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Artist Collective vs. Record Label: What’s the Difference?

Artist Collective vs Record Label

Photo credit: Kale King

Over the past two years, the electronic music scene has had an unbelievable rise of artist collectives. From Moving Castle to MMXV and everyone in between, the artist collective has proved to be a formidable, if not misunderstood, method of promoting music.

Artist Collective vs. Record Label

The main difference between an artist collective and a record label is that a record label is a bonafide business while an artist collective is an extension of individual artist's resources. While both put out music, record labels are formal organizations that exist for commercialization. Artist collectives are informal groups that exist for getting exposure.

An artist collective combines each artist’s social media following and industry connections to form something that is bigger than the parts. In successful artist collectives like Moving Castle, 1 + 1 = 3 because the value of everyone’s combined reach is far greater than any of the artists individually, or even a few put together. Simply put, artist collectives form to do what one artist can’t do alone.

The Downside of Selling (Why Collectives Exist)

An artist collective, where all the music is free, is flexible where a record label is not. When record labels make their money off of royalties, they are handcuffed to copyright law. When releasing through a label, the rightsholders for each individual track (called a master in music copyright terms) must be properly identified, credited, and compensated--even if it is a small vocal sample that seems inconsequential. While the labels are tied down to crossing their T's, artist collectives can release bootlegs, unofficial remixes, and unauthorized sampling when a record label would have their hands (or royalties) tied. Artist collectives can release more discoverable music like remixes of popular songs, putting the artists at an advantage.

The Advantage of Labels

Before portable recording and the rise of social media, artists were at the mercy of the labels. The label was the gateway between artists & the rest of the world. Recording, mastering, and marketing music was so expensive that artists needed to be signed to a label who could invest in their careers.

But fast forward to now: that middleman is no longer needed. Tracks that would require a massive studio and multiple musicians to make can now be made on a MacBook with Ableton Live. Social media & modern music content platforms put allow artists to reach millions of people for cheap or free. Companies like Symphonic Distribution can put your original songs out to Spotify and Apple Music for free.

Although the need for gatekeepers are disappearing, labels still exist for three good reasons: placement, reputation, and cash.

An experienced label has spent years building relationships with bloggers, promotion channels, and music fans. These relationships let labels place signed music in the best possible position for success. This is why the major US record labels dominate the worldwide airwaves because nobody is better at wine-and-dining radio stations than the big American record companies.

Established record labels often have a reputation that can be bestowed upon artists who release on it. A good label will have cultivated a strong brand presence that can benefit any artist who releases it. This brand is hard for a label to build, and must be constructed on image, past success, and standards for releases.

Lastly, large record labels simply have more capital to throw into an artist’s career. An artist could get a large advance payment to create an album. This advance allows the artist to hire out the best studios, songwriters, and engineers to collaborate with them on the new work.


Artist collectives have exploded over the past few years, and continue to be on the rise. It will be extremely interesting to see how formal labels navigate, acquire, and use artist-driven networks to promote tracks. And of course, it will be awesome to see how the underdog artist wins, time and time again.

Bonus: Tips for Starting a Collective

Questions to Ask

  • Does everybody produce good music? Your quality of music is your reputation. Make sure all of your collective’s tracks are well-produced, mixed, and mastered.
  • Does everybody produce similar music? Do you have a certain sound? It’s Build your brand off of cohesion
  • Does everybody have a social media following? Is it small? Is it large? This is your seed to grow your artist collective’s fanbase.
  • Who has connections in the music industry? Developing relationships with people in the industry can lead to future collaborations on merchandise, bookings, or releases.
  • Are you all friends? This isn’t obvious at first, but the most successful artist collectives are groups of best friends who want to help each other out. Don’t fake the funk.

Tactical Hints

  • Hire professionals to help. Use good graphic design for logos, album covers, and so on. Experiment paying for PR services to get more plays, reposts, and blog features for your collective.
  • Rep your collective members. Put artist names in Twitter bios, Soundcloud descriptions, Facebook About Me sections. After all, that is literally what an artist collective is: a group of artists. Show some love.
  • Set up distribution to collect royalties from Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, etc.. Symphonic Distribution handles a large amount of electronic music and can work with you for no money down.
  • Create (or join) a SoundCloud repost network. Actively seek out other artists and collectives that vibe with your sound to support. Make an agreement to repost each other’s tracks and boost the exposure for everybody.
  • Gang gang gang. Be seen with your collective members. Your collective members are your best friends, so take pictures when you hang out and talk on social media.

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