Why Major Labels Are the Best Thing That Happened to Artists…

In this article entertainment attorney Steve Gordon, author of the Future of the Music Business, explains why the decline of the major labels is a bad thing for artists.

I. The Decline


Source: Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)

The above graph shows that accounting for inflation, income from recorded music has declined approximately 65% from its high point in 1999.  Since the major labels (Sony, Warner and Universal and their wholly owned affiliates such as Atlantic, Capitol, Def Jam, Interscope, Motown, Epic and Columbia) distribute 85% of recorded music, they’ve been hit the hardest.

But so have the major indies such as Beggars Group, Mute, SubPop and Domino.  As a result they have less money to sign and support new artists.


II. Why This is Bad for Artists

Nobody ever accused the majors of being saints. In fact, they used to, and continue to do a number of really shitty things.  For example;

– strip the artists of their copyright interest in their recordings under “work for hire” clauses;

– reduce the artist’s royalty with inflated or totally unjustifiable deductions such as an inflated 25% packaging deduction, and a 10% “net sales” deduction based on no expense at all;

– they reduce the artist’s mechanical royalty for songs they write by 25% (the infamous “controlled composition” clause);

– they pay the artist a royalty equal to the royalty for normal retail sales (generally around 15%) for paid downloads, even though the labels do not sell any records to iTunes or other download stores, but rather authorize, that is, provide a license to such stores to sell downloads, and artists have traditionally received 50% of income from licensing income; and

– most artists signed to majors (and many indies) are receiving absolutely nothing from advances payable to the labels from Spotify and other interactive streaming services.

Yet for all these sins and others, the declining fortunes of the majors and leading indies is a bad thing for artists.  That’s because the labels help artists, but not as many as before, by doing all these things:

– they get them on commercial radio, which is still a key to mainstream success;

– pay for tour support and arrange for them to play as opening acts for already established artists and stars;

– pay for production costs, including hiring star producers;

– pay for top line video directors and video production costs;

– book them on popular TV shows; and most crucially

– pay advances so an artist can quit their day gig and focus full time on music.

An Ad Age article published today, in which I am quoted, drives my point home.  The article is “Capitol Music Unit Holds First New York Upfront” and describes how Capitol Records organized an event at Manhattan’s City Winery to introduce three of their new artists, and got brands such as HBO and advertisers such as Ogilvy and Mather to attend.

This is the kind of priceless marketing that most unsigned artists can’t do on their own, and usually can’t get anyone else to do for them — unless they have the financial means to pay for it.

In this case, Capitol paid the bill.  Yes, the label may deduct a portion of that bill from future income, but at least the event provided three new artists with a real opportunity for financial success.

Sadly, although the Internet allows unsigned artists to potentially reach a worldwide audience via aggregators who can get their records on digital music services, none of these players offer any of the benefits above.  Not the aggregators – such as TuneCore and CD Baby, both of which actually takes money out of the artists’ pockets; not the digital services such as iTunes and Spotify, which will usually do nothing to promote an unsigned artist; and not social networks like Facebook, which like the aggregators will take money from an artist in exchange for “boosting” their songs.

So maybe the bad old record companies were not that bad after all.  Or maybe the new “opportunities” that the Internet provides are much worse for artists than the labels ever were.


III. Conclusion

Think of this, the great executives of the glory days of major labels, and the artists they were most closely associated with:

Clive Davis of Columbia, Arista and then Sony: Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Santana, Aretha Franklyn, Whitney Houston and Lou Reed;

Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic and then Warner: Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Otis Redding, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Neil Young;

Berry Gordy of Motown and later Universal: The Jacksons, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, The Supremes and James Brown;

Walter Yetnikoff of CBS Records and later Sony: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, and Michael Jackson.


What name would you associate with TuneCore or Facebook?


63 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    “Labels Are the Best Thing That Happened to Artists”

    That’s not true anymore — YouTube Music Key changes everything:

    If you sign with a major today, you also sign with Google. And if you sign with Google, you’ll never sell a record again! (Your entire catalogue will be available as free downloads on YouTube on release day. Nobody will need iTunes anymore.)

    So it’s essential to avoid major labels today if you wish to make money as a recording artist.

