Are Record Companies Becoming Irrelevant

This goes out to people interested in making and recording music, from your point of view relevant are major record companies and how relevant are they likely to become in the near future?

It seems to me the big companies certainly have the high budget studio equipment, skilled producers and promotional budgets, but they seem to be up against a wall. They simply are unable to stop people from copying their releases at their leisure for free (which I do not think I have much problem with since I take issue with the whole concept of intellectual property rights) and it is becoming increasingly easier for people working at home to produce high quality records for a fraction of what it previously costs.

Furthermore it seems that the majors are far more interested in over promoting a handful of big name, hyper-commercialized pop singers and rappers than they are giving the same degree of high level promotion to anyone doing anything more risky, experimental or out of step with current trends.

In some ways the current situation reminds me of the 1980s in which a blossoming network of small time independent labels developed on both sides of the Atlantic and were eventually able to make some of their artists house hold names. It seems that in the communication age we live in this could be even easier to do. The internet: websites, blogs, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and strike me as potentially as good of mediums for getting exposure for one’s music as the small time fanzines were a few decades back.

I largely believe that overcoming obscurity is the biggest obstacle to getting paid for ones work, and while a major record label may have a big promotional budget, they still are not going to sign everyone nor give everyone they sign the level of promotion they deserve. Furthermore major labels have a reputation for making interfering in the creative process, ripping off artist in bad, ambiguous or dishonest contracts and being generally problematic to work with.

It seems to me that the major label’s monopoly on recording ability is quickly decreasing. One can now make recordings from his or her own home for hundreds of dollars that could previously only be made in an expensive studio for thousands. The expenses and recording quality of artist working on a low budget is only going to improve as technology drives quality upward and expenses downward. I suspect this will increasingly allow unsigned artists to give record companies at all level of the market a run for their money.

I figure with the recording and production aspects or what a record company does, replaced my technology one can use anywhere, and with the internet playing a bigger role of in the promotion and exposure of artists, it seems like that all that is left that the record companies will be able to do is handling the business and management side of things, which I think many small time artist are able to do themselves anyway.

What I picture happening is increasing numbers of artist playing following the lead of artists like Radiohead or Death Grips, who have made their most recent releases available for free on their websites, but have accompanied the download page with a link where the listener can contribute as much as he or she likes for the album. My understanding is that this approach has generated revenue comparable to what would have been expected if these albums were released in the conventional fashion. I also picture streaming music or direct downloads from sites that use advertising revenue to compensate the artists as having a potential role in how listen to music in the future and I anticipate elaborating on this in a future post.

These days it one gets the impression that we have a wider range of music available to listen to than we have at any previous time. If you can name an a genre, sub-genre or describe a particular sound, a few minutes on Google can help you find contemporary acts playing in that style and doing exciting things with it. I would like to think that our living in such eclectic times and the increasing ability to make uncompromised music on a low budget will allow for a great influx of creativity. We shall see. It may have other consequences as well, but overall I see an upcoming future where the traditional model of reliance on major record labels is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

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