How A Big Record Label Could Make Itself Useful: Act As The Filter

from the bring-the-audience dept

For a while now, we've been pointing out why there is still a space in the new music landscape for record labels -- but it's just that they need to adapt in significant ways. Last week, we wrote about some of what Warner Brothers Records was working on (even as its parent company seems to be working overtime to kill any goodwill). Now, Ian Rogers, the former GM of Yahoo Music who has written provocative posts about the industry before, has written an open letter to EMI's boss, Guy Hands, with some suggestions on how EMI can save itself as a record label.

Rogers starts out by making the key point: in the past musicians went to record labels to get money, distribution and marketing. However, these days, money is less important thanks to cheaper and cheaper recording tools, distribution help is less important thanks to the internet and even marketing help is less important (again thanks to the internet). Rogers suggests that the first two are basically meaningless to artists now, so all that really matters is if a label can help them market themselves better than they could on their own. And, on that front, he has a simple suggestion: affinity labels. Put together various mini-labels under which similar types of bands are associated. And, include on those labels a few of the "big name" EMI artists. Thus, for all the fans who are fans of some huge artist, by creating these affinity labels, it will help drive the fans of the big name artist to those other bands as well, knowing that they all have a similar sound or musical philosophy.

What Rogers is really pointing out is that thanks to the vast explosion of music available these days, bands don't need help getting "out there" any more -- they need help standing out from the clutter. Fans, on the other side, need a better filter to figure out what's worth listening to, and that's something that an affinity label could stand for. It plays the role of the filter, and allows the major label (like EMI) to leverage its connections with big name bands, to drive additional interest to lesser known bands by associating the names on the same affinity label. It's an idea that makes plenty of sense (in fact, there are a few small independent labels that already live via this concept -- within certain niches, you can find people who will buy nearly every album released on a specific label).

So would EMI go for it? Lucky for Ian (and for EMI), Guy Hands isn't a long-term music industry guy stuck to the old ways. He's a private equity guy who seems to recognize that the industry needs to change -- which has meant pushing back against the RIAA and the IFPI and even hiring a Google guy to run the digital strategy at EMI (though, hopefully, he won't be pigeonholed as "the digital guy").

While I agree with almost all of Ian's post -- there is one thing that I disagree with. I think that a label can certainly help beyond just the marketing -- and that's in managing some of the new business models that are coming out these days. We keep hearing people complain that musicians don't want to manage these new business models, and a smart music label could (and should) be helping on that front as well.

Filed Under: affinity labels, business models, filters, marketing, record labels


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  1. identicon
    Chris, 28 May 2008 @ 9:05am

    This is an old concept

    For anyone that can remember, this model of marketing, or filtering as you put it, has been around since Shrapnel Records was founded in 1980, strictly dedicated to Heavy Metal music. Shrapnel Label Group then expanded in 1991 with Blues Bureau International, focused on the blues rock genre of the 70's. It's a good concept, but nothing that hasn't been done before.

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