Are Big Music Labels Losing Their Power?

Today, The Cab released their second album, Symphony Soldier (you can read Keltie’s review of it right over here).

And they did it without a label.

This is something we’re seeing more and more often these days. Artists are either releasing albums without a label (The Cab, The Brobecks and Amanda Palmer, who has been extremely outspoken about her feelings on this subject) or starting their own smaller label to release their music (OK Go). With digital distribution and the ability to “crowd-source” to raise funds for recording and releasing, it seems like more and more bands are able to forego what was previously the Most Important Step in Making It: getting signed.

While obviously there are still bands and acts signed to major labels, this new trend of going labelless is worth taking a look at. As I mentioned in a comment on my piece about My Chemical Romance (who are still contractually obligated to Warner Records, so despite their Danger Days album occasionally rallying against corporate interests they are still at the mercy of a business that wants to make money), I think that in five to ten years we will be seeing something completely different from the music industry.

Music video channels are basically dead. MTV and VH1 have become havens for reality TV shows. Music radio has been proclaimed “dead” or “dying” for years. Having a video or single in rotation is becoming less important than having a strong relationship with listeners and fans, having a social media presence, understanding how to properly go viral, etc. Eventually it won’t be about premiering your music video on MTV so much as it will be launching it on a website, be that the artist’s own YouTube or an exclusive launch with a partner site. Eventually it won’t be about where your single is on the charts so much as how many people have downloaded it from your site or iTunes or how many listens it has. And possibly the biggest thing: You’ll know buying music, merch or a concert ticket will be your way of DIRECTLY SUPPORTING THE BAND, not their label.

Of course, going labelless won’t really be an option for certain kinds of artists. For many pop acts, they’ll still need the sort of across the board media saturating hype that only a major label can AFFORD to provide. But for rock bands, singer-songwriters, and groups of undefinable genre, it’s possible that in the future we won’t be seeing what’s popular dictated by the people selling us our music, but instead once again by what we are actually listening to.

What do you guys think of the possible future of music?