Over the years, technology has seen many changes in the way the music industry operates and functions. One of the most notorious changes has been that of the record label.
What Are Record Labels?
For those of you that don’t know, a record label is a company that is in charge of marketing and distributing the music of artists to digital and phsyical music stores around the world. (HMV, Itunes, Spotify etc). There are still several record labels operating wordwide, but not anywhere near as many as there used to be.
As of 2012, there are only 3 labels that are considered “major”. Major labels tend to sign acts like Adele, Justin Bieber and other successful artists. The “big three” as they are known are: Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.
These days, a lot of labels are brought out by these big three and continue as “sub-labels” under either the Sony, Universal or Warner umbrellas. This generally happens in order to enable the labels to continue operating as well as giving them access to the resources available to the big three.
Along with major labels, there are independent or “indie” labels. These labels are not associated with any major or sub label and are generally created by unsigned bands in order to give them a more professional look. Some bands start by distributing their own music and then progress onto distributing the music of other bands.
A local independent label currently gaining popularity is “Cool Thing Records” a label started by Southend based band “Asylums.”
How Technology has changed the need for labels
In the 21st Century music business, there are several companies and websites that enable artists to make their music available on digital platforms such as Itunes and Spotify. The two topped ranked companies for this are CDBaby and Distrokid; in order to make your music purchasable/streamable to the world, you simply pay a small fee, upload your music and artwork and wait for it to appear.
There are several unsigned or independent artists that have seen top 40 success without the help of the big three. The most memorable example of this has got to be U.S Singer-Songwriter Andie Case; she uploaded a song to Itunes and within a few weeks it was being played on the UK Top 40, her career then sky rocketed and she is still experiencing success today.
Previously mentioned Indie band “Asylums” has also experienced great success over the years, being played on John Kennedy’s Radio X show and being able to play some of the biggest festivals in the UK and Europe.
My Personal thoughts
For me, the fact that some of my friends have achieved success without a Universal, Sony or Warner contract says a lot. I feel that perhaps the only major use these “big three” have are their resources and contacts. Of course, in this industry it is all about who you know and not so much what you know but the need of these guys for their contacts could very soon be wiped out by the ease of the internet.
There are artists in all genres that are making a solid living through gigging and Spotify streaming royalties (no major radio airplay) This again, says it all to me. Anybody can distribute their music digitally through the websites mentioned, the only thing that can’t be done without a major label is physical distribution to stores like HMV but they’re dying out slowly anyway.
In conclusion, I think that perhaps in 10-15 years, the big three will be no more, is this necessarily a negative thing? I don’t think so; if you can cut out the middle man and take more money for yourself, why wouldn’t you? Anything is possible thanks to technology these days, you’ve just gotta be brave enough to take the plunge.