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.