Once More (With Feeling): There's Still A Role For Record Labels… But It's Changing

from the in-case-you-forgot dept

We’ve been accused, repeatedly, of simply disliking record labels or trying to make them go away. Nothing has been further from the truth. In fact, for years, we’ve pointed out that there’s still a role for record labels, and noted that the “problem” isn’t so much the idea of middlemen, it’s just how some of those middlemen have functioned over time. Much of our criticism is targeted not at “labels,” but at specific actions by certain (generally major) labels, that seem to actually be designed to hold back music and new music business models. We’d be perfectly happy if those labels adopted smarter business models and have regularly tried to make constructive suggestions on what they could do.

And yet… people still say that we just hate all record labels and middlemen and want them to fail.

But we’ve regularly highlighted smart labels doing cool things, and others are noticing that as well. The New Yorker has a nice article pointing out that there’s still a role for record labels to help a band do all the stuff it doesn’t want to do itself, and that many indie labels have done a good job figuring this out. The article focuses mainly on the band Arcade Fire, and the success it’s had, despite being on a small “indie label.” It mentions the band Vampire Weekend, which has also had similar success.

There’s nothing revolutionary about what their labels are doing. It’s just that the bands generally have a bit more control and are less a cog in a giant machine, allowing them to stay a bit more true to their musical roots. As the article notes, this is “not a radical change so much as a scaling back, a return to a business model that involves fewer people, and concentrates on the product.” Indeed, it notes that the major record labels are still where bands may go to play the lottery — to try to get that one big check. But these more innovative and nimble indie labels are where a band is likely to go if it actually wants to make a career.

So, there’s nothing wrong with labels at all. Our problem has never been with the concept of a record label. It’s just with record labels that have worked hard to abuse the system in ways that cause more damage to musicians, fans, music and the wider society. Unfortunately, those efforts have been so public and so brash that many people have lumped all labels into the category of “bad.” But, hopefully, that’s starting to change, as people recognize that there are lots of useful services that a smart record label can provide.

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Comments on “Once More (With Feeling): There's Still A Role For Record Labels… But It's Changing”

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Hephaestus (profile) says:

“And yet… people still say that we just hate all record labels and middlemen and want them to fail. “

We don’t hate the labels? Thats news to me. I mean filling suit against 30,000 people. Corrupting the legal system of the US and other countries. Stating that there should be a death penalty for file sharing. Destroying every web site that could possibly be a beacon of hope for the musicians. Using creative accounting and legal contracts to steal from artists. Slamming the Creative commons, EFF, etc.

Yeah, we should sit back and feel true love for these parasites …

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“There are several smaller labels that do actually make musicians the focus of the business.”

Yes they do. But, they are not needed anymore. They are legacy players with a very limited lifespan. When efficiencies are discovered and slip into a financial system the companies that don’t implement these new efficiencies are doomed to failure. What you have are a dozen or so efficiencies that have come into the music industry. The final missing efficiency is that of promotion. Once you have a group or system that does promotion more efficiently than the labels its over for them.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Just because a creator can do all of those things themselves doesn’t mean they will want to. Never underestimate human laziness. The only reason most artists are doing all these things themselves is because it’s easier then doing it the normal way. Once the labels start making it easier for the creator, they will have a place again.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“Never underestimate human laziness. The only reason most artists are doing all these things themselves is because it’s easier then doing it the normal way. Once the labels start making it easier for the creator, they will have a place again.”

Hiring a specialist isn’t necessarily being lazy; especially if it helps increase your work output in your own area of expertise. Some labels already appear to be making it easier for the creator. I don’t think it is a matter of time, merely choice.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Fault is in the term

There will be intermediary agents to help artists discover and reach audiences and fans, just as there will be to help the latter discover and commission artists.

However, if ‘label’ is defined as an intermediary that commissions an artist to record their talent in order to make billions of copies (with a label affixed) of it to sell at monopoly inflated prices then, no, the role of that intermediary has ended.

The market for copies has ended.

Anonymous Coward says:

Middlemen as pejorative is simply a convenient excuse to justify downloading. No more. No less.

As long as people need this excuse, all the “we’re not against middlemen” is a subterfuge.

Cool ideas? When will you get it, these people want effective, highly profitable ideas for a new kind of value added middleman. Only showing good is better at making them filthy stinking rich will work.

