Record labels: are their years numbered?

Discográficas: ¿tienen los años contados?

Gone are the days when record companies were almost as valued, by music lovers, as the artists who worked with them. I still remember, in my case, how the opinion was changing, causing me to stop identifying them with the artists in their catalogs and, instead, to start to do so with actions that had little or nothing to do with music and culture, and a lot to do with the income statement.

The proliferation of the Internet did nothing but intensify that largely detachment from record companies and rights managers. And I can understand that they pursue indiscriminate downloads, but not that they pose multi-million dollar lawsuits, that they claim that a downloaded song is equivalent to a lost sale, that at their dictation legal frameworks as abusive as the infamous DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) have been established. ) and that the public powers have guarded so much in their favor and so against the rest of the world.

Today, the major record companies and film studios pressure to maintain a rights management system that has been shown to be abusive, and that for example, punishes content creators such as Jaime Altozano, causing YouTube to withdraw in 2018 a video (excellent, by the way, I saw it at the time) in which it analyzed the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings, for a complaint from Warner Bros. Did the video conform to what is called fair use and is it legally allowed? Yes. Did Warner still complain and YouTube removed the video? Yes.

I know from public statements that every day there are more artists who do not agree with the policies of record companies, but the problem is that until recently they were the only way for most of them to reach the general public. However, this is something that is changing thanks to the Internet. Not many will remember it, but Kim Dotcom, when he announced Mega, stated that he also wanted to launch a music distribution platform so that artists could reach consumers directly, bypassing record companies.

I also remember the first time I bought an EP and two Jennie Vee singles on Bandcamp, how happy it made me to be able to sideline record labels on this purchase and that the bulk of the benefit went to the artist. And I’m sorry, because I am aware that there are also record labels that are committed to doing things well.The problem is that three major record companies share practically the entire market, leaving a tiny space for the rest, as well as self-released artists and self distributed.

It seems, however, that this hole is getting bigger, little by little, but in what aims to be a paradigm shift. And it is that streaming services, direct sales stores and crowdfunding platforms offer artists the necessary tools to try their luck on their own, without having to sign for a record company. And while it’s difficult, social media can end up providing artists with the visibility that once was only achieved by artists supported by record labels.

The last sign regarding this change is found in a report published by MIDIA, in which in addition to verifying that music streaming services are the source of 61% of the income generated by the sector, we can read that non-label artists have exceeded $ 1 billion for the first time in history of income, a modest but interesting 5.1% of the total of the industry.

Every day there are more artists who discover there is life beyond record labels, and that although the means of diffusion of the same are important, new ways have been opened that allow to sign a successful career without going through them. The Internet has been a revolution for the world of music, and it may serve to end record companies, or at least them as we know them. Not in the short term, of course, but it will be interesting to put the magnifying glass on the evolution of these numbers, since they indicate a trend that sooner or later can change everything.

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