No Label Needed: In Defense Of The Record Label System

Posted by on February 16, 2010

The No Label Needed Contest & Series is a collaboration between Metal Insider and Scion to give one unsigned artist an entire DIY music industry education and launch a release without the help of a label. We’ll be posting features and updates on the contest & series periodically on Metal Insider. Find out more about No Label Needed here.

No Label Needed is rolling along. Hopefully, you already know what the contest is about and voted on your favorite band. As proud as we are of the work we’ve put into it, all of the bands that submitted demos and the partners we have on board, we’ve caught a little bit of flack over the name. Here’s the truth: we like labels, and they still serve a vital need for the industry.

The goal of this contest is to empower bands with the knowledge they need to succeed in the industry. Sure, one band is going to win a bunch of stuff, which will be great for them. However, we’ll be documenting this every step of the way, using the winning band to demonstrate the best way to write a bio, killer recording tips you can use at home, how to craft a slick online presentation and just about everything else needed to get noticed. We hope that all the finalists, not just the winning artists, will heed this advice. And hopefully get some attention, maybe even from a label.

Sure, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead operate without labels, but they probably wouldn’t have been able to do so if they hadn’t been on major labels for years. Labels like Metal Blade and Relapse have been amazing launching pads for countless bands like Slayer and Mastodon, respectively. And both Metallica and Anthrax started out on Megaforce.

The world’s gotten a lot smaller since then, and a band can accomplish a lot in terms of building up fans and recording and releasing professional music without the backing of a label. But getting signed to a label still has benefits. For one, when on a label, you’re instantly connected to their network of distributors, publicists, booking agents, and more. Those relationships take decades to cultivate. And while many would have you believe the Internet and social networking has finally eliminated gatekeepers and let fans directly decide what’s next, labels still play a critical role as a filter in moving the best artists forward. Some labels have great brand recognition with loyal customers that buy anything released on it.

And, especially with metal labels, most people that work there have a passion for music and don’t just see it as a “product.” They’re mostly good, honest, long-term career-minded people who care about the artist first, not the “thieves and pimps” they’re often portrayed to be.

Anyone, especially today, can independently do most of the services provided by labels, managers and booking agents. But that’s a lot of work, and it’s not easy. There are only so many hours in the day, and sometimes it’s best for the four or five members in the band to focus on writing music and getting to the next gig on time instead of worrying about the hundreds and hundreds of business tasks that need to be done on a daily basis, and building the relationships needed to get those tasks done.

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