    From Google’s contract:

    “Catalogue Commitment and Monetization. It is understood that as of the Effective Date and throughout the Term, Provider’s entire catalogue of Provider Sound Recordings and Provider Music Videos (including Provider Music Videos delivered via a third party) will be available for the Premium and Free Services for use in connection with each type of Relevant Content, (excluding AudioSwap Recordings, which will be at Provider’s option) and set to a default policy of Monetize for both the Premium and Free Services, except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement. Further, Provider will provide Google with the same Provider Sound Recordings and Provider Music Videos on the same day as it provides such content to any other similarly situated partners. The foregoing will be subject to reasonable quantity of limited-time exclusive promotional offers (in each case, with a single third party partner) (“Limited Exclusives”), as long as a) Provider provides Google with comparable exclusive promotional offers and b) the quantity and duration of such Limited Exclusives do not frustrate the intent of this Agreement.”

    • Sebastian Wolff

      “And if you sign with Google, you’ll never sell a record again!”

      It would be ideal to back up your alarmist prose with verifiable statements, rather than misguide people into accepting your defeatist attitude.

      • TuneHunter

        Google is run by LAWYERS programed to fuel adholizm of the owner!

        I hope we can find one insider that can comprehend that value of music is 20x bigger than the value of ad income around free music. Then Google will switch the business model and we will have $100B music industry by 2020 with Google boy controlling 50% of the pie.

        • Johnny Bashful

          If the value of music is 20 times greater then that of advertising, how come radios and televisions business model has revolved around selling advertising space around the music or tv shows etc. for the longest time now? free or paid…

          Them getting it for free keeps their costs down and they are not to blame, the creators etc. are for tossing the baby out with the bath water all thanks to at best mediocre propaganda AND the first creators if the internet/network are somehwat at fault for not building it properly… A slight oversight on their part and not due to any scheme or plan or anything, i think it all just kind of happened but so far it seems everyone is really dragging their feet on providing any long term solution and instead just continue to siphon and pillage…. Which really kind of demotivates and uninspires me all the rest of the way…



          – Johnny Bashful

          • TuneHunter

            Radio and TV, until today couldn’t establish buyer/seller relationship!
            Now, thank you to technology and Discovery Moment Monetization both Radio and TV can become simple music store.

            We just need to contain all music and lyric ID services like Shazam, Google or Soundhound.

            Less than 50 entities have to be educated and rewarded with GOLD to kill most of piracy and bring happiness to musicians, music industry and lost music shredders!

          • Anonymous

            i have know idea what you are even talking about…

            What jurisdiction are you in??

            Again, i do not understand anything you are saying, but thanks for clarifying…

      • Anonymous

        “It would be ideal to back up your alarmist prose with verifiable statements”

        Here are the facts:

        * Google’s new contract forces you to make your entire catalogue available for free on YouTube on release day.
        * All major labels signed that contract.
        * We won’t pay for your music anymore. We get it for free — on release day, no windowing allowed — without breaking any laws.

        • TuneHunter

          Just show Google $50B YouTube as a central hub of $100B music industry and agreements will be revised.

  2. Johnny Bashful

    Oh wow, they pay for prioduction costs and other things in regards to promoting and working the Masters, the Copyrights, both of which they own?? And that’s done under shady practices and contracts and they get the artist to recoup some or all of it??? …

    That’s a positive?

    That’s worse then Banks with their mortgages. At least once you finally make your last mortgage payment you sort of kind of own the thing, with record labels they still own it, but hey, the artist gets rich and famous right, so its a worthwhile trade off for most, cause their big egos just need that stroking…

    Anyways that’s called a scam in my books.

