According to, record labels are companies that manufacture, distribute, and promote the recordings of affiliated musicians. Essentially, record labels work to sell the brand of the artist and the products they create. 

Seems fair and noble on the surface, right?

But That’s Where the Label’s Shiny Object Syndrome Ends

RED FLAG ALERT: In any other market or industry, that might be considered a glorified marketing agency that also produces or manufactures the products it promotes.

Ok, wait, what? Now that seems uncommon, monopolistic, and a nightmare of a juggernaut, right?

What they don’t tell you about the relationship between record labels and their artists is the label’s ownership percentages of you, your master recordings, your tour performances, your merch, and everything else that enables you to cover the costs of building your music brand. This includes the wining and dining, the free food and drinks at your recording sessions, EVERYTHING.

In other words, they own most (or all) of your music business until you can repay the debt and then turn a profit on the risk they took when they signed you. 

And even after you pay it all back, you still don’t own 100%. (WTF)

As Ari Herstand puts it, the way labels treat their loans is the same as if a bank or mortgage company said “Here’s $500,000.  Once you pay us back the money, you don’t own the home. We still own the home. Forever. And all of the appreciation on the home, we will make 85% of that too. Sign here.

So don’t get too comfortable in your new recording contract, because all the luxurious things and promotions aren’t gifts, they are loans. 

Everything you see on TV, on the web, on billboards, and other media is just the music industry’s “marketing facade”, letting the glitz and the glamour through while the really ugly business deal issues stay tucked away.

The Curse of the Missing Easy Button

A lot of artists who are in the music industry tend to be unhappy and regret their career path, while those outside of the facade tend to wish for their time in the spotlight as if they’re missing the “Easy Button” that they think the label artists have

Unfortunately, there is no “Easy Button.” You either put the work in to invest in yourself and own everything you create, or allow a label to invest in you realizing their investment is a loan you need to pay back and without even keeping all of the rights to the music you create.

Record Label Deals Would Not Be Ethical (or Probably Legal) in Any Other Industry

On the surface there doesn’t appear to be much wrong with a record label.  Like anyone else they are in business to make money and initially they want to recoup their investments. But that’s where it ends.

The big problem is that they feed on creatives and exploit them to turn music into a money machine, effectively losing the art and the passion in the process. And on top of that, just because you are on a label doesn’t mean you are going anywhere.  Only about 1% of artists signed to a label actually see success.

So how does an aspiring music creator get the best of both worlds without the gloom and doom?

The Deal with Record Label Services

As part of your research, you may come across other record label services (or music services) that have slowly become an alternative to traditional record labels as well.  These services all have their own level of benefits and price points, and each promises their own level of success. 

Here is a breakdown showing the differences between several popular label services:

Ditto PlusAbsoluteHorus MusicAloadedAWALThe Famous Company
Dedicated Career and/or Business Coach
Dedicated Account Rep
Small Business Building Program
Services are Done For You or Done With You?For YouFor YouFor YouFor YouFor YouFor You
In-House Record Label Brand
Distribution Options
Marketing Options
Publishing, Sync, & PRO Options
Mixing and/or Mastering Options
Streaming Playlist Pitching
Press & PR Options
Live Event Options
Funding Options
Video Strategy Options
Radio Pitching
Social Media Options
Influencer Marketing Options
Merch Program

A Fair and Equal Music Career Requires a New Approach

So the big question any new or veteran music creator or industry professional is or should be asking is: 

“What is the alternative to a record label deal where I can keep the money and still own my music?”

At Eleven Music Career Center, our mission is centered around the idea that music creators need to build a profitable business around their music. If you aren’t seeing an increase in monthly revenue over time, we aren’t doing our job.

Even the reason our company exists (our “WHY”) clearly states that “Eleven exists because if music creators develop their business skills they are more likely to succeed in music and be happy”.

So the answer to your question “what is the alternative to a record label deal where I can keep the money and still own my music” is simply that you need to realize your music is more than songwriting, recording, and social media posting.  Those pieces are only about one-sixth of what you need to be focusing on to be successful.

A Fair and Equal Music Career Also Requires a Transition Vehicle: Introducing the “Label as a Service” Model

Ok, so we’ve established the following:

  1. The current music industry no longer works (or never really worked) for music creators, taking way too much of the profit and leaving scraps for the music and the artists (the very heart of why these other music businesses exist in the first place)
  2. The new approach is to build your own music business that you can control and own your music and collect all the revenue stream in order to be happy and successful in music

But we found there is a missing piece between these two facts. How does a music creator uphold the psychological value of being on a label among their audience?  If you’ve noticed, there is a certain stigma between the “OMG you’re on a record label!” first impression versus the “OMG you’re a DIY music business owner with music” first impression.

Depending on the audience you attract and gravitate towards, these first impressions can trigger the “famous artist versus grassroots indie artist” switch in a person’s brain.  Sadly, that could make or break how someone perceives your business, music and products. It also can be a factor if your music succeeds or not, at least at this point in time.

