In the age of Pro Tools, SoundCloud and Twitter, many are asking: are record labels dying? The truth is, even though technology has changed the music business, record labels are more important than they ever have been. Here are 5 reasons record labels still matter.
1. They can make your music better
Decades before the dawn of the internet, the only way a band could record music to a professional standard was to get a record deal with a label who would buy them time in an expensive studio. Now, digital audio workstations (DAWs) and affordable home equipment mean musicians are able to record good quality music from their own bedrooms.
This might appear to make record labels less important, but even with these technological developments, it is still better to record music with a record label. Record labels, whether independent or major, are run by people with experience in the industry who know what kind of music your audience wants, and how to bring out the best in new artists. Smaller labels, like Billy Kenny’s This Ain’t Bristol, Claude Vonstroke’s Dirtybird, Hideo Kobayashi’s recently launched Fuente Music and krankbrother, are all run by experienced and acclaimed DJs who can help artists find their own sound and teach them everything they know.
On top of this, for bands with live instruments especially, that expensive studio time and access to the top producers is still something record labels can still provide, often leading to better sounding music.
2. They can perfect your PR
Thanks to social media, artist can now connect directly with their fans without the need for a record label’s PR. Even the biggest of signed artists use Twitter as one of their primary PR channels. Kanye West recently set Twitter alight with a Wiz Khalifa-skewering rant, followed by a Tweet in which he acknowledged that said rant would undeniably help his album sales. However, this is a double-edged sword, as some artists cause more harm than good with controversial moves like this.
Even though musicians can run their own social media, working with record labels and PR companies is the only way for an artist to receive maximum exposure. Music magazines, websites, billboards and other traditional forms of marketing are more effective at reaching a wider audience than an artist’s loyal followers. NME magazine for example, is seen by 300,000 commuters now it is free. A record label can ensure these traditional areas are covered.
Record labels can help artists with online PR too. Specialist companies and record label PR experts can help artists with their social media strategy, ensuring they make the most of these new platforms.
3. They can help with distribution
Digital technology hasn’t just made recording more accessible, it has also changed distribution. Even though streaming services may not help artists, the ability to directly release free music to a mass audience through SoundCloud and YouTube has appealed even to the biggest of signed acts. Artists like Drake and Kanye West have skipped over their major record labels, releasing songs directly to the public.
While self-releasing music is an option for unsigned artists, getting music onto popular distribution platforms like Spotify, Beatport and iTunes can be an arduous and sometimes expensive process. This is where record labels come in. Digital music distribution is not always straightforward or easy to wrap your head around. Record labels can advise artists on which platforms to distribute their music through, and can get the music onto those platforms for them, saving the musicians time and money.
4. They can help you make it big
Francis Moore of the IFPI says in a Telegraph article that even though the internet has changed things for the music industry, record labels are still “as vital to the careers of artists” as they ever were. Looking at a comprehensive report into the music industry, the IFPI found that it takes around £1 million of investment for a new artist to break into the mainstream. In fact, record labels actually invest more in finding, nurturing and promoting new artists than they have in the past, even though the industry is faced with declining record sales. Even though there have been some exceptions, to reach global superstar status, an artist needs the backing and investment of a label.
5. They can give you credibility
Even though the internet and modern technology has given anyone with a laptop the ability to make and release music to the general public quite easily, this doesn’t mean their music will necessarily be any good. Record labels can help here. Possibly the most important aspect of a label is its hard-won and long-honed identity. If an artist is signed to a label, listeners can know that a team of experts with their reputation at stake has decided to throw their weight behind this music. This stamp of approval can be the deciding factor for the listener spoilt for choice with thousands of songs at the tip of their fingers.
These are just some of the ways record labels can help artists. There is no denying that record labels still matter in the digital landscape. With a record label’s help and support, a musician can focus on what they do best: making great music.