Thursday, August 16, 2012


The era of the major labels developing new artists is over.

The trend right now for folks under 30 or so is playlists. They want the music of their choice, in the order they choose, for as long as they want it to go. And since most people just don't have the time or the motivation to browse the internet for hours in order to track down what they want, a reasonably priced streaming service like Spotify or MOG is just what the doctor ordered.

It's streaming that will ultimately keep what's left of the "music industry" afloat; not lawsuits and other draconian tactics designed to reestablish a defunct paradigm. You have to roll with technology, not fight it. Just think what would have happened if there was a powerful horse-drawn carriage lobby in the 1890s!

But the more I think of it, the more I realize that there really is no reason for the majors to exist anymore, or at least as we know them now. Distribution? I can take one of my songs right now and upload it to YouTube, and anyone in the world can hear it near-instantaneously.

So that leaves marketing and promotion. The problem being, I don't see major labels promoting anything these days that doesn't have a shot at making the Top 40. If you're in a rock band, I would honestly question why you would ever sign with a major at this point. How are they going to help your career? By taking a huge percentage of your merch and tour receipts in a 360 deal that screws you eight ways from Sunday?

Wouldn't it be better to work with indy promoters and management, make your music available on the web via a streaming site, and focus on your music and building your fanbase? At least if you make it, you'll know that you got there on the strength of your sound, and not because you were forced upon a disinterested public via the hype machine. Instead you've built something that will last a lifetime-- a grassroots fanbase.

The majors are a modern day equivalent to The Emperor's New Clothes; yelling at anyone who will listen how they are entitled to keep the money machine rolling, while the general public simply laughs and points at them.


  1. I quite agree with you, sir.

    While I'm by no means advocating free file distribution sites (Napster when it was Napster, Megaupload stuff, whatever ... you know, the big bad "pirates"), there was something to be said about the exposure that many folks got to music they never would have otherwise heard.

    In these days of satellite radio, maybe folks have so much access to music that my point is flawed from the get-go. But hell, I'll keep going. Comment space is free, right?

    I bought a lot of music BASED on stuff I'd heard for free. I really did. A LOT of music. Not a CD, not 5 CDs, not a dozen CDs. We're talking, oh, probably in the hundreds. I pumped a lot of money into companies.

    What did I get in return? I read a lot of stories about artists ... established artists ... who weren't getting more than a fraction of that money back. I'm not ripping on the rich, spoiled, pampered stereotypes. I'm not ripping on Lars Ulrich. I don't disagree that a lot of established artists have it pretty good, but the fact is that even the artists making top dollar are still making less than the companies involved.

    Distribution can be an issue for indie companies, and that was a problem when physical copies were about the only way any artist was going to get music out to an audience larger than what they'd get through concert stops. As you pointed out, that's not the case these days. Heck, a lot of folks don't WANT physical releases. Clutter, lack of space, whatever. But you can get a huge audience online. Streaming? Downloads? YouTube? It's all how things are done now.

    I love vinyl. I buy a lot of vinyl. I love CDs. I buy a lot of CDs. But it's because I love the music, the artists ... not the industry.

    Major labels have played fast and loose with artists and fans for ages. (See Breakage Clauses, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, 1966/1967, the development of Brother Records, etc.) And the outrage they display as their corporate coffers take a hit ...

    Piracy IS a problem, to the extent that artists are not compensated for their efforts or works. But corporate piracy, the major-label variety, can be just as destructive if not more so (record deals that make slaves out of artists, advances that get recouped against accounts that only barely break even ... or don't break even at all, etc.).

    A lot of people (not all people, you will always have your freeloaders ... always) will pay for music if they like it. I was exposed to some Kiss music in the last few months. I'd only heard a couple of their songs before, couldn't claim to be a big fan. What happened? I ended up BUYING four of their albums. My exposure wasn't purchased, but the exposure led to purchases. (I doubt Kiss saw much money from those purchases, but that is kind of a part of the overall point ...)

    Anyway, I've belabored the points and haven't said anything you didn't say more concisely and effectively. But major labels, as good as they CAN be with exposure, tend to do artists few (if any) favors in the long run.

    Good luck finding new music that isn't Top 40 pap on mainstream radio. Good luck finding NEW music from CLASSIC artists even on classic rock radio! Promotion and support from the majors for talent at just about any level is flagging.

    But YouTube? Views/visitors/accounts just keep growing. People continue to download. There are more artists every day, new bands every day, and everyone is creating a website and putting their music out there and making fanbases.

    Music rules. Um, yeah, I'll end it there.

  2. Oh, and I buy a lot of indie music too. Stuff I get exposed to through YouTube clips and from exposure from friends.

    CDs? Digital downloads? Vinyl? Yup, I buy all of it, from "major label" to indie.

    Exposure counts. Exposure is uber important.

    Got into a Minnesota band called Pabst Blue Rebellion from hearing two songs played at an indie store, and then checking them out on YouTube. I'll never find their CD stocked at a Best Buy, and it'll never climb the Billboard charts. It's not Top 40 fodder, and the guys aren't Justin Bieber. Nor do they have Katy Perry's ... attributes. But I dig 'em more than I'll ever dig Nickelback.

    I'm ranting again. ;)

    Always dig what you bring to the table, sir.

  3. Didn't mean to hijack the thread ... My apologies, sir.

  4. Beautiful article, man. Haha, we gotta watch out, that horse-drawn carriage lobby is making big moves!

    I gotta wonder, who owns the hype machine? Who benefits financially from its continuance? I feel like ultimately, they're got loans to pay to the banks, so the banks own most of them. And the banking elites aren't cool with music no longer flowing through their system.

    Cheers to online grassroots creativity!

  5. Whoops, missed your post my friend!

    In essence, you're right. Corporations own the hype machine, and loans need to be re-payed. But as with nearly every other aspect of the business and public sector, executives are lining their pockets before the rest of the books get balanced.

    Bob Lefsetz talks way more eloquently about this then I ever could, as he's dealt with all the movers and shakers. I highly suggest anyone out there with more than a passing interest in the music industry start reading his blog daily.

    Definitely with you on the online grassroots creativity thang. Your blog and other ventures are a shining example of the workability of the new paradigm.

  6. And LOS -- Sorry I missed your thought provoking posts here. For some reason I never got around to reading the comments on this thread. But suffice to say, I do agree with everything you say. I think we're very much on the same page; though I may have utilized services such as Demonoid much more than you, I nevertheless have spent tons of money frequenting our local record shops here.

    The problem for the RIAA being, nearly everything I buy there is used!! Haha... I get to support our great local indie retailers and screw the Beast at the same time!