Frank Ocean’s infamous break from Def Jam Recordings has become the stuff of music industry legend. In 2016, the New Orleans polymath released the visual album Endless through the label, fulfilling his contract before releasing his third studio album Blonde independently.
In a rare interview with W Magazine, Ocean elaborated on his attitude toward rappers bucking industry standards and going independent:
“But the medium—the CD, vinyl set, or whatever—has moved to an intangible, and there’s no 45-minute limit, 60-minute limit, or 120-minute limit. It’s just so elastic. And you don’t have a lot of people doing it that way, because in a lot of the contracts of today with the labels, there’s an expectation to turn in a set amount of albums. That’s really an arbitrary limitation. That’s not state-of-the-art. I hear rappers talk about their business savvy and their independence in songs. And I think the more of that, the better. The idea of being able to have a decent life living off just a thousand fans who are invested in you and will purchase what you make is only possible with ownership of the business.”
Ocean isn’t the first artist to grab their career by the reins, but that doesn’t make his words any less potent. Music labels are notorious for taking advantage of artists who don't know better, and artists have an unprecedented amount of resources to go it alone. That said, if an artist desires to sell out stadiums and achieve top 40 radio play, it doesn’t hurt to work with a major record label on a deal that is fair for both parties.
Either way, if you want long-lasting success in this business, follow Frank’s advice and take control of your career however you can.