    Advance, good, steipeend good, how they seem to account for it, bad… That’s why they wait until an artist is either down on their luck working some shitt job and then swoop in as the saviors or else wait until the artist has done and funded all the hard work that gets them to apoint the label can take a swing and just making money… This allows them to make jack moves and it appears artists have accepted it. Anything not to be some office drone slave and any way to be famous i guess, who knows… oh well… good for all of them, well done, life is short, and they will all go down as the greatest most important people ever, so no hard feelings, super congrats to everyone…

    If i was ever able to get myself to that sort of position where a label would be interested, id much rather make a move with a tech or telecom or angel investor and leverage around those ways, as charts and the label wheel isnt really what i need… but even then i dont know… who knows who knows…

    For me its all just further reasons to never sign with a label, ever…

    That being said, labels are still the ones who support music the most and are responsible for being a part of the best music ever made, and while rapists, they do support artists and creators and music far more then most, and for that they get a pass from me…

    Don’t see myself signing with one, especially as an artist, but im not like one of those evil label people. I’d work at an arms length with them providing their artists with services, as a producer, writer, etc. But dont really wanna be an employee under policieis and procedures getting slave driven, even if the public perception is of superstardom superman cushy lap of luxury shit…

    Pretty tired of the whole war thing going on, rather frustrating… Beach and babes and enough money to keep the wolves away and zero responsibility and im pretty good to go…


    – Johnny Bashful

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      ugh, super apologies on the spelling and grammar mistakes… used to editing posts to satiate my desiire of pedantry…

      Will start writing them elsewhere and editing to ensure im posting only immaculately constructed posts…

      Again super sorry for any spelling mistakes…

      – Johnny Bashful

      • FarePlay

        Paul, to leave Warner Brothers out of your list is well, inexcusable. They were the label where everyone wanted to be. People like Yentnikoff were second generation, well I’ll just leave it at that.

  3. anonymous

    Oh wait a minute: Why don’t we look at the whole chart that goes back to 1973 and not just start in 1999 when revenues peaked: http://dmnrocks.wpengine.com/permalink/2014/08/26/music-industry-1973-2013?utm_content=buffer8e275&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    What do you know? Adjusted for inflation, revenue was just about as bad in the early 1980s as it has been the last few years.

    If the trend continues downward or things stay the same for another few years, then I’ll be more convinced that things have been forever transformed for the worst. But if revenues start to slowly grow in the next 2-5 years, who is to say that we may not be headed back up.

    Major labels helped bring some great music into the world. But the mechanical music business didn’t start in 1999 or even 1973. It started in the late 19th century. So rather than comparing the digital music business of 2014 (which is around 20 years old) to the mechanical music business of 1999 (which was over 100 y/o at that point), perhaps we should be comparing it to the mechanical music business of 1914 (when it was 20 year old or so).

    I know we don’t have good data going back that far, but I suspect that adjusted for inflation, music revenues in 1914 were considerably lower than they are now. But over the next 85 years, the trend was more up than it was down. So perhaps we should wait and see what happens here too. Things could suck. But they might work out better than expected too.

    • steve gordon

      Accounting for inflation, here are revenues in 2014 dollars since the RIAA started tracking income from recorded music:

      1973 – $10.5 billion
      1990 – $20.3 billion
      2013 – $6.9 billion

      • hippydog sitestillwillnotletmelogin


        and if you adjust for the economy (the 70’s economy was more robust then it is now), and adjust for the # of entertainment choices..
        I quickly comes clear that its the Compact Disc that brought in those “wonderful money making times”, not so much the labels..

        • Paul Resnikoff
          Paul Resnikoff

          What do you mean, ‘not the labels’?

          The CD was a collaborative effort between Phillips and Sony, owner of Sony Music Entertainment. They helped to create, and ultimately benefit, from the extremely successful format transition that ensued.

          • jw

            Oh please. Give me a break, Paul. As the proprietor here, you ought not be spouting such revisionist bullshit.

            Everyone knows the CD came out of Sony/Phillips’ work on the laser disc player, which the record labels had nothing to do with. The name “compact laser disc” didn’t roll off the tongue, but that’s what it was. Furthermore, the labels… SURPRISE! SURPRISE!… resisted the CD, & wanted to extend the life of the album.

            “Under the heading ‘Die schwarzen Riesen schlagen zurück’ (The black giants strike back), an extensive article appeared on 21 August 1981 in the German newspaper ‘Die Zeit’. Because Philips and Sony had announced the Compact Disc, while the major US record labels CBS, Warner and RCA wanted no part of it. Everyone had to keep their hands off the good old LP.”


            How many years is it going to take before you start to credit major labels with the invention of the mp3? Or maybe the iPod? Or maybe streaming?

