In the Digital Age…Does a Band Need a Record Label?

Posted: March 28, 2013 in xxx
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So I had to write an essay for my college english class and of course I chose to write about music!! Thought I would share this because I learned a lot researching this paper and thought it was really inspiring for an unsigned band. It’s a but long but let me know what you guys think!

In the digital age of iTunes, YouTube and Twitter does a band need a major record label to be successful? There is no doubt that the Internet has revolutionized the music industry and completely changed the role a record label plays in a bands’ career. Twenty years ago artists depended on a major label signing to distribute and promote their music. Recording studios were expensive and a young band depended on a contract with a record label in order to purchase the studio time and make their music. Music was also entirely distributed by record stores and big box retailers; the only way to have a record on the shelf was to have distribution and promotion from a major label. However in today’s world, anyone with a laptop and an imagination can record music and anyone with the will and desire to learn can successfully distribute and promote their music through websites like iTunes, BandCamp and ReverbNation. In 2012 alone we saw huge commercial success from artists like Macklemore, a Seattle based rapper who reached the #2 spot on the Billboard Top 200, all without the help of a record label. He has actually chosen to remain an independent artist and release his own music in order to keep full creative control. The need a young artist once had for that record deal has died, and a new entrepreneurial attitude has been born.

When Napster entered the scene in the late 1998, fans were able to download music for free and no longer paid the $12.99 or $15.99 price when buying through a retail store. This was the beginning of the end for the major labels and record stores and the romance they had together for many years. Record sales in the U.S. have gone from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $6.3 billion in 2009 in just 10 short years. However there has recently been an increase in music sales specifically in digital downloads form iTunes. In 2012 digital downloads saw a 14% rise in their market share and there is no sign of slowing down. For an unsigned or independent label band, this means that they can sell their music directly to the fans, they no longer need the label to pay manufacturing or distribution costs with digital downloads.

Another aspect the labels’ used to provide an emerging act was publicity. Before the age of the Internet a band depended on a label and their connections with large media publications like Rolling Stone to promote their work. Today with Facebook, Twitter and countless other social media avenues, artists are able to have a direct connection with fans. Recently the development of applications like BandsInTown alert fans when an artist they like is touring through their city. Since the “death” of record sales, many artists find the majority of their revenue from touring and merchandise sales. The industry has also seen explosive growth with music streaming and sharing services like Spotify and Pandora, which serve as a tool for new music discovery. Social Media has completely changed the game when it comes to public relations and promotion, anyone with Internet knowledge and the desire to learn can use these tools to promote their work.

There is a saying that “change is the only constant” and in the last 10-15 years the music industry has been on an evolutionary fast track. Major labels are going bankrupt and merging, at this point in time there are actually only three labels considered to be “major” (of course the do have some subsidiaries). We have seen explosive growth of the “indie label” as well as artists’ releasing music entirely on their own. In my opinion, this is a very exciting time to be involved in music, never before has the playing field been so even. A band today has limitless possibilities as to where they can take their career. The age of the major label is gone and in place we have young, motivated artist/entrepreneurs who are fueled by passion and armed with technology.


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