Spoiler alert: the answer is no.
And you know what? It’s pretty empowering.
Think about it: we live in an age when artists have the power to completely choose (and execute) their destiny, from how many songs they want to put out, to how much they tour, the kind of merch they produce, and the way they choose to interact with their fans. That’s pretty incredible.
Today, instead of giving you advice on how to attract a label or put the responsibility in someone else’s hands, we want to empower you to create your own outcome and show you just how you can build a successful, profitable career in music, all without the help of a label.
If you still need a little more inspiration, just look at some of the industries most successful artists, who have made their career without the help of a label — Chance the Rapper being just one of them.
Alright, ready to get into it? Here’s how to find success even without the help of a label.
Everything you need is right at your fingertips
For the first time ever, artists have pretty much everything they could possibly need to create a career right at their fingertips. While you want to have a budget for things like a recording studio or PR at some point, you don’t need those things to get started and furthermore, you can likely DIY a lot of things until you have the funds to outsource.
For instance, you can record in a home studio (or a friend’s) or partner with a non-profit studio for lower-cost options. You can teach yourself to do your own PR. You can learn how to run FB and IG ads. You can master your own social media.
Is it a lot of work upfront? Sure it is. But you can do it — and in doing all those things, you’ll learn more about yourself, your brand, your fans, what works, what doesn’t, and how you want to continue to move forward. In short, it’s a hugely eye-opening experience that leads to smarter and more profitable decisions down the line.
That said, you will need to bring on a team at some point — no successful artist has done it completely on their own, so while it’s good to learn the basics and bootstrap it for a while, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can go it alone for the next 10 years.
You know your fans better than anyone else
Who knows your fans better than you? No one! You’ve spent so much time with your fans both online and in-person at shows that by now, you know them like the back of your hand. I mean how many hours have you spent reading their comments, playing their favorite songs, hearing their thoughts on your live set, your merch, your lyrics...if you have an ongoing and healthy dialogue with your fans, there’s no doubt about this one — you know them. And if you’re doing it right, they feel like they know you too.
Don’t forget, so many of your fans are likely some version of who you are now or who you used to be, which is a huge part of why they relate so much to you and your music.
While it can feel daunting at times to keep up with your fan base and really cultivate it, once you get the hang of it, it’s truly the most rewarding experience, and no one can take that away from you. Not to mention, your fans are your biggest asset. When you can tap into your fanbase and provide real value and support, you’ve kind of cracked the code. A successful fanbase is what leads to playing festivals, major press opportunities, licensing, and so much more.
You get to pick your own path
There’s a certain beauty in the control you have as an independent artist. No one is telling you when to release the next song, what the album art should look like, or how often to tour. And while having team members who can advise you on those things is smart, it’s nice to have the final say and be able to go with your gut. (Note: I didn’t say ego!)
Being an independent artist means you’re in control of your destiny, and that means you can experiment faster and implement what works immediately, while still staying true to what matters. For instance, you can experiment with where to tour, what kind of merch to create, what your fans do and don’t want, what songs to release — and then pivot depending on what feels right and what gets the best response. You don’t have to follow anyone else’s formula or wait for someone else to approve your ideas.
And if you do still want to get signed, remember, a label is going to want to see proof of concept well before signing you. Which means, if you’ve already built a solid career yourself and shown that you can bring out fans to a show and engage them online, as well as successfully tour or release music, they’re going to be a lot more interested than if you just sat around waiting for them to save you.
Looking for tips and examples of increasing fan engagement through simple, effective social media strategies? Join me for my free Masterclass: ‘How to gain your next 1,000 fans. 3 simple steps that lead to higher engagement, sold-out shows, and life-changing opportunities.’
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placements on Alternative Press, Noisey, Substream, Spotify and more, as well as the Director of Community and Events for Music Launch Co. She loves baked goods, a good book, and hanging with her dog Sawyer.