If Major Labels Are Bleeding So Badly, Why Are They Still Creating the Biggest Artists?

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Do we have to talk about the demise of the major label system again?

Perhaps this is just a four-car pileup that demands a slow-down and stare.  The lights are dimming at EMI, political upheaval is tainting UMG and Sony, and WMG is often considered ‘next’ for the wolves.  But if the majors are bleeding so badly, then why are they still creating the biggest artists?  And, perhaps more importantly, why aren’t indies and DIYers even close to taking the lead?

Sure, indies and DIY artists have more fan access and traction than ever before.  And major label artists are selling less every year.  But manufactured acts like Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga are still perched atop the charts, and casting a long shadow over anything with indie cred.  This isn’t the way it was supposed to work out, and it’s harder than ever to blame some Soundscan skew.

Why?  For starters, Soundscan isn’t the only chart barometer anymore. Take a gander at the BigChampagne Ultimate 100, and a somewhat-similar list of big-label priorities emerges.  In fact, the latest Ultimate 100 lineup has less indie cred than a Celine show in Vegas.  On the latest ranking, the top ten artists were Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Eminem, Daft Punk, Taylor Swift, Black Eyed Peas, Lil Wayne, and Enrique Iglesias, in that order.

But how can that be?  After all, BigChampagne is blending a broad number of online, offline, traditional, interactive, non-interactive, and physical elements into its rankings. Yet it still regularly produces chart toppers like Jason Derulo and Katy Perry, not Pomplamoose and Amanda Palmer.  In fact, most of the top 100 are serious major label priorities.

Maybe the fantasy was that somehow, a total chart upheaval would result from all of this digital disruption.  That big bullhorns like terrestrial radio wouldn’t matter anymore, or that do-it-yourselfers would rise to superstardom without any serious backing.  That artists like Corey Smith were dyed-in-the-wool DIYers, not musical careerists.  Or, that the idea of big, mainstream artists would somehow vanish.

How naive we were.