Why Bands No Longer Need Labels

The music industry has never been particularly kind to electro music. For all of its greatness, the genre has ever been definitively the ‘in’ thing, and has existed at the fringes of the mainstream music scene. Record labels – and especially large labels – have always been more interested in the mainstream. That’s where the majority of the money is to be made, and so it makes commercial sense for big labels to promote commercial music.

During the past twenty years, though, the way in which music is found, distributed, and promoted has changed beyond all recognition. When Napster was launched, many people thought it would destroy the music industry. Some people still believe it did. As much as many of us who were online twenty years ago enjoyed finding new artists through file sharing, we all knew that we were breaking the law by participating in file sharing, and damaging the music industry in the process. With their income streams dwindling, record labels became even more narrow in their focus. Their concentration on releasing only what they knew would sell became more intense, and the bands on the fringes found themselves missing out on the party altogether.

In practice, all this served to do was to accentuate one of the central flaws in the way that record labels behaved. To them, picking up bands and releasing records was all about the money. Bands were treated like mobile slots. A label would put their money in, see if they could make more out of it than they wagered on supporting the band, and then move on if they didn’t like the return. Mobile slots players don’t just stick with one mobile slots game – they’ll play a few and then move on from one as soon as they feel like they’ve extracted the most value from it. When that happens, the mobile slots game is left waiting for someone else to come and put some more money in it. If nobody does, the mobile slots game will be taken offline. In musical terms, that means bands are left without a label.

Is that such a bad thing, though? Do bands – electro or otherwise – even still need labels? We don’t think so, and this is why.

Anybody Can Get On Spotify and iTunes

Photo by Szabo Viktor on Unsplash

As the constant closure of high-street record stores proves, very few people now acquire music by going into a shop and buying physical music. When they do, they’re increasingly more likely to buy vinyl than anything else. Music is bought, sold, and discovered digitally – and for the majority of people, that means a streaming service like Spotify or iTunes. These streaming services aren’t just for record labels, though – anybody can put their music on there for a small fee. A number of websites exist that allow you to submit your music to the large streaming companies, and it generally costs $25 or less to do so. That means your music is available through the same source as any of the major players, and can be accessed in the same way.

YouTube Doesn’t Belong To The Labels

If we’re not listening to music through a streaming service, we’re probably using YouTube to do it. We can argue for as long as we want about the inferior sound quality of a YouTube video, but it doesn’t change the fact that millions of people are listening to their favorite bands or musical acts on YouTube while you’re reading this article. There are songs on YouTube which have been played over a billion times – and again, anyone can upload a song or video to the website. A band or artists who can pool a little money together can even pay for a basic video to be shot to accompany a song they want to release, so people have something to look at while they’re listening. Like Spotify, it’s a level playing field.

Social Media Marketing Is Available To Everybody

Apart from releasing music for you – which we’ve just established is a service nobody requires anymore – what else does a record label do? Promote your music. It’s the job of a label to get a band’s name out in front of a potential audience so they can find out about a band, and decide whether they want to spend money on obtaining their songs, or coming to see them play live in person. That’s also something you can take care of yourself. For a surprisingly low fee, bands can advertise their music to thousands of people at once on Facebook and Twitter. With Facebook’s marketing tools, you can even target people by location, age, and interest group. You can get your music in front of the audience you believe will be most receptive to it, and you don’t need a label’s help to do it.

Concerts Are Worth More Than Record Sales

Even though bands now make money from their songs being streamed, it’s still a pathetically low amount. Unless you can shift millions of albums, there isn’t much money to be made in selling music anymore. Music has become so widely available that ownership of it is almost worthless – why would anybody buy anything when they can stream it whenever they want for a small Spotify subscription fee? The answer is that they wouldn’t – and so they don’t. The only way to make money out of music in 2019 is to play gigs to lots of people – and you don’t need a label at all to help you do that. If you’re good enough, you’ll be able to attract a crowd in your home town. If you play well, the people who saw you will tell their friends about you, and more people will come next time. When you have a loyal following, they’ll come out of town to see you play. Your following will increase organically, and the size of the venue you’re playing will get bigger. That means more money in ticket sales for you – and you’re not losing any of the cut to a record label.

None of this is to say that a record label doesn’t have a role to play. With the right deal, a label can assist with promotion and boost your profile, but they’re no longer the be-all and end-all when it comes to how the music industry works in the 21st century. Too often, acts sign with labels because they want to ‘be signed,’ without any consideration given to what they’re getting out of the deal. Further down the line, they find that they no longer own the rights to their own music, and every penny they make is whittled away by record label percentages. It’s high time that bands stopped asking what they need to do in order to get signed, and started asking what record labels can do for them instead.

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