Are record labels relevant in the 21st century?

The music industry has changed so much since the start of the 20th century. With the emergence of rock and roll came a greater potential for monetary success. By the late 1960s  iconic rock stars were firmly embedded in modern culture, and easily made into a commodity.

The Beatles

By owning the rights to the music of artists, record labels have dominated the industry. Whoever controls content is king. In the past, recording equipment was extremely expensive and heavy, it wasn’t really possible for the average person to be able own any.  Record labels had the money and equipment needed to produce albums and market them. The industry was and is still very controlled by their coporate interests. Go figure that major corporations aren’t driven by artist integrity.

We could see the beginnings of the independent music movement through the emergence of artist/rap collectives like the Wu-Tang Clan in 1990s. Like minded artists pulling resources and talent to get greater exposure and fame, while maintaining a great deal of creative control. It can’t be Denied that Wu Tang did eventually sign to major label, but more so on their own terms.

Now it’s the 21st century and record labels are scared. They are losing the firm grip that they have had on the music industry for the past 60 years.  Technology has equalized a once monopolized industry. Equipment is cheaper, lighter and easily accessible. The information age has brought the internet, twitter, Facebook  and youtube. The reach of the independent musician is far greater than anything ever imagined in the 1960s.

Take Odd Future, Asap Rocky, Joey Badass; all of these artists have grown immensely in the past year using the internet. Making slick videos and releasing music for free. All of these artists are part of greater artist collectives with people working together to push everyone forward.

But it has to be noted that many of these independent artists like Joey Badass are on independent labels; these labels aren’t anything like Sony or Columbia.  So labels are still there, but they are serving different functions, more as a representation of the collective will of the artists like Pro Era.

Probably the greatest example of the internet music sensation is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Their video was realesed in April of 2012 and it now has 360 million views!

They actually hired a major record label to help with marketing, but produced the videos and music all themselves. This is pretty much where I see the relevance of record labels in the 21st century. They aren’t needed to produce music anymore or for distribution either. Marketing is what they are best at and I see them falling more and more into this role as the new generation makes it on their own…


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