Saturday, October 13, 2007

Death of the "Record Label" (1898-2007)

Are record labels relevant at all anymore? Artists are shifting gears from relying on label support to continue as a business. Labels are fighting technology (mainly the interent) instead of embracing it and learning ways to profit from it. Is this the end of the "record label"?

Artists are scheming up new ventures and become more and more creative, in turn "sticking it to The Man". Physical music formats are becoming obsolete. CD sales are dropping so fast right now and these labels have their heads up their asses not knowing where to begin. Oddly enough, vinyl record sales are still somewhat strong in their niche markets (mainly DJ's, collector's and audiophile purists). Digital sales are skyrocketing (as are illegal downloads).

The first proper "record label" was set up in 1898. Incredible as it is, Deutsche Grammophon is still around today. 21 years after Edison's "wax cylinder," Deutsche Grammophon produced the first "shellac" record, or the first recording media that was reproducable.
  • 1980 the CD is debuted (in 1982 the CD reached the public market).

  • 1999 college student, Shawn Fanning, creates Napster

  • 2000 Prince, releases new album exclusively on his own through his website

  • 2001 the iPod is born

  • 2003 iTunes Music Store is born

  • 2005 YouTube first appears

now in 2007, we have:

  • Radiohead delivering their new album as a "pay whatever you want" concept from their website

  • Nine Inch Nails wraps up label deal to venture on their own

  • Madonna leaves Warner (her label since 1984) to take $120 Mil deal with concert promoter Live Nation

  • Paul McCartney teams up with a coffee retailer Starbucks and signs to their Hear Music label (as does Dave Matthews Band, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, etc.)

  • Eagles will release their new album exclusively through retailer, Wal-Mart

  • Oasis announces the release of the digital-only release

  • Jamiroquai ends SonyBMG deal telling the label to fuck off

  • RIAA sues consumer for file-sharing and wins suit

  • Amazon begins to offer digital downloads

  • Hot Grooves/Unique dealing direct with artists to release physical products when labels wont

  • Prince releases new album for free in UK paper, Mail On Sunday

  • Ray Davies of The Kinks, gives away new album via UK newspaper The Sunday Times
Will smaller artists be able to benefit from this? Will the film industry go this route? Social networking sites are just booming. MySpace, with over 200 MILLION "friends" began as a network for bands to promote themselves by online networking.

Meanwhile, Radiohead still wants to have physical formats in retail stores and will need a label deal for distribution. Live Nation will need a distribution deal to get Madonna's records in stores. So maybe Warner should now be kissing Live Nation's ass.

So maybe "record labels" still have some life. But it's going to be a whole new game and reinvention. A new era is about to begin. The traditional label model is done.

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