          • hippydog_site_still_will_not_let_me_login

            Quote “What do you mean, ‘not the labels’?”

            what do you mean by misquoting me 😉
            When I clearly wrote “not so much the labels” ;>)

            i’m sure the music side of sony had “something” to do with it..
            but the huge majority of the planning, designing and implementation was handled by the hardware side..
            two different divisions of the same company..

  4. jw

    I’d love to hear a story about a major label act getting a placement on an HBO through one of these winery events, if there is one. Seems to me you’re more likely to end up on Girls or True Blood as an indie band than as a major label act.

    Labels aren’t the only ones who can get you a publishing deal or a good booking agent or publicist. Sure, they can get them for you. But you don’t necessarily have to sell your soul for those things.

    Honestly, the chances of you really “making it” via major label cash infusion or as an independent act through working your ass off are probably about the same. Your comment that you need a major label advance to do music full time is totally disingenuous.

    The reality is that back in the ’90s, you could be a one hit wonder, or you could get a great support slot on a big tour & you could turn that into a career. Now a days, you can have a huge hit & be a nobody in 12 months. There’s just too many acts making good music, too much information coming through your twitter feed, too much cultural churn. And the “worst case scenario” now is a lot different than the worst case scenario of yesteryear, primarily because of 360 deals. You could record a terrific record, get a great support slot, & if it doesn’t stick, the label could stop pushing you & you’re stuck giving them a cut of all your hard work… the touring, the merch sales, endorsements, whatever. And then what do you do?

    And OK Go, who was being totally neglected by their label at the time, proved that you don’t need a big budget & a name director to go viral with a video. And then they proved it again several times over. For every Gangnum Style, there’s a whole band huddling around a single guitar covering Gotye & racking up millions of hits. You don’t need shiny Puff Daddy suits & helicopters to get Carson Daley to shill your wares anymore.

    The truth is that you’re making a pretty ridiculous statement by saying that labels are the best thing for ALL artists. They’re not. They’re the best thing for some artists, who look a certain way & sound a certain way & who need a whole bunch of money behind them to be successful. And they’re certainly the only way to reach a certain level of celebrity, & maybe a certain level of money, if that’s really what you want. But that’s not most artists. It’s actually a minority of artists, & it’s no one I’m personally interested in. There’s a very respectable level of success that you can reach, if you’re good enough & you work hard enough & surround yourself with the right people… one that’s comfortable & sustainable, & what’s wrong with that?

    When you were writing this, did it not feel like a fluff piece? Do you write this stuff to get invited to these winery events?

    • Johnny Bashful

      The reality is that back in the ’90s, you could be a one hit wonder, or you could get a great support slot on a big tour & you could turn that into a career. Now a days, you can have a huge hit & be a nobody in 12 months. There’s just too many acts making good music, too much information coming through your twitter feed, too much cultural churn. And the “worst case scenario” now is a lot different than the worst case scenario of yesteryear, primarily because of 360 deals. You could record a terrific record, get a great support slot, & if it doesn’t stick, the label could stop pushing you & you’re stuck giving them a cut of all your hard work… the touring, the merch sales, endorsements, whatever. And then what do you do?

      Yeah seems music is one of the last places to be, except for those already tenured and established…

      Sad thing these days is there isn’t a lot of positivity and hope about any field going forward, its all the same thing these days, settle in for a life long road of long hours and low pay, likely doing something you dont want to…

      I remain hopeful i will find something i enjoy that will bring the money in how it needs to come in.

      One thing for sure, that i know for me, music is certainly out, unfortunately, too much competition, too much supply, too much collusion, zero security in anything and for me its been hugely embarrassing and humiliating and has ruined my reputation and my character and it seems each millisecond i spend in it my future chances of success in anything go down and down and down… Unless you 20 or thereabouts or some rick kid r family member, its a bad play to get into music anymore…

      – Johnny Bashful

        • Anonymous

          yeah it is on my list of things to do… well i have a blog per say and some websites etc. but a focused honed in music blog is on my list of things, its just my list right now is ordered in money making potential and i dont know how well blogs are doing and how long it takes most to build it to the point it makes monetary sense…

          time and more importantly, free time is very fleeting in this world and these monetary based jurisdictions…


          • jw

            I actually meant that in the most condescending, disdainful way possible.

