You Don’t Need A Record Deal

You Don’t Need A Record Deal

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Since the inception of our first project in 2014, the most popular request has been from artists asking us to sign them. Never mind that we didn’t start our indie label until August 2016. Artists have crafted this utopia in their minds that getting a record deal will propel their careers overnight. In some cases, this is true but largely it doesn’t work that way.

Fame is a consequence, not the end game. – Muthoni Drummer Queen

Changing Times

The digital shift in the way we consume music has forced labels to change how they operate. In the current setting, having good music alone doesn’t cut it. Labels have to factor: your demand and potential demand, social media presence, how many people you can pull to an event among other factors.

Gone are the days that labels put a lot of money in artist development. It is less consuming to work with an established brand than an unknown figure despite how talented they might be. Isn’t it crazy that a horrible musician can get a recording deal just because they have a significant following?

I have tried, with these three points, to point out what an indie artist should instead be focusing on.

It begins with the music

As an artist, music is what gets you through the door. Create a succinct body of work that is clear and represents you well and which you are proud of. While it might be difficult to pinpoint exactly what is good music due to the subjective nature of art, people can tell the difference. Good music is music which is true to you and represents what you stand for as an artist. While trends are good, they are there for a short while until the next trend comes. It is a fad.

One major problem in Kenya is the copy-cat culture in the entertainment scene. We take what seems to be working at the moment and try to replicate it. Usually, this doesn’t work and we only end up being a frustrated lot. While the current system is designed to pick from a limited section of artists and style, compromising your art for a chance to get airplay is a slippery slope.


Record deals, like the one Saint Evo recently signed, come with good perks. However, it is not rare for them to be disastrous for an artist. If you have a successful indie career going, you are likely to get more favourable terms compared to someone who is just starting out. Labels won’t necessarily do things for you that you can’t do yourself. It is a big risk and liability on their end. They also don’t want to mess with what is already working. Thus, clout is bargaining power.

[Read: Start the music, the politics don’t matter]

Like I said earlier, there have been cuts in resources dedicated to artist development. A record label is a business and they are in it for a profit, therefore, it is unlikely for them to sign an artist who will require a lot of resources to build up. If you have something to offer the label, it is likely that they will reach out to you which gives you more bargaining power.

The internet has changed the game drastically and an artist has more power to shape their narrative compared to yesteryears. While some might argue that the number of likes on your Facebook page or the followers on your Instagram shouldn’t matter, it does. If artist A is talented but has only 1,000 followers on IG, and artist B, who is not so talented but has 100,000 followers, guess who is likely to be signed? Music can always be developed later unlike cultivating a fan base which is a different science itself. This doesn’t mean that you go buy fake followers because it will show.

Live Performance

Tour! Tour! Tour! This is a tested way of building a fan base. Live performance creates a connection with your fans and is a way to attract new people into your tribe. Majority of pop music consumers respond on deep levels to songs and artists they can relate to and what better way than during a live show? People learn about artists through videos, radio, TV, the internet, etc. Most significantly of all is word of mouth. If you put up good shows, you will get free marketing through the people who were there, which is something you can’t buy.

You can build a stronger fan base by connecting what you do online and offline. Engagement with your fans before, on and after a show is likely to win a few people over. Live performance also provides an avenue for making money, which as an indie artist can be a lifesaver.


Got more ideas on how indie artists can improve their careers? Share with us on the comment section

Written By: djfita

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