What if you could still be “on a record label brand” without the red tape, the restraints, get a better reception from your audience on your success, have a career coach and still get some of the artist management benefits that a record label provides?

This is exactly what Eleven’s “Your Career” service does for music creators

Some music creators only need help delegating some of the tasks they do each day to focus more on their music, and we have our Artist Management Virtual Assistants for that.

Others only need someone to talk music shop with, brainstorm ideas, overcome obstacles, and hold them accountable to make it to the next step in their career, and we have our Music Career Coaches for that.

But there are music creators who are at the top of their game, under the impression they need to make that undesired jump to a record label deal to break through their current glass ceiling. And up until this point, that was truly their only option. 

Now these artists can tap into our “Your Music Career Made Simple” program.  For a monthly subscription, this program allows professional independent music creators to use our in-house record label brand in their marketing efforts, meet with a career coach as little or as much as they like, follow our “build a music business” curriculum as much or as little as they need to, and have a certain number of hours each month that they can use toward our artist management virtual assistants to operate their business. (MAY 2023 UPDATE: “Your Career” is temporarily unavailable; we apologize for the inconvenience)

The “Label as a Service” Model Requires an Artist Mindset Change

As with anything new, there is a period of time that is required to get used to how something is different from what people are familiar with.  There are a few differences that artists should know between traditional labels and the Label as a Service (LaaS) model:

  1. The Label as a Service is for independent music creators and used for marketing and support, but is not intended to “make you famous” like a major might do.  The Label as a Service is intended to make you sustainable and profitable, much like other middle-class occupations (think being a dentist, manager, or office worker)
  2. A LaaS does not own anything you produce.  Instead it relies on a monthly investment from the artist, much like a typical client-vendor relationship. When the contract ends, you have the option to renew or not
  3. The Label as a Service relies on virtual assistants who are experts in their fields, such as email marketing, booking, or graphic design. They may not provide the same level of service or reach a traditional label might, but they will support you as the business owner
  4. A LaaS is a program that is meant to help you grow a business and then run a business without incurring extra costs or going into debt. This program does not tell you what to do but helps guide you and helps you get things done
  5. The Label as a Service isn’t necessarily equipped to produce large scale tours, recording projects, or other major undertakings a traditional label might do, but the virtual assistants that are available can help take tasks off your plate in these areas and open doors to new contacts, resources and opportunities whenever possible
  6. A LaaS requires that the music creator be a part of the program for at least 3-6 months before earning the ability to use the label brand

So how does a music creator get this new kind of record label support? Just 3 easy steps:

  1. Fill out the record label application on our website
  2. Go through a review and interview process to ensure the artists applying are bringing their A game and will show up.  It also helps us make sure the label is only representing quality artists as well (quality is key for both parties)
  3. The music creator is approved and on-boarded into the program

New Generations Will Continue to Demand Change

While the current approach to the music industry’s record label deals has been fairly stable in past decades, think about the world of the future.  Newer generations demand transparency, honesty and authenticity from its brands already, and music will mostly likely (continue to) follow suit. 

When music releases start to feel like they are more about the money than the art and passion, the stability the music industry has been able to capitalize on for years will be gone and only the most authentic, from-the-heart artists will find success and value in a new music industry that resembles the days before record label deals.  

In fact, you can already see it happening in some age groups, young and old, and it will only take a few more generations to really get to the point where the labels and music industry can no longer ignore it.

With the Label as a Service model, the ownership and the art is returned to the music creator, providing a more transparent, authentic and honest experience for your audience.  It also removes the bureaucracy of the record label from your day-to-day operations and provides the support and guidance you need to increase your revenue and reach your goals faster.

Your Mission Today:
What’s Better For Your Music Career?  Label or Label Service?

Take a step back from your music career goals and really think about it.  Do you want to take a risk and go the traditional record label route?  Or would you rather put your eggs in the independent route?  If you are having trouble choosing a path, consider scheduling a free consultation with one of our Eleven music career coaches and brainstorm to see which is better for you (even if you don’t use our services, we’re happy to help you!).

Are You Ready to Pursue a Record Label? Download our Free Checklist

Are You and Your Music Career Ready for a Record Label?

This checklist takes a “business first” approach, covering areas of your music career and business that most music creators probably have never even considered before getting fixated on the idea of being signed.

When you’ve completed this checklist, you’ll be ahead of other music creators attempting to grow their music career.

Are You and Your Music Career (Really) Ready for a Record Label?

This checklist takes a “business first” approach, covering areas of your music career and business that most music creators probably have never even considered before getting fixated on the idea of being signed.

When you’ve completed this checklist, you’ll be ahead of other music creators attempting to grow their music career.

Are You Ready to Pursue a Record Label? Download our Free Checklist