          • Johnny Bashful

            Yeah no worries, you and everyone else in the music industry, its the treatment im used to from all yall!!!

            That being said most definitely thinking about a music blog, then yall can come around and flip and lip me off there, publicly and directly, instead of all the vague back face bullshit your industry seems to have decided i deserve…

            Thanks for the advice, very appreciated, and dont worry about the condescending remarks, go harder at me if you need, i mean check out some of the top players and see how fucking hard they go at me, so it aint like you gonna hurt me or damage me… Yall have fucked my career right over anyways, so again, take your shots, have your fun, thats what i appear to be here for…


            – Johnny Bashful

          • jw

            I’m not surprised your career never went anywhere. You’re a complete & total narcissist.

          • GGG

            Dude, you’re more delusional than Yves Villenueve, which I didn’t think was possible. None of us had any idea who you were when you started posting. After a while you’ve ruined your own reputation. You embarrass yourself, quit blaming everything on the business.

            Also, let’s see 1 ounce of proof any “top player” even knows who you are, let alone gives a shit to even “go hard at you.” You’re a nut. Again, seek help.

    • Steve Gordon

      Just for the record, my title for this piece was: “Why the Decline of the Major Labels is a Bad Thing For Artists”

      • Anonymous

        “Just for the record, my title for this piece was: “Why the Decline of the Major Labels is a Bad Thing For Artists””

        So Paul totally hijacked your story! 🙂

        OK, this is a way more interesting discussion.

        I happen to think there’s a lot of good things to say about DIY — if you can afford it (and 99.9% can’t) — but yes, we can certainly thank the majors for most of the songs we all love.

        And no, Facebook and Google will never create a new Dylan. That’s not what they do — and it’s certainly not what they want!

        • Anonymous

          “And no, Facebook and Google will never create a new Dylan. That’s not what they do — and it’s certainly not what they want!

          Especially because the first thing a new Dylan would do is to trash Facebook and Google…

      • jw

        Fair enough. Paul does tend to sensationalize things.

        But I maintain that the decline of the major label doesn’t effect most artists.

        • Anonymous

          Here’s what affects most artists: Criminals like you, jw.

          You are the reason labels can’t afford to develop new talent!
          You are the reason labels can’t afford to produce new, experimental music!
          You are the reason popular artists can’t make a living from the songs people love!
          You are the reason consumers have to settle for Katy Perry, 50 Shades Of Gray and Spiderman — again, and again, and again!

          • jw

            Spider-man? Really? You want to bring Spider-Man into this?

            This is actually a very revealing comment, I think. I can spend $10 per month on Spotify Premium, $10 per month on Beats (which I never even use), & then hundreds & hundreds more on vinyl, cd box sets, & concert tickets, & I pirate *1* album, & you’re willing to write me off entirely as a music consumer.

            It’s hard to believe that someone could be soooo dogmatic, so completely unaware of net-positive versus net-negative. That you could ACTUALLY in your head truly believe that one pirated album (of an album that wasn’t available for streaming) somehow has more negative impact than all of my regular purchases put together.

            The fact of the matter is that my downloaded album was inconsequential. The problem is not people pirating music, it’s people not buying music. You’d just as soon have me rotting in jail, spending $0 on Spotify, $0 on Beats, $0 on vinyl & $0 on concert tickets. You’d rather me pay tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands to the RIAA, which would end up in the pockets of lawyers, not artists. You’d rather my subsistence be subsidized by artists’ & songwriters’ tax dollars. Wouldn’t you? Because that would satisfy your ego, despite all of the damage that it would ACTUALLY do to artists & songwriters.

            It’s becoming very clear to me that people who subscribe to your position are just sort of crazy. Out of touch with reality. There’s no hope of finding a solution to the industry’s issues by querying people like you. You’re just trying to satisfy your own ego by attacking very genuine, very positively contributing music fans on the basis of your own subjective moral complaints. Ultimately, you do not have the songwriter’s or the artist’s well-being in mind, you’re simply trying to correct behavior that you personally disagree with because you feel slighted in life. Your quest is detached from the greater cause, which is the recovery, or perhaps rebirth of the recorded music industry. You’re an aberrant digital warrior, whose purpose is very selfish, & very damaging to the people you claim to support. You’re deluded if you believe that your hardline stance against piracy does any good whatsoever for the struggling recorded music industry.

