Major music labels are losing their control of the industry, and here's why.
THE WAY THAT IT USED TO BE
Not every punk garage band from the mid-2000s had a professional-grade recording studio just in the other room.
Once upon a time, specifically before the age of digital streaming, artists simply couldn't make it to stardom without the help of a label pushing them from behind. This is because rising artists had no way of printing thousands or even millions of CDs themselves, paying for performing venues, and receiving royalties.
Not every punk garage band from the mid 2000s had a professional grade recording and mastering studio just in the other room. Being signed to a label was essential because it provided artists with a platform and resources to do all of this.
THE WAY IT IS NOW
Being able to independently produce and publish music has lead to the possibility for artists to completely cut labels out of the equation.
Today, things have changed quite a bit, and it's in big part thanks to the way that technology has become more advanced, and more importantly, more accessible.
Now, with softwares like Ableton, Logic Pro X, or FL to name a few, anyone with a laptop and a microphone can produce a song from their own bedroom (giving birth to new
a new genre appropriately named "Bedroom pop"), and upload it to YouTube or Soundcloud where it can gain traffic and popularity on its own, all without any help from a label.
Being able to independently produce and publish music has lead to the possibility of massively cutting labels out of the equation.
WHY LABELS ARE LOSING
Today, major labels instead find themselves in a constant game of catch-up.
Since artists are able to rack up streams and gain a following independently, it means that when major labels find out about these artists, they're often the last. This is where the deadly game of catch-up comes in.
The major labels used to be able to dictate which artists made it and which ones didn't, simply by picking which ones they would sign and provide their resources/services to. Today, major labels instead find themselves in a constant game of catch-up, trying to keep up with which artists are up and coming, hoping to sign them and get their cut.
The same thing has happened with trends. Major labels are once again out of touch and forced to try to catch-up with whatever the latest trend is and hop on, hopefully before it dies out and another sprouts up elsewhere.
This is most clearly seen with the surge in marketing through social media platform TikTok, a place where everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame. After finally understanding the potential of TikTok for marketing, major labels have begun aggressive marketing offensives for their artists. This is best exemplified by the following video by Sainthoax, which went viral after it was reposted on instagram via Genius with the following caption:
@sainthoax just about summed it up with this one 😭. In recent weeks artists have opened up about struggles with their record labels over forced tiktoks, some citing withheld release dates until they secure a big viral moment. thoughts?
WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT FOR ARTISTS
Simply put, a major label can't do as much for you as it used to.
The appeal of being signed to a major label used to be that they were the ones who could take you above and beyond as an artist. They had the resources to professionally produce music, effectively market you as an artist, and get your music on platforms that you couldn't. Today, as seen above, you can do all of this yourself without leaving your room. Simply put, a major label can't do as much for you as it used to.
In fact, signing to a major label could easily harm you if you let your guard down. Historically, major labels haven't been known to look out for their artists' best interest, instead trying to maximize the money that they can make and giving the artist the smallest cut they can get away with. Today major labels most commonly do this through 360 deals, a contract agreement where labels entitle themselves to a cut of all revenue that the artist generates, whereas in a normal contract the label could only get a cut from music sales. Money from things like concerts or merchandise also go to the label now.
Entire books have been written on these kinds of things and horror stories about artists with their labels never run out. In the music industry, people generally state that only around 2% of record deals with major labels actually lead to a long-term and lucrative career for the artist. (If you're interested you can see the numbers in detail here).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Today, the roles have switched.
The changing tide in the music industry means that artists are more in control than ever. Artists used to be dependent on labels to take them to success, and it led to failure for the overwhelming majority of them. Today, the roles have switched. Artists are able to independently produce, publish, and market their music, and major labels find themselves forced to try to catch-up with whatever artists and trends are emerging, hoping to hop on in time.
It's hard to say where things are going next, but if the changing landscape of the industry tells us anything, it's that there's a lot for new artists to be excited about.