Being on food stamps, but with your artistic integrity intact is not, as you say, “nit picking the numbers.” When the numbers suck, the model sucks.

Either put up a model that works, with a load level of tens of thousands of bands, or test one out. Start your own label with these newfangled best practices. Show ’em how its done.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Either put up a model that works, with a load level of tens of thousands of bands, or test one out. Start your own label with these newfangled best practices. Show ’em how its done.”

Scenario: you’re on a sinking ship and there aren’t enough lifeboats. Someone in one of the lifeboats suggests an improvisation. Do you tell them that they should test the improvisation out on a fully loaded ship, or try it because the ship is sinking and you’re not suicidal?

If you put more effort into your own subterfuge then I might put some more effort into my scenarios.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Shouldn’t they be called something else, instead of labels? For what I know, a “label” is something that gets slapped on your shiny plastic disc, like “Warner” or “Sony” or whatever, making them owners of your product somehow.

If you produce your own stuff and subcontract the so-called “labels”, they’re just services, and they shouldn’t get a say on what brand name is on your shiny plastic disc.

Noneofyourbusiness says:

Dead and goodridance

The main problem is wanting to get a lot for very little. That was the business model of the recording industry in general (and the biggest labels in particular) until recently.
I find it commendable if they INVEST in the artist they represent and they add something to the offering of the artists.
At the end of the day the public purchases music, not packaging, nor plush offices, nor care that the executives have the best yatchs they can have in the marina.

Labels should be pounding the pavement and giving exposure and thinking up ad campaigns for their talents, not just expecting to get rich out of monopolies, cartels and protectionism.

In other words…GET A JOB!



ya know i have my own theory, and it goes like this:

PEOPLE that eat kraft dinner often do not have a lot of power…they are regular folk. SO the theory goes we should be forcing politicians and lawyers to eat it publically to make htem “regular”, and to this end will will form…
K.R.A.P. Policy

Kraft Rabid Abusive Politicians Policy. This policy states that the first bad decision you make you are forced to publically eat 5 boxes at one sitting of kraft dinner and no other food for 2 days. THIS doubles exponentially until you can’t do it no more and are remvoed form office as a fat pig.

THEN you must enter
F.A.T.T.Y program
fat abusive twits that yell
This program put syou on a welfare diet for the remainder of your life, with no chance of parole.

interval (profile) says:

@Crosbie Fitch: “I assume you are aware that ‘kraft’ is German for ‘power’?”

He probably isn’t because I’m not, and I’ve been speaking it almost all my life. My understanding is of the meaning is more like “quality”, “measure”, and “skill”. If your talking about power as in political power, Macht works for me, as it does for most German speaking people I know. How in the world does “kraft” fit in there? I’d really like to know, as I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know every thing.

Ich nenne Godwin auf diesen Thread!

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Look around – whatever you eat, cheese that must not mold is now – they have invented something, I read the other day, well, that is no cheese. It is dead. The wonderful thing about a cheese is that it does mold. If you don’t want to have it, don’t eat cheese. No – but they give you cheese, the imitation of something alive, and of course it’s completely dead. Kraft cheese, because it’s – you know, “Kraft” means power, but I always think this (whole man) Kraft should be called weakness. This – this – “process cheese” as they call. The word “process” meaning the life has been chased out of the cheese.

From: ‘Universal History – 1957’ by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (Born in Berlin 1888, emigrated from Germany to US in 1933,taught at Dartmouth, Hanover, NH 1935-57).

How’s that? A German speaking person, from birth, who even defines Kraft as power in the context of the cheese.

Anonymous Coward says:

you own dislike for them comes out in your post, they are not “smart” if they don’t do like you say, but you point out obscure bands no one but a handful of people have ever and will ever hear of and say the big labels should do what they do

of course you will defend yourself, with crap claims of if I never heard of them, I must not be into music and cannot appreciate them, or other such drivel to ignore a point your cannot argue with

Anonymous Coward says:

Scenario: If you’re not on the ship because you’re in a lifeboat, it’s not fully loaded — is it.

Actually the scenario is all the lifeboats are sinking. (Litterally that’s the argument, you give the music away and try making money …um …some …other …way.)

Oh that guy isn’t drowning as fast, let’s try that ….isn’t exactly a suggestion.

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