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Understanding small independent record label business decisions (aka Why can't I buy this digitally?)

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In an ideal world, everything would be available eternally on every format; but that's obviously unrealistic. However, it doesn't seem unrealistic to expect all music to be available digitally these days. I know some people care about format - be it vinyl, cd or cassette - but once those physical copies are all sold, I feel that music should continue to be available to purchase or stream in digital form.


Trying to purchase a record that is no longer available is frustrating because used copies often have inflated prices and your money is not supporting the artist/label, and that's assuming there are actually copies for sale. I cannot understand why an artist would not want their work available. I assume the label has to think about the financial viability of keeping music 'in print' but I don't understand how it all works. Can anybody help by answering some of these questions? Any personal experience or links to online articles would be greatly appreciated!


  • What costs are involved in releasing a small independent record?
  • Is the music licenced from the artist or sold to the label?
  • Does a higher print run or a reprint cost more money?
  • How and when is the artist paid?
  • How does offering digital downloads affect the deal for both parties?
  • How do you go about putting together a reissue of previously released music?




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I know it can get very complicated! Mansun released their albums with EMI on a deal that expired very recently, meaning ownership of the music went back to the band, with the lead singer Paul Draper being keen to remaster and reissue. He had to get permission from the other members to do this and also pay EMI to access the master and raw studio output tapes (they still owned the physical items, despite no longer having the rights to the recordings on them). One has now been released on an indie label, but I don’t know how the deal worked with all that!

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Mansun, The KLF, De La Soul. These are all big artists who probably had an advance from a major label plus royalties from subsequent sales. 


Here's an example of the kind of small independent release that I am talking about. In fact it is one of the reasons I gave this subject some thought. 




NSRB-11 are an electro outfit containing two big names from the (admittedly fairly niche) electro scene: Gerald Donald and DJ Stingray. They released one 12" single in 2012, followed by an album on LP/CD in 2013. I don't know how many standard copies were pressed (the limited edition clear vinyl version was limited to 250 copies) but they're all sold and used copies start at €40 on Discogs.com. That music is only 5 years old, but unavailable to anyone who missed it on release. That seems a shame, as I don't imagine either label or artist made a fortune from it in the first place. 

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I dont think there is much logic as to why artists do this its just preference. I can only speak on behalf of a good friend of mine who is a fairly well known house/techno producer and runs his own label and he just releases on vinyl only, he gets loads of people badgering him to release a CD or digitally to make his music more widely available but he doesnt like those formats. He's an old school record collector, he only listens to vinyl so only wants to release on vinyl. The sales he would get would be minimal (and Spotify/iTunes pay bugger all) and I think there is something in keeping a certain mystique around the music and the producer.

Anyway music doesnt sell very well nowadays, if it was purely about money there is no point in releasing an album at all, my mate just about breaks even on everything he releases, but on the flipside he plays live all over the world which is how he pays his rent and I doubt he would get so many gigs if he didnt release music.

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