            Every time you define me as a pirate, it makes you look more out of touch with reality.

      • hippydog site+still+will+not+let+me+log+in

        much better headline.. Paul Should of stuck with it 🙂

  5. Ari Herstand
    Ari Herstand

    This is absurdly incorrect and flawed. The examples cited were from 40 years ago. The industry is in a renaissance and is being rebuilt from the ground up. There are actually thousands of names associated with Tunecore (and CD Baby) that are defining this new industry. Just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just because they haven’t cracked top 40 (however some have) doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy. Is your sole definition of success a hit song?

    What about the major labels current 98% failure rate? For every Beyonce and Rihanna there are 98 other great acts who get dropped after their first release. Think on that for a second. 98 out of 100 acts that the majors sign, fail. And not just get dropped. The labels continue to own the rights to the recordings and typically have re-recording clauses preventing the artists from going at it on their own. In effect, signing a death warrant for the artist. How is this good for the industry? Suffocating and squashing so much talent?

    If you define success as making a good living, then there are literally tens of thousands of artists with Tunecore and CD Baby (and Loudr and DistroKid). Again, just because they aren’t topping the charts (however some have), doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And the sole measure of your analytics of success is record sales? Come on, enter into the 21st century! Record sales don’t matter anymore. You MUST include every metric of an artist’s full income stream. And recorded music is becoming a smaller piece of that pie, but the pie is getting larger.

    +How 10 Musicians Make Good Livings In Today’s Music Industry

    +Fans Aren’t Going To Pay For Music Anymore. And That’s Ok

    Want Tunecore success stories?
    * Pretty Lights – Grammy nominated, makes millions on his concerts, 858,000+ Facebook Likes
    * Ron Pope – 50 million+ Spotify plays. Successfully tours the world, 165,000+ Facebook Likes
    * Lecrae – Grammy WINNER
    * Boyce Avenue – 6.1 Million YouTube Subscribers – successfully tours the world
    * David Choi – Over 117,000,000 YouTube plays, hit #1 on iTunes charts and successfully tours the world
    * Sonia Leigh – successfully tours the world
    * Jay Nash – Successfully tours the world
    Literally thousands more

    CD Baby success stories?
    * Macklemore
    * Ingrid Michaelson – “The Way I Am” HUGE radio hit (#37 on Billboard Hot 100), 867,000+ Facebook Likes
    * Joe Purdy – successfully tours the world, 40,000+ Facebook Likes, 10+ million Spotify plays
    literally thousands more

    And asking “What name would you associate with …Facebook” just shows how out of touch you are. No, Facebook is not a music network. Or known for music. Or breaking artists. And Facebook has actually gone out of its way to reduce music discovery. Unlike Myspace – where there were actual stars of Myspace. A better question is, “What name would you associate with YouTube?” And there, again, are literally thousands of stars making a living on their music. With thousands (sometimes millions) of fans.

    Again, just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    “TuneCore and CD Baby, both of which actually takes money out of the artists’ pockets.” Yeah, you’re right. $50 is gonna sink them. Passing on 91-100% of royalties. Please. No one takes money out of artists’ pockets more than major labels. No one.

    While important to have these conversations, your article is destructive to the conversation when the research has so many omissions and flawed assertions. For someone who’s written one of the most successful music business books, I expect more Mr. Gordon.

    • woods_pj

      i’m not quite following you on this. all you’ve pointed out is that artists can make a good living making commercial jingles, music for tv shows and promo spots

      well that’s not anything really new, there have always been music for tv shows and movie trailers and people that get paid to make them.

      are things really that bad to where we are looking at people who make music for commercials as the same as professional recording artists? is the bar really being set that low?

      sad times we’re living in

      • Ari Herstand

        None of the artists I listed became successful from TV jingles. Not sure what you mean here.

