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In the past, it was essential to be signed to a label to succeed in the music industry. Major conglomerates such as Sony, EMI, and PolyGram used to control the world of music. Artists without backing from a large corporation would never get far.
But times are changing. Major record labels are becoming more redundant. There are now only three, with some of the major players of the past being merged into superpowers WMG, SME, and UMG.
Many artists are now finding success without the help of huge labels. This year, over 50% of Grammy nominees were either independent artists or acts signed to independent labels. Many independent labels still have major distributors, but there has also been a rise in artists distributing their work themselves.
Chance The Rapper is one example of an artist who’s had incredible success with independence. His 2016 album “Coloring Book” was released by himself to fans online. The album hit #8 on the Billboard rankings- the first streaming-only album to ever chart. It also has features from huge artists such as Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Justin Bieber. All of this from a rapper who refuses to sign a record deal.
Frank Ocean has also tasted the sweet rewards of independence. He managed to get out of his contract with the Def Jam label (owned by UMG) before releasing his 2016 album “Blonde”. Ocean created his own label, “Boys Don’t Cry”, and made a deal to release it through Apple Music. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts and Ocean has already racked up $1 million since going independent.
Going independent enables artists to assume more control over their careers. Instead of having to release records to a label’s standards and expectations, they have creative freedom. They also get to keep the money they’ve rightfully earned.
The Do-It-Yourself Approach
The problem with labels nowadays is they don’t offer artists much to justify taking their money. They were essential in the past for handling the expensive operations of becoming a music star. Nowadays, anyone can launch their music career themselves with the help of new technology.
Musicians can get pretty much anything they need doing through external services. For instance, if they need an album printed, websites like Nationwide can mass produce CDs or vinyl discs for them. Recording equipment and software is also much easier to get your hands on today.
In some cases, handling their own work can be more effective. The main way artists get noticed these days is through social media. They no longer need a major label to market them and their image. Many acts now get discovered through YouTube and SoundCloud.
If artists can build a following online, they can promote shows and sell their work to fans directly. There’s no need for a label to take the money off them when they can make it themselves.
A Growing Trend
Artists going independent is far from a recent development. There’s a long history of artists shirking major labels and turning to indie labels.
But artists gaining major worldwide success without any label is new. The modern technological age has brought about a much-needed change in the music industry.
Record labels may become obsolete if they don’t find ways to keep up. Either way, the trend of musical independence seems set to continue growing.