October 08, 2007
Do Musicians Need Record Labels Anymore? Note: This is the first in what I'm hoping is going to be an ongoing thing. Each Monday I'll have a few posts about music: the music industry, musicians, etc. I've been writing a lot about music lately, and I want to keep on doing it, but there are other things I want to write about, too, so the music posts will go on Mondays, unless it's something breaking or urgent.
Techdirt had a piece today about musicians and "venture capitalists" (record labels). It made me think about the functions of a record label, and whether bands need them anymore. Lets think about what labels actually do for their bands: New Artist Discovery (A/R): This is actually something labels do more for themselves, but it's the first step in the process. It's the "discovery" event, when a band is "found" by a label.
This still happens, but with the rise of the Internet as a marketing device, and sites like GarageBand, Purevolume, and even MySpace, the fans are discovering the bands themselves -- sometimes before the labels ever hear about them. It's not hard to find new bands -- last.fm and iLike are just two ways that many people are using. So this is something we all can do for ourselves, if we put the effort into it.
Promotion: This actually ties in with A/R. And it's something that more and more bands are doing a wonderful job of themselves -- again, thanks to the Internet, and the web sites I mention above.
Bands are doing a great job of getting their music to their fans. They are recognizing that there are more ways to promote their music than on terrestrial radio. Musicians are generally creative people, and are able to go with new trends a lot faster than the suits in the music industry are.
Distribution: This is something that labels were essential for -- right up until (say it with me!) The Internet.
Radiohead is just the latest band to take advantage of online digital distribution. Places like Snocap and CDBaby are making it easy for musicians to sell their own music -- not to mention the impact that iTunes has had on music sales and distribution. Musicians have other options -- they don't have to go with a major label to gain fans.
Production: This is where the labels have an advantage. They have the money, so they have the technology. They've got the equipment to turn an also-ran band into the Next Big Thing(tm). There is a decided technology gap -- but it's narrowing.
Mixers aren't that expensive -- starting at about $70, and going up from there. Software is cheap -- try starting with FREE (Audacity) and going up from there. Run a four track mixer into a laptop and you're there. You're not going to duplicate a studio session in NashVegas in your basement, but you're going to get results you'll be happy with -- even if it takes you a little while to get it exactly the way you want it.
So if you've ever wondered why the music industry is losing money, and why they have to find scapegoats who share music online (more on that in my next post), maybe now you understand. The music industry folks may be starting to figure out just how irrelevant they're becoming, and they don't like it at all.
EDIT: OK, I just found out (thanks to this post that Snocap is now requiring an ISRC number for each song that's offered for sale through their service. That's a number given out by the RIAA. So Snocap may not be the indie-friendly option that I thought it would be.
RE-EDIT: Spoke too soon. Guess this shows why I should read all the news before I start blogging about it. ;-)
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