    • Anonymous

      Yup lots of success stories out there…

      That new industry thing didn’t work for and wont work for me unfortunately, so it cant be a us against them or a one way only… How those people reached such huge levels of success i have no idea…

      All ive ever experienced in any music biz is ultimate and catastrophic failure…


      • Anonymous

        i also have to wonder, if these sort of cottage success stories are due to the quality of their work and their charismatic extroverted personalities, or is it that whole war and sides thing? Are they propelled to those levels of success and supported because of the stick it to the man down with hollywood screw pop music type thing still going on everywhere??

        Cause hard work aint never did shit but brought people around to steal from me, for me anyways…

    • Vail, CO

      Just because you haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

      Ari you seem to think that squeaking out a living and actually being able to tour is a success story. That’s survival and not having to take a day job (barely), it’s not real success.

      Ari, the major labels built massive artists that turned into mini-corporations, just look no further than enterprises that surround Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Grateful Dead and you will see what I mean. Even Amanda Palmer can credit her success ultimately to Warner Music Group.

      They essentially created FAME, which is a bank-able commodity and requires massive resources and time. That’s not survival and squeaking out a living with crumbs.

      THAT’S what Steve Gordon is talking about.

      • Ari Herstand

        Since when did $100K+ a year (what most of the successful indie artists I listed… some earn into the millions) mean “squeaking out a living?”

      • jw

        You don’t think Ray Charles was famous? On independent Atlantic Records?

        The labels didn’t create fame, they just created gate keepers that kept others from accessing fame. Now the internet is allowing artists to take fame back. The gates haven’t been totally busted open, but there’s a crack, & it’s getting wider every day. And Macklemore proves that even the heights of celebrity are achievable as an independent artist.

        It’s one thing to say, as a simple observation, that major labels can accomplish certain things. It’s another thing entirely to say that they invented everything & they’re owed anything, & that things are out of reach for everyone else. That’s horse shit. They deserve credit for nothing other than buying all of the great independent labels that built the industry. And maybe streamlining distribution. If you disagree, you need a history lesson. Other than distribution efficiencies (which are pretty much irrelevant today), most of what major labels have added to the equation has been bad bad bad bad bad.

        Furthermore, you think a major label deal guarantees you wealth & fame? Far from it. Specifically, I think of a friend who’s in one of the most successful indie americana acts in the country, & how down and out he was on a major label with his previous band. The label didn’t even put the record out (and the record remains one of my favorite albums of all-time). It was a drawn out shit show that almost ended his career.

        It’s a crap shoot, one way or the other. And there are specific obstacles to navigate either way you go, but at least if you stay indie you have more control of your own destiny. Which is to say you can at least guarantee your album will come out.

        I mean, there’s struggling acts on major labels. And there are struggling independent artists. But there are “moderately successful” indie artists who are waaaaaaay better off than a lot of, maybe even most major label acts. You don’t NEED as much exposure to make more money if you keep your 360. And so you might look at those acts, who are comfortable & successful on their own terms, & you might roll your eyes at them. But I roll my eyes at the major label acts who are have the stylist & the hot producer & the six figure marketing campaign & can’t sell 10,000 copies. Debt, debt, debt. I’d rather be the former than the latter. And the reality is that there’s guys quietly making millions of dollars independently, & you’d probably call them second or third tier acts, & they probably don’t give a shit what you think because they’re cashing the checks. The idea that everything has to be a big spectacle is a major label innovation.

    • JTVDigital

      I’d say you’re right, but the author of the article is right too 🙂
      None of the TuneCore or CDBaby artists you mention are where they are now (some with very decent success and income) thanks to their distribution company, they’ve followed their own path and it happened that they succeeded. Their distributor (correct me if I don’t get their full story) did not invest any money or time or anything in them for marketing, tour support, producing records…etc.
      Which is ok, it’s not the job of a digital distributor to do this. It’s a (paying) service, getting the songs from point A to point B, then collecting and re-distributing sales revenues. That’s it.
      Comparing a record label to a digital distributor is comparing Oranges and Apples.
      However, and this is what I sometimes experience with my digital distribution company, if you find a talent and want to help with developing this artist, you have to act like a label, which is usually extremely challenging without the massive financial resources required.
      There are ways to work around this, but it’s not part of the standard service a distribution company is offering.

