Most people have heard the term “record label” but may not know what exactly that means or what all a record label can do or even encompass.
In the simplest of terms, most songs go through a long process that involves writing, recording, producing (which includes the mixing and mastering processes), publishing/copyrighting, distributing, and marketing. These processes can be carried out by individual companies such as publishing houses, or departments of larger companies such as larger record labels.
A record label may be a name or brand that has some form of administrative capabilities. Long story short, a record label is a way for an individual or a group of people to release music and collect royalties on it.
When an individual owns a record label that exists only to release and maintain their music, it’s often referred to as a “vanity label.” When a label of any type is not legally registered as a company is is an imprint.
“A label used as a trademark or brand and not a company is called an imprint, a term used for the same concept in publishing. An imprint is sometimes marketed as being a “project,” “unit,” or “division” of a record label company, even though there is no legal business structure associated with the imprint.” (AC3 Festival)
A larger company may have a variety of imprints that each have a specific purpose. For example, traditional “divisions” of a company may be imprints that are all housed by a larger name brand.
If you are releasing music, the thing is to remember is that you should always register the song with your PRO (performance royalty organization). Additionally, in doing so, give credit where credit is due, and then select your method of distribution as needed for your purposes.
Releasing and protecting your work can become as complicated as you would like to make it. The best thing I can say on this topic is not to be afraid to ask questions and to try to make everything as streamlined and concise as possible.