The Reign of the Record Label

Prior to embarking on this musical adventure, I knew very little about record labels. However Motown, this week’s genre, is actually a record label, and after reading  Dave’s piece about Chess Records, it seems it’s time to learn more…

Record LabelDefinition: the label on a record.

The Motown label as seen on this week's record.

Chess Records and Motown are both examples of independent record companies associated with a distinctive sound. A record company commonly specialises in a particular area of the music market, and signs artists that fit their brand. Domino Records is a good modern example of this, with their decidedly Indie Rock roster including Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys. Large record companies also specialise by creating (or buying) subsiduary labels, that can focus on a musical genre or style of artist. Since the 1930s, the music industry has been dominated by a few major labels that control a large number of subsiduary record companies. Currently, the ‘big four’ of the record making world share approximately 70% of the worldwide music market.

For an artist embarking on a musical career, the first step is to get signed by a record label. Record labels have huge departments devoted to discovering, developing and promoting new artists, and this expertise has been almost essential to success in the music buisness. However, newly signed artists get more than a team of industry experts prepared to send them to superstardom; record contracts also include a selection of agreemants that can leave artists financially and creatively constrained for years to come.

But this is the internet age, and the music industry has developed accordingly. The rise of social networking allows artists to build a following without leaving their bedrooms; from Lily Allen gaining popularity on MySpace back in 2005, to recent waves of YouTube musicians releasing their music via internet-based record labels (such as this one). If you have fans online it is easy to sell your music digitally – you don’t even need a record label. Even established artists have embraced the opportunities of the internet, perhaps seeing it as a way to regain control of their music, similarly to the way some artists start their own record labels. Radiohead enjoyed a storm of publicity in 2007 when they released In Rainbows as a digital download, allowing fans to choose how much they wanted to pay for the album.

The rise of record labels was due to the increase in demand for recorded music to take home. Labels have been forced to adapt to a market in which music can be downloaded easily, and sales of hard-copies of records are falling. In fact, it is now possible to listen to the music you want at home without spending a thing, as record companies sign up to streaming services like Spotify. The services that record labels originally provided are falling out of fashion, but the industry is beginning to capitalise on online opportunities, and  the record label is still going strong!

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One Response to The Reign of the Record Label

  1. Dave says:

    I was watching this and it seemed relevant to this. It’s an interview with my new idol Stewart Lee.

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