      • Mikey

        We wrote great music, followed our path, and just happened to select CDBaby to distribute my album. I also happen to have an amazing manager who was driven to help us succeed. After The Heist broke the Billboard Top 200, we teamed up with Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA) who helped us to promote the album and get radio play…from there it just took off like a rocket ship. I are absolutely thrilled that we spent as much time focusing on writing great music. It really goes to show that good music can break through without the support of a label, but then again, I’m also really lucky as this is not the case for every other musician out there. It’s the equivalent of hearing about that millionaire who dropped out of high school. I feel like I won the lottery.

        – Macklemore

  6. woods_pj

    I get that it’s sort of the cool thing to do to shit on record labels, especially now (which i understand)

    but without them we wouldn’t know jimi, the beatles, michael jackson, stevie, prince – I mean they are responsible for getting a lot of great art out to the masses.

    • Ari Herstand

      I’m not disagreeing with that. You’re absolutely right, in the 60s the labels brought us some of the best music of all time. But it’s a different era. A different industry. We can’t compare major labels of the 60s (or even the 90s) to today.

    • jw

      You know Atlantic was an independent label before Warner bought it in 1967, & brought us Big Joe Turner, Django Reinhardt, Ray mother fucking Charles, the Coasters, the Drifters, Ben E King, all of those early Phil Specter hits, Solomon Burke… they were enormously successful before the ’70s rock explosion, & already had Buffalo Springfield on the roster before they sold to Warner. Additionally, up until Atlantic sold to WB, they distributed Stax/Volt (Otis Redding, Booker T, Sam & Dave, etc). Sire was an independent before they sold to Warner in ’78. They launched the careers of the Ramones & the Talking Heads.

      This is pretty much how it worked. The major labels went around buying independent labels that were already phenomenally successful, & as time goes by they take credit for the work of others.

      The idea that we wouldn’t know these major label artists without the labels is total horse shit. If Hendrix hadn’t come out on Reprise (an independent label started by Frank Sinatra, but sold early on to Warner), he would’ve come out on some other label, & we’d all still know who he was. It was Paul McCartney that recommended Hendrix to the Monterey Pop Festival organizers, after all, not anyone at Reprise. By all accounts, Hendrix hated his label, anyhow, & probably would’ve been much better off on an independent label.

      Motown was an independent label when they launched Michael Jackson’s career. His Jackson 5 releases were all independent, & all of his solo records up through Forever, Michael. The subsequent releases, Off the Wall & Thriller, were successful because of Quincy Jones, not because of Epic Records, & Michael’s relationship with Quincy came through his work on the Wiz, not through the label.

      You’re just all sorts of wrong.

      To paraphrase Professor Lowery, the world needs major label apologists like I need a hole in my head.

      • Anonymous

        i dont give a damn either way, as far as i can tell and in my experiences, which are likely different from most people, aint no one supporting, investing or funding music, so fuck if i know anything, but im not gonna sit around bashing major labels cause its the fucking cool thing to do or because that crew or some cause or war or propaganda or what the fuck ever has a desire or business plan to, well that aint my fucking problem cause none of those assholes supported or helped me either… If they are interested in consultation work or want to hire a mercenary for something, then get the fuck at me, but no way im freely gonna support that idiocy…

        So im fine just pricking off both sides and if the evidence is legit enough, to just sue everybody then, fuck it…

        The whole music industry can sink to the bottom of the Ocean for all i fucking care…


    • wallow-T

      ” I mean they are responsible for getting a lot of great art out to the masses.”

      Yes, through their mastery & control of the means of distributing physical copies. (Which, coincidentally, is how they extracted cash value, rewarding a label’s up-front investments in an act.) Physical distribution is not very relevant any more though, either as a solution to consumer demand or as a method for generating revenue.

  7. KS2 Problema

    I love a nice graph with lots of pretty colors and no legend to tell me what they mean.

    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      Criticism taken.

      Left side is revenues, in millions. The various colors are various formats (CD, vinyl, downloads). I left it vague just to exemplify the top-level downturn.

  8. oz

    yeah because all that music the majors put out the last 25 years was so great and they really took care of their artists. DMN has their head so far up their ass, all they do is complain, never offer solutions.


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