What’s the difference between a record label and a production company?
When it comes to the music industry, there are a few key terms that everyone should be familiar with. Two of those terms are "record label" and "production company." At a glance, they seem to do similar things; but what's the difference between them?
What Is a Record Label?
Record Label: A company that owns a brand or label that is placed onto an artist’s creative projects; this being a song, music video or other form of musical recording. (Wikipedia)
Now that we have a definition of what a record label is, let's get into it a little bit more. Essentially a record company helps you to promote your music in exchange for ownership and the ability to put their name on your music.
You have probably heard of record labels before, companies like Universal Music Group, Sony Music or Warner Music Group. Major labels like this have a collection of smaller labels and imprints under them that also take the form of brands under which music is released.
Imprints and companies alike provide a marketing basis for the artist and their music. It is the job of the company over top of the imprint to actually provide things like promotional and technical support.
What Does a Record Label Do for You?
Record labels have lots of little jobs that they do in order to work on one thing in the big picture. They are trying to grow your fanbase and extend your reach as an artist in as many places as possible. This is how they do that.
Recruitment and Development
One of the major tasks of a record label is to recruit and develop new artists with their team. In the industry this is known as A&R or Artist and Repertoire. This would be where you start with a label, working with an A&R rep, and getting into the development of your career. (The Balance Career)
Different ways that a label can help to develop you as an artist can include things such as focusing your sound, defining your target audience, improving your understanding of the industry and generally just expanding your reach and fanbase. They do everything that they can to make you more successful.
Record labels take all of the stress off of you when it comes to things like publishing your music. They take on the stressors that come with everything from publishing your music, distributing it to digital and physical platforms, and handling all of the copyrighting situations, from ensuring you get paid, to dealing with any copyright infringements that may come up. (The Balance Career)
One of the main jobs that a label is tasked with is marketing an artist and their work. Labels, especially the major ones, are able to utilize their size and extensive network to provide a higher level of marketing to you and your music.
This function is actually one of the most important parts of a record label, as it is the way that they get audiences to listen to and spend money on their artists. This in turn is how both the labels and the artists make money. The notoriety that they are able to create around the music or the musician is what defines a record label’s quality.
Now that we know what a record label is, let's get into the other side of things and talk about what a production company is.
What Is a Production Company?
Production Company: A company or team that specializes in the technical side of producing and creating music. (Ask Any Difference)
A production company is basically a collection of people with different technical skill sets that help a variety of creative industries to put together different pieces of media. While there can be production teams that focus on working in the music industry, they are not exclusive to it. Production teams also show up on movie and film sets, live performances of any kind, video game production and so much more.
Production companies are often less well known than record labels, but there are a great deal of music producers who have achieved a level of notoriety that rivals that of many artists. Some are also artists themselves.
This brings us to our next question. What does a production company do for you as an artist?
What Does a Production Company Do for You?
Production companies, while focused specifically on the task of creating media pieces, are capable of doing a lot within that restriction. For a musician they are capable of helping you to bring all of your music to life and then help you to create a visual for that music. They are also the people helping you to put on shows and perform at live events.
How Does It All Fit Together?
So now that we know what a record label and a production company are, the next step would be to discuss how they both fit into the music industry.
To put it simply, a record label provides an artist directly with the marketing and distribution of their music, they also often provide artists with access to a production team or collection of freelance production professionals as a part of their service as a label. Because of the difference in style and technique that comes with different producers, it doesn’t make sense for them to have a singular person or team in-house. Instead they contract with freelancers to connect artists and producers that want to work together.
Because production companies work in this unattached and essentially unbranded way, they are capable of working anywhere at any time. This means that you do not have to be a record label to hire them, and that independent artists can work directly with them if they wanted to, and most do at some point.
This brings us to the next and final point. It’s important to look at what you are trying to get from these companies as you build yourself up as an artist. They both offer an incredible amount of aid in their own way, but that all comes at some sort of a cost. So let's talk about what might work best for you.
Should I Be Working with Them?
It is a common dream of many aspiring musicians to sign their first record deal with a label. Often young musicians associate this achievement as their ticket into the big leagues, but it isn’t always the correct way to go.
Many musicians also enjoy working more independently, giving themselves the freedom to make all of the decisions about their music and persona as an artist, something that is easily given up when you work with a record label. Both sides of this coin have their benefits, whether it is working with a label to gain greater notoriety or working independently to stay true to yourself.
If you do choose to work with a label, they will take just about everything into their hands, from connecting you with a producer, to getting your music video made, booking your release tour, getting you promoted and so much more. It gives you access to their network and power, but also gives them the right to mold you into something they want to put their name on. It is a give and take.
On the other hand if you remain independent, you will get to make all of your own decisions. This however comes at the forfeit of a greater network to help you create and promote yourself with. You will have to contact your production company directly and essentially do it all on your own.
This may seem daunting but many musicians do it and love what they do. Many also have gotten to experience a mix of both in their career, something that can be a great way to build a network and still make music that feels unquestionably like it is your own.
There are so many options for how you can work with production companies and record labels. Whether you work with them separately or all together, these companies are here to help you turn your dreams of making music into a reality. Just be sure to take your time and make a decision that feels like it is going to be the best for you, both now and in the long run.