BUSINESS/ADMIN – When I think of “changing currents,” there are few industries I can name which reflect a sweeping shift in paradigms than the music industry. The music business is seeing a change like never before: the type of music artists make, the tools they use, and the preferences listeners display when interacting with their favorite music and artists. Gone are the days of the pure “record label,” now we see “music companies,” which attempt to be all encompassing. More profound than that, however, is the realization that there are many paths to success which do not require a record label at all – DIY, crowdfunding, and partnerships with brands all afford artists and listeners different possibilities for making the music experience meaningful.
A&R – At the heart of every record label has always been the Artists and Repertoire division (commonly abbreviated A&R), responsible for finding and signing new talent and subsequently acting as a liaison between the artists and the label. The term comes from this department’s traditional role of linking recording artists with songwriters and their compositions. Where A&R’s would traditionally scour music bars and clubs to find the next big thing – giving them the perfect excuse to show up late at the office – the advent of digital technology and the Internet has drastically changed the talent scouting process. Nowadays, a musician can blow up online overnight, before being on any A&R’s radar, leading to a new practice of finding tomorrow’s stars on music sharing platforms such as Soundcloud. Additionally, these online services also offer a large quantity of valuable information about the fans, their location and listening habits. Consequently, and as explained in a really insightful article by The Independent , record labels are increasingly relying on so-called Big Data and considering algorithms to identify talents to invest in. The days of highly influential A&R’s and their golden ears might be coming to an end soon.
PRODUCTION – One way that currents are changing in the music industry is the devaluation of recorded music. People started listening to music for free when Napster came along, and now with Spotify it’s actually legal. If and when companies like this move further toward paid subscriptions rather than ad-based revenue, this can potentially set things straight. However unless we eradicate this cultural notion that recorded music should be free, this will not work and recorded music will have to settle into the role of a mere marketing tool for tours. This scenario likely requires new streams of revenue for artists as well as higher concert prices. It may also require artists to travel more, which can be tough on family life.
CONTENT MARKETING & SOCIAL MEDIA – As major labels thrive to sell their music to the world with huge overcrowding marketing investments, indie labels focus on smaller groups of individuals that prefer music that breaks the rules dictated by tradition.
Due to the wide use of the Internet, these indie artists (signed by indie labels) are having increasing opportunities to work for brands, something that before was harder to accomplish. It is clear that in the very near future, indie labels will need to work with other companies, creating long-term healthy relationships that will help to promote the artist’s career and help the label’s financial survival in exchange of musical branding.
Blogs, music videos, podcasts, interviews, concerts… will, or should, be more and more common and frequent, regular and brand embracing making indie labels transform into a multi disciplinary company with a wider source of revenue than only music sales.
On the social media front, we tend to forget that it was only twelve years ago that the first social, music focused platform launched, making MySpace the digital habitat for artists. In other words, record labels are still getting used to the digital environment, especially now that this includes Facebook, YouTube, Soundcloud, Twitter, Instagram, and multiple other platforms. The labels that use their social media creatively have a big advantage over others.
For promotional purposes, good examples are Alt-J’s campaign for their latest release This Is All Yours, which fans could pre-stream through a personalized app that only activated in certain locations. Coldplay promoted Ghost Stories by hiding handwritten lyric pages in libraries and dropping Twitter clues with the hashtag #lyricshunt.
The biggest challenge to now is monetizing on social media. Theda Sandiford, VP of Commerce at Island Records, says that labels are waiting for this possibility but so far platforms have not been willing to fully integrate options.
LEGAL – When it comes to the legal landscape of the Music Industry, it’s important that we don’t judge a book by its cover. The last decade has given a bad reputation to the legal side of the industry, thanks to piracy, Napster, and incompetent executives. However, this tide seems to be turning – and it’s a about time!
It’s no secret that technology has been flipping business models upside down, and thus with every new wave of gadgets, laws and regulations have been implemented to adapt to the new environment.
In the next few years, it is likely that the copyright system will be streamlined.
Some of the archaic remnants of the traditional “Record Label” model will have been thrown out the door, replaced by digital strategies and democratic influences.
Yet, there are still challenges that remain. Streaming models are not sustainable, and will continue to give lawyers and accountants major headaches. As consumers gain more power, and labels lose it – it now becomes more important than ever to find an appropriate legal footing that: protects the artists, empowers consumers, and compensates all stakeholders in the industry.
It’s safe to say that progress has been made since the days of Napster. However, there is still plenty of paper work to do until the Amazon becomes a desert.
Written by the Disrupción Records team: Megan Himel (Operations), Elliot MacKenzie (A&R), Janay James (A&R) Michael Stanton (Production), Danel Illarramendi (Content Marketing), Claïs Lemmens (Social Media) and Alexander Foing (Legal)