social issue,” says Lipkin. They emphasize the importance of voting and voter registration. Featured pieces will remind audience members of both the privilege and responsibility of democracy and the long road toward equal voting opportunity.

“Dance the Vote” features original performances from local dancers, poets, and activists. The kick-off performances will be hosted at Vintage Vinyl in the Delmar Loop. Performances take from 2-5pm and will occur multiple times within the three-hour time slot every Sunday and Saturday until November 8,2016 . Voter registration poll information will also be available to all in attendance.

Future performances will be announced weekly to the public and will also occur in conjunction with First Fridays at Grand Center. Come to experience a powerful intersection of art and life with “Dance the Vote.” For more information on how you can experience and join this life changing campaign please follow @ThatUppityTheatreCompany.

6 Social Media Platforms to Help Musicians Can Stay Connected

In todays music industry social media is the best way to communicate directly with fans, and with the new millenuals  it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. There are tons of different platforms and apps out there to explore in staying connected with fans and promoting music.

Though it may be a lot to connect with all of them when first starting but, its key  that you understand some of the more popular ones and the value they have for promoting your music and connecting you with the people who support it. Here are six social media platforms that provide great exposure for music and ways to best take advantage of them.

  1. Facebook

Facebook is one of the largest social networks currently and are used by a large range of demographics. Although it is great to have a personal page I highly suggest creating  a fan page as a central location to stay connected with supporters. With over 1.65 billion active users, you must take advantage of this large network. Start by creating a fan page, add links and social media widgets to your music  content, create performance events, and start posting interactive statuses.

On Facebook, people love looking through photos, sharing posts they like, and discovering great new artists and brands. So every post and interaction counts. There are also many resources such as  Hootsuite that’ll help manage and  schedule out your content.


  1. Twitter

Twitter has been around for quite a while now. A few simple tips to building your brand : after setting up you Twitter page start following relevant users in a social circle that can help advance your career. For example, other musicians, labels, fellow music fans, journalists, music blogsites, and big industry influencers), Tweet about current trending topics, engage other users, and share content that encourages retweets.

Who Uses Twitter / by Ciara Carnes
Who Uses Twitter / by Ciara Carnes

To assist in gaining more shares be sure to @mention any individuals or companies mentioned in your posts, and try including “please RT” at the beginning of your posts; studies show this generates as many as four times more retweets!

  1. Instagram

 Instagram has quickly risen to become one of the most relevant social media tools for artists simply by being a vehicle for photos and videos . Use this app to capture engaging still images and intimate video footage of you living the musician life while also showing a personal side of the day-to-day grind.

Make sure to utilize  hashtags in your content well, too, as that’s one of the best parts of the app that allows for new fan discovery and increased likes, comments, and follows. Instagram also seamlessly allows you to connect your other social media pages like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Flickr, which makes for easy and consistent content sharing.

  1. Snapchat

Though Snapchat is fairly new, it has now grown to over 400 million “snaps” a day, with 77 percent of college students using the app daily. In a nutshell, Snapchat is a messaging app where the messages delete after a certain period of time. Users can take photos, record videos, add text and drawings, and send them in a direct message to a list of friends that can view them for anywhere between 1-10 seconds before they disappear forever. Or users can create a story by posting a photos and or videos that will stay in your story for 24hours.

Snapchat is all about honest, fast content that feels personal. That’s what makes it such a great app for musicians, because it can be used as a marketing tool without making users feel like they’re being hit with obvious advertising. One study even showed that nearly half the users surveyed would open a snap from a brand they hadn’t heard of before, which is a great way to attract new fans.

  1. YouTube

This is a resource most musicians already take advantage of, so this point will be more about making sure you’re taking full advantage of all YouTube has to offer to artists and bands. Branding your channel well is very important, and consistently uploading interesting content is equally important for continued viewership and subscriber growth.

Musicians should consider uploading different types of content such as professional music videos, interviews, and behind-the-scenes rehearsals. YouTube annotations also hold heavy value, as they provide “call to action” options to viewers, which can be linked directly to music purchases, your website, etc. It’s also worth looking into YouTube’s Partner Program and learning how to start monetizing your content to the highest capacity possible.


Similar to the lip sync video app Dubsmash, is a creative tool that allows users to deliver an instant edited video experience. Users can not only make music videos with a variety of effects and lip sync voiceovers, but they can also take part in contests within the app, share to other social media sites, and are part of a full social network where they follow power users, musicians, and celebrities. It’s a free download with 60 million regular users and counting.

Shanti Das Talks the Importance of Networking


We all remember the prime eras of Hip Hop when artists like Outkast, TLC, Usher & even Lyfe Jennings were at the peak of their careers.  However, we must remember that the person behind the scenes is often times the most essential player responsible for the majority of these successes. As a formal re-introduction, and a prime example of the behind the scenes hard hitter who just makes things happen, Shanti Das,  has made her presence, as well as her purpose known since the birth of hip hop, not to mention with some of the legends who paved the way. Back in the 90s and the early 2000s, Shanti Das was the go to as far as entertainment marketing and promotions, in which she created campaigns in order to achieve more of a fan base and revenue in general for artists. In addition, Das created platforms for artists like “Atl Live on the Park” in which showcases cities favorite R & B artists on a live stage.

Due to her success, and upon her return to the industry, Shanti Das is now able to take a different approach, yet still influence the masses. In 2016, Das wrote and published the book “The 1,2,3s of Networking”. Even more recently, Das is the head of her own College Chatroom Tour in which she gives ensight on how to reach the urban youth culture, and sharing experiences and advice from her twenty plus years in the business. Even better, Das offers a 5 for 5 Student spotlight and shadowing opportunities at different colleges.

Among the various tips Das shares in her book, the 2 P’s hit home the most for me!

Perseverance:  “You got to be willing to stick it out. Things aren’t going to happen. You’re not going to get that job right when you want it. You might put in 100 resumes, so I tell the young generation, like intern. A lot of companies come back around that want hire people that worked for them previously. So you just got to hang in there. You got to be great at networking. You can’t be afraid of hearing no, because to me no means let me find another way around to the yes, and that’s being able to have perseverance and stick in their to you fulfill your dreams.”

 Professionalism: “Return your emails. Call people back. Be a woman of integrity. Be a man or woman of your word. Know how to carry yourself. You got a job to do, DO IT! You know you talked about hanging out with the artists.. like it’s cool to befriend these artists but you there to get a job done. Don’t worry about trying to be their best friend. You’re going to get burnt. These artist respect you, but they need you there to help them with their careers. They don’t need you there to be their homeboy. They got a crew for that.”

Positioning:  Show up with a purpose. When you go into a room don’t just get there and hang out. Don’t stay in the corner. You know walk around, network, move around. Don’t be afraid to work the room. Play your position. Don’t just go there to hang out!

There is so much truth and value to the advice Das gives not only just for women, but for anybody who does or is going to work in the entertainment industry.