NARM Convention 2011 Preview: So You Think You Don’t Need a Label, Huh? – We All Make Music

NARM Convention 2011 Preview: So You Think You Don’t Need a Label, Huh?

Next week, our friends at NARM are holding their annual Music Business Convention out in Los Angeles. The Convention, which runs from May 9-13 at the Regency Hyatt and features a murderer’s row of guest speakers and panelists, is an unmissable opportunity for people at almost every level of the industry food chain.

Though the convention offers plenty of high-level information and opportunity, it also begins with a great summary of the basics. For the third straight year, the American Association of Independent Music, or A2IM, will be co-presenting a Music Business Crash Course on May 9, and its president, Rich Bengloff, is right at the center of these activities. Bengloff believes passionately in the importance of labels to artists’ success, so much so that he once criticized our site’s old tagline (“Helping musicians thrive in a post-label world”).

He was also kind enough to sit down with us for a moment to discuss whether or not artists need record labels to succeed.

As the music industry has digitized, a lot of hay has been made about the effects of digital distribution. It has led some (ourselves sometimes included) to proclaim that labels are no longer necessary, that artists can sell their work directly to fans, that social media and other digital tools give artists every opportunity to communicate and connect with everybody in the business.

In the abstract, this is a very exciting concept. But Bengloff is keenly aware of the sheer volume of work required to keep an artist’s career moving, and he knows that even the proudest DIY outfit needs some of the support that a label provides. And when you take stock of the work that a label does on an artist’s behalf, the concept of functioning without a label starts to get far less romantic, even for the most gung ho entrepreneur.

“[Labels] have publicity staff, even if it’s just one person, who focuses on all of the releases, every key date on the road, pursues local press including print and online, sets up interviews, in-stores, promotions on local radio and TV stations because they have the contacts and the relationships,” Bengloff says.

“That band you just talked about [that wants to go it alone, without a label] – do they have those relationships? In the town they’re in – maybe. But nationally?”

Instant Brand Recognition
“A lot of our labels are brands,” Bengloff says, referring to A2IM’s members. “One of our labels, Century Media, I used to go to their [artists’] shows and I’d see more Century Media shirts [in the audience] than I’d see of the bands’.”

Building that level of credibility and recognition nationally can take years. Align with the right label, and you can achieve that in a fraction of the time.

Local Promotions
“Promotions with local retailers, promotions with local entertainment websites, label reps in local markets to take the artist to all their local media obligations to make sure they do show up, and make sure there’s a friendly face and everything.

“[If you want to secure] show sponsorships from local radio stations, again, who has the relationship?”

All of this is doable, provided you have the time. But looking over this kind of list should help explain why 75% of artists still want deals, and why people should stop guffawing at those artists for wanting them.

Bengloff believes that the Internet has given artists a lot of opportunities. But he’s also been around long enough to know that success in the music industry requires that you be as realistic and efficient as possible. And no matter how lean and mean they get, artists can always expect certain things from labels, and those things can improve any career immeasurably.

“I could go on and on [about the benefits of a label deal],” Bengloff says. “I just picked touring.”