Over recent years the music industry, in general, has received a mass overhaul – in answer to socio-technological developments, with the standard methods of promoting, performing and commercialising being rethought. With recent development of media sharing, digital formats and social networking, record labels would be forced inert if they were unable to evolve. But how have they approached this challenge?
Roles of a Label
Let’s start with the fundamental roles of a Record Label. A record label, regardless of status is in place to support artists in the creation of their work and exploit profitable characteristics in return. This model translates to many modes of practice, ranging from investment to artist development, but in essence a record label is responsible for selling the artist.
Investing in an artist, is one of the major functions of a record label. Labels tend to have access to a world of dream worthy resources, that artists do not. The label parts ways with money to support the artist in living, writing, recording and overall creation, in return the artist will provide a pre-agreed amount of musical content and argo profit (usually in the form of a percentage of income). Via deduction it is easy to assume that larger labels are able to perform this task with more affluence: paying for better studio work and bigger promotion. But all record labels, one would assume, are willing to pay a little for the development of their product. According to IFPI, in America last year, a huge 27 percent of Major Label revenues were represented by investment in to Artist and Repertoire.
Development refers to both business development and artist development. Business development is the act of seeking out new opportunities, markets and creating new partnerships. This happens in many different forms. One of the more explicit ways that labels boost the fan base of the artist is by linking them to artists of similar genres. Organising events in which the artists perform together or record tracks, allows the pre-fabricated fan base of the established artists to transgress into the base of the upcoming.
According to BPI inside a record Label marketing is “the department of the record label responsible for the promotion and general exploitation of an artist’s output.” This essentially means that they are responsible for making the most money they can out of a product outside of its production. Pre internet revolution and rise in availability of technology this would have consisted of billboard promotion, radio plays, magazine spreads, interviews and anything that could potentially broaden the labels pot of gold.
How have they adapted?
Now, in recent years this model has been questioned and remoulded. With the introduction of social media and mass use of the internet, not to mention the price drop in technology, the pre-assumed gatekeeper role of the record company is dispersed. Recording equipment is so easy to come by; distribution sits in the click of a web browser; promotion need look no further than social media – the problems faced by record labels. New methods are needed as profits of record sales have taken a staggering drop alongside the development of technology. To amend this even playing field, record labels introduced the notion of an artist becoming THE product. 360 deals allow the label a return on every aspect of the artists persona: live music, merchandise, record sales, etc. This exploits modern societies disposition toward media immersion, realising that our obsession with celebrity culture could be manipulated and exploited. For example Taylor Swift, who boasts a massive 83.1 million followers on twitter sells on average per head 17 dollars of merchandise, per concert. Seeing that her recent 1989 tour sold an astounding 771,460 tickets thats a fair return on cheaply manufactured t shirts.
For more see: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/chart-beat/6655958/taylor-swift-1989-tour-earnings
It’s not necessarily all restructure and rebuild! Some of the many marvels of technology that battle against the growth of the music industry, aren’t necessarily all bad. Whilst self production and distribution has given the modern listener a huge pile of mediocrity to sieve through, it also provides a new method of scouting for record labels and a new method for scouting work. This is clearly positive for aspiring artists too, however the skin that covers the metaphoric custard that is an artists journey to a recording contract, isn’t necessarily made thinner. If anything, having to battle alongside thousands of artists makes the progression harder for artist. However from an A and R point of view, life is easier. Social media and media sharing have made it possible for A and R representatives to sit through as much new music as they can stomach. Band camp for example, provides a platform from which artists can sell themselves, more easily than ever, to scouting agents. Alongside this huge growth of self produced artists, recording studios are also becoming cheaper, meaning live bands with little knowledge of technology are able to begin their journey. A possible downside of all of this growth and progression is that a lot of talent may go undiscovered, because of the veils of mediocrity layered above it.
Labels have effectively been forced to expand and find new points of sale for artists, whilst carrying out all jobs that one would assume they would, they have to remain superior to methods of self release. As it stands aiming to sign to a record label is still a target aspiration for the majority of music artists and this is because of their ability to provide, nurture and exploit. This ability, mixed with experience and knowledge gained over years, I believe, will forever set labels ahead of endeavours lacking them.