Dan Le Sac Writes

Dan Le Sac Writes: To me or not to me. Because we can self-release our records, should we?

By | Published on Wednesday 6 May 2015

Out on his own – having split from both his musical partner and his previous label – Dan Le Sac has started work on a new solo album. And without the latter of those two in particularly, his thoughts have turned to the future of the new record.

Dan Le Sac

How will it make it out into the world? Should he seek a new label deal or is self-releasing the answer? Here, Dan weighs up the pros and cons.

Depending on what you read, you might find yourself believing that the record label model is dying, and the rise in self-released records might be seen as proof of that. I don’t really believe that the label will ever truly die, it will evolve for sure, but ultimately a good record label brings more to your album than just a budget and a route to the shops. So what I want to ask is, what do we lose when we take record labels out of the equation? And what do we gain by doing it ourselves?

To put into context why I’m pondering this instead of being all rock and/or roll n that – ie three sugars in my tea, not getting up til 9.30am, swearing, wearing odd socks etc (that’s rock n roll right?) – I should make it clear that for the first time in around eight years I’ve started writing a record without a label involved. The deal Scroobius Pip and I signed with Sunday Best Recordings has come to its natural end, which leaves me to make the choice on how I get to bring this new record into the world. I’m sort of hoping that writing this might give me a clue.

Now, the first point that always comes up when discussing a self-release is creative control. You do indeed get complete creative control when you only have yourself (and your bandmates) to answer to. But who are all these labels meddling in the creative process?

In my experience the lion’s share of labels outside the majors don’t get too involved in the creative process. Ultimately, it’s easier for a label to sign something they already love, something they have faith in, than it is to poke their noses round the studio door every five minutes demanding changes. And if a label were to step over that line, it’s usually at the request of the artist – you cannot underestimate how helpful it is to play your record to some extra ears now and then.

Though I suppose having ‘complete creative control’ extends past the noise. Artwork, videos, remixes, mastering, mixing and singles choices are all creative decisions. A self-release gives you 100% control of these, but it also gives you 100% responsibility for the work that they entail.

Bear in mind that by choosing to self-release you are in practice becoming a label. So while you’re busy being a band, touring or whatever it is bands do once they finish a record, you have to ask yourself if have the energy or discipline to spend weeks chasing the artwork dude for that final CMYK file. Or the video director lady for that edit where the drummer doesn’t look quite so much like someone who isn’t allowed within 50 yards of children.

Basically, losing a little creative control outside of the record itself might not be the worst thing if it saves you from administrative hell, or if it frees you up to actually enjoy your potentially fleeting time as a band.

Next, let’s rock out with our cocks, vaginas, boobs or butts out and talk about rights. Self-releasing allows an artist to retain the right to choose how their music is used.

Often artists have final approval on advertising and movie syncs and suchlike through their record deals anyway, but having control over how your music is sold and distributed direct to fans is less common. So whether or not your music is on Spotify or Deezer etc is rarely your decision.

This may not sound greatly important but with the streaming model yet to solidify its foundations, and the industry itself shifting all the time, being able to make the choices that suit you and your audience best is huge. With an uncertain future, retaining ownership and/or control of your intellectual property gives you dexterity when reacting to that future.

As with everything, we have to eventually get grubby and talk about money. Without a label taking a cut, a self-release can potentially double the money you earn per CD or download sold. However, on the flipside, where the money to make the record – market it, promote it, manufacture it – comes from in the first place is you the artist.

To release and support a record in the most basic way it is fairly easy to spend thousands, if not tens of thousands, before it even hits the shops/digital platforms. A distributor might help you with that to an extent, or you could crowdfund it, but ultimately this investment, which in truth is debt, is all yours.

Money leads me back to my first question: What do we lose when we take record labels out of the equation? Or to put it another way, what do labels do to earn their share?

The answers to this are somewhat unquantifiable, and definitely dependent on the people who make up that label, but with a good label – a Hyperdub, an Alcopop!, a Warp, a Rock Action, a Strange Famous – they earn their share not just by carrying the financial weight, they carry with them their successes and failures, the experience to know how much to spend or who to send your record to.

They know the best person to master your record and make it sparkle. They bring with them every relationship they’ve ever had, and that address book of directors, remixers, journos, radio types and potential collaborators could lead to something not possible on your own.

Ultimately, and maybe this is wishful thinking, a good label should be family, someone to share in the good and the shit, someone to mediate the “I want more fans, you want more stage” moments. A devil’s advocate, an outsider to whom you can vent about the drummer’s cowbell obsession, an extra ear to reassure you about that radical new direction. Of course, you also get to share all this with ‘The Band’, but in my honest experience, the more people you get to share the pleasure and pain with, the better it gets.

I know I’ve missed so much more in writing this. Self-releases give artists a greater fear of failure and potentially make them work harder. It is certainly harder to move on when it’s your own money at stake. And some labels are ignorant fucktards who don’t care for anything but the bottom line. But then plenty of artists are guilty of money grubbing fucktardery too.

If I’m honest, I’m no closer to knowing which is better than I was a thousand words ago. But in general it seems, on paper at least, the self-release comes out just ahead, it might even be the wiser career choice. But then, I don’t believe making music is a career, it is a passion that might occasionally pay the rent.