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In the ever-evolving landscape of the music industry, the traditional path to success for aspiring artists has undergone a profound transformation. Gone are the days when the allure of securing a contract with a record label was the holy grail. Can savvy YouTubers ditch the label altogether, and thrive independently? DragonForce‘s Herman Li has offered a thought-provoking perspective about the subject in a recent discussion with Ultimate Guitar.

“I had that exact same question for years and years. For the last four years, I was thinking, ‘Do I need to sign a deal? We have a million plus YouTube subscribers. We’ve got all these followers. Is it worth doing it?’ Well, I did sign the deal in the end, you can see,” Li explained.

He acknowledged the importance of business savvy but emphasized that creating music shouldn’t take a backseat. Here lies the “need” of record labels for emerging artists—they offer support in marketing and promotion, allowing musicians to focus on honing their craft.

“Because as the artist, if possible, you’ve really got to concentrate on the art. And I think you should know the business, but you can’t spend all your time just doing the business. I don’t have time to set up any of these interviews or a bunch of stuff. And I think it really depends if you’re developing artists.”

However, Li also acknowledged the evolving nature of record labels’ priorities. In an era where digital consumption dominates, labels are increasingly selective, preferring to invest in established acts with a proven fan base. The traditional model of nurturing and developing talent is giving way to a more risk-averse approach, driven by shifting revenue streams and consumer behaviors.

“Labels are only going to sign you if you have a following. If you have really something special. Because labels don’t like to develop bands that much and spend that money, it’s such a high risk, right? The sales… people don’t buy CDs as much. The money stream is going in a different direction. So, at the same time, if they want to sign you, then you’ve definitely got some bargaining power, so maybe it’s worth doing it, as well. Just see where it goes.”

So, what’s the takeaway? Li suggested a flexible approach. Aspiring musicians with a strong online presence can leverage that to negotiate favorable deals. But for those content with an independent, social media-driven career, the “influencer route” might be more lucrative.

“You’ve got to be smart and think where you want to go in terms of direction. If you just want to do what you want to do and don’t care about anything else, which is just keep doing social media stuff. But you’ve got to work the ‘influencer route’ because that’ll pay better than a record label a lot of the time.”

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