Record Labels are obsolete

…and the twentieth century ended 12 years ago.

Downloading and online sharing of music, without the author’s specific wish to do so, is illegal. Despite numerous flaws of the maker-label-receiver relationship, that is still not the best solution and there are better ways to omit the middle-man.

Why should you? Well, the traditionally incumbent middle-man is the relic of the past. Obviously, he used to have specific and indispensable raison d’etre, delivering goods that were hard to obtain by the artists themselves. An artist had their art and needed a label, which allowed him to record his works of art and make a living off these recordings. A label guaranteed the preservation of the art by funding a recording session and investing in pressing an album in one form or another. The middle-man – a record label – converted an artist’s creativity into substantive and sellable goods. Sellable, to note, with the help of yet other intermediaries. The huge amount of work and investment that a middle-man had to do was, of course, worth rewarding. Even if we include in that work the purely substantial matter, like the ability to “pick up” an artist with the appropriate potential, the percentage of an intermediary’s share in the profit made on selling the product that includes someone’s creativity, should be, at least in our opinion, rather closer to than further from the proverbial fifty-fifty.

However, as we all know, the distribution was in fact far from that. The label funded the album recording. It took care of a nice and professional form of the edition that you really feel like buying to let it collect the dust on your shelf for ages. It also invested into a distributive network and paid off other intermediaries, PR agencies, a concert agency etc. Therefore, it would be nice to earn something for such hard work. To sum up, a label deserved a substantial cut of the money. But that’s ancient, twenty-century history. Let’s return to 2012.

The fundamental change has been, obviously, the change of a medium or maybe rather the lack of it.

Previously, it was essential to invest into everything necessary to ‘materialise’ music. But these costs are no longer necessary. At present, concrete records are not very popular, so artists make a living by giving concerts. At least that is how it looks according to various magazines and websites. Even such mainstream stars like Rihanna or Katy Perry declare that they do not care how their albums’ sales go, aware that they provide a very small percentage of their profit. Accordingly, they need to focus mostly on giving concerts or appearing in commercials. But let’s leave the big fish of this industry. Most of artists who work with music, professionally (that is: making a living that way) or as a hobby, do not work with middlemen (understood as classical labels or even concert agencies according to the rules that have emerged in people’s minds throughout the years). Today, a label, if you are not a famous artist, is not very helpful and able to guarantee only one thing: that it cannot guarantee anything. All the costs related to recording an album have to be now covered (usually) by the artist himself. Studios got a lot cheaper and less scarce, making a professional recording of an album affordable for average Joe Sixpack (not even mentioning artists that record most of their tracks in home studios).

Recording a demo or a few tracks carelessly, hoping that our composing genius will dazzle a potential label, outshining the quality shortages, is not for the genius but for the naive.

A potential label has to be encouraged to choose precisely your recording out of the pile of numerous, professionally recorded albums, ready to be proudly played in any radio. Therefore, one has to invest in a design. The more sophisticated, and, therefore, more expensive, the better. But even if an album catches the label’s eye (and ear), there is no guarantee that they will not provide the work conditions that protect them from any kind of risk. That can mean paying for pressing the required amount of records out of an artist’s pocket. And if a band wants to be additionally promoted, they have to also agree to pay to a PR agency working with a label. We will not argue whether these are just the harsh realities of the market. But it is worth to mention that labels, while signing contracts, take away artist’s copyright to a presented material and gain exclusive right to its distribution in a digital form. And here we come to the punchline.

Not so long ago, a label also defrayed the real expenses, hoping to get it back with an extra profit but, at the same time, risked suffering significant loss;

Therefore, the label used to be entitled to claim a fair share of a profit and that could be understood even as the majority of an income. Nowadays, expecting from artists not only an artistic contribution but also a financial one, a label rides only on the out-of date myths about what it does where, however, de facto, it contradicts label’s own raison d’etre. Because if artists have taken over all of the label’s duties, why would they need a label any more? If running a label activity in cyberspace means only as much as operating an account on Bandcamp and uploading albums to iTunes, with no necessary prime costs that could help at least to pretend a real pro-artist work, real profits are collected for something that can probably be called fencing.

A sale, with the help of intermediaries who take artists’ copyright and get an undeserved profit from their activity, is a matter of the past and there is no reason for it to exist.

So true. This was written by the guys behind MusicRage.

One Response to Record Labels are obsolete
  1. Kial

    I think this article makes sense for bands who need to record themselves at a studio, but it does not really apply to electronic music.

    I run a Bass Music label, and help run another label. I believe that we are an essential to the artists to help expose them to a larger audience and get their music sold on certain websites like Beatport and iTunes.

    I am also a musician/composer, and being signed to certain record labels has certainly helped me secure many gigs. Labels that keep their output tight, and their rosters professional create a hi-quality standard that becomes a stamp of professionalism in the industry. And as an artist I wish to be on several labels that help me get gigs in various countries.

    If you think you can rise to the top all alone, you are sadly mistaken. It takes a team of people supporting and promoting you.

    there